Protester rally against the so-called 'Jewish state bill' at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Amid angry shouts of “democracy now” and “equality,” hundreds of Israelis converged in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem Saturday night to protest the proposed “Jewish state” bill, which they say will further alienate Arabs by stripping them of basic rights.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial proposed legislation, which would legally define Israel as the nation-state of the Jews, has been met with vehement opposition not only by the Arab world and Israelis, but by members of his own coalition, as well.
A recent Knesset vote to approve the law was postponed due to significant infighting among coalition members, including outspoken critics such as Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.
“I’m here because November 29 was the day the UN recognized Israel as a Jewish and Arab state,” said 18-year-old Eliran Bykhovsky, chairman of the Meretz Youth movement.
“The Nationality Law proposed by the extreme Right in Israel is supposed to erase the civil national rights of Arabs and maintain them only for Israelis.
“For 66 years, we were democratic enough and Jewish enough to have Arabs in parliament and have legislation that Arabs can live in any part of Israel they like and this law will take it away,” he continued.
“We’ve survived quite well without this useless law.”
Hila, a retired nurse who requested her last name not be published, expressed outrage over what she deemed to be the legislation’s existential threat to the country.
“I want Bibi to get out of here – out of Israel, out of the government!” she said. “He’s the wrong person to be the leader because he’s taking us to dark times, which is very bad for the country.”
The prime minister’s motivation to pass the bill is self serving, she added.
“He doesn’t care about the people – he cares about his own survival. The worse thing that he has put into the Israeli mind is that there is no partner for negotiations, which is wrong because there is: [PA President Mahmoud] Abbas. He wants to make an agreement, but we are not a partner for him.”
Moreover, she said such legislation is teaching young Israelis to hate and become intolerant.
“There is a young generation in Israel that is learning how to hate and become violent – where human rights mean nothing to them,” Hila continued. “Not just for Arabs, but for refugees, as well.”
Prof. Menachem Zur, a retired composer with the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, described the proposed law as “disgusting” and counterproductive.
“You do not make a law unless you want to change something to improve it,” he said. “Our basic laws have functioned very well so far, and being Jewish and democratic is ingrained into our Declaration [of Independence]. Any attempt to change it means you want to worsen it because there’s no way to improve it. Even people from Likud are against it.”
Zvi Hillman, former deputy director of the Israel Museum, said the law is antithetical to former prime minister David Ben-Gurion’s vision for the country.
“When Ben-Gurion decided to have the Declaration of Independence, he said there was an Arab minority and that everything would be equal in the nation of Israel. What [Netanyahu] is doing today is outrageous, because he’s separating the two ideas that have always been together – Democracy and the Jewishness of the country.”
Hillman’s wife, Nechama, added: “It’s just catering to Arab and Jewish extremists on both sides, and that’s a very dangerous place to go. A lot of extreme right-wing Jews have this fantasy that we are so powerful – that we do not have to take into consideration the people living around us.
And I don’t think we’re so powerful.”
Conversely, Nechama added that more democratic and inclusive overtures must be made to Arab residents to quell growing unrest, defined by ongoing terrorist attacks and rioting.
“We have to give [Arabs] a proper place in society to make them happy to be citizens here and not push them into the hands of the extremists,” she said.