“We want equality!” chanted tens of thousands of people at an unprecedented demonstration led by the Druze community in protest against the Nation-State Law at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Saturday night.
The square was a sea of Druze and Israeli flags. City Hall, too, was lit up with both flags as an announcer told anyone waving political party flags to put them down. Protesters also displayed pictures of Druze soldiers who fell in their service for the state.
The demonstration was a response to the controversial Nation-State Law, which protesters view as a violation of the rights of some groups, including Druze and Arab minorities. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unsuccessfully tried to cancel the protest in a meeting with Druze leaders.
Sheik Mowafaq Tarif, the spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel, told the gathering: “All our lives we have been proud of the enlightened, democratic and free State of Israel in which human dignity and freedom are a supreme value and a cornerstone of its strong foundations. We have never protested the Jewish identity of the state.
“Nobody can teach us what sacrifice is, and no one can teach us about loyalty... the military graveyards and the hundreds of fallen soldiers are testimony to that. Despite our loyalty, the state did not see us as equals. We identify with the Declaration of Independence, and last Independence Day I was moved to light a torch,” he noted.
“Members of the Druze community feel, and rightly so, that they are taking away our Israeliness. We are Israelis, we are brothers,” he remarked.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai told the audience that until the Nation-State Law, Israel was Jewish and democratic.
“The law in its current form does not see all its citizens as equal and empties the concept of Israeliness,” he said.
“We call on you to fight with us so that Israel will continue to be democratic and Jewish,” he continued. “I call on you, on all of us, to cancel or to change the Basic Law that leaves the other out of the circle and to remove this ugly stain from the face of our State of Israel.”
Another key speaker was Brig. Gen. (res.) Amal Assad, who accused Netanyahu of turning Israel into an “apartheid state” in a Facebook post, reportedly causing Netanyahu to abruptly cancel Thursday’s meeting with him and other Druze leaders.
“I am thrilled to see all this Israeli togetherness here in this square,” Assad said. “I feel the strength that’s coming from the Israeli people, which helps us not to give up on our principles and values that led us throughout our lives. As a brigadier-general in the IDF and an Israeli citizen who feels a part of a family, I call for the government to change or abolish this law, so it can materialize the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, and will allow equality for each and every Israeli citizen. In this rally, politics are set aside, so that every citizen who values the Israeli democracy can participate.
“From this demonstration in which hands and hearts are joined, we embark on many more years of shared life in the State of Israel, in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence,” he told the crowd, after reading out the beginning of the declaration.
“We are ready to hold a dialogue with every party in the government, in order to resolve the issue and for the future of our children.”
Former Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin, who has been a vocal opponent of the law, said that while he believes that the Jewish people is entitled to a nation-state, “I believe from the bottom of my heart that the democratic and Jewish State of Israel must be a model for all nations and people in its treatment of its minorities and members of other religion, precisely because we Jews were a persecuted minority for 2,000 years in exile.”
He accused lawmakers of passing the law in order to address “petty and miserable political considerations” with short-sighted concern for upcoming elections rather than out of a desire to strengthen the State of Israel, as its proponents have argued.
“The Declaration of Independence is the Basic Law according to which all minorities can all live in dignity,” he said.
Protests were also held in Arab towns across the country, including Sakhnin, Majd el-Kurum, Baka, Tira, Rahat, Jaljulya, Kfar Kana, Wadi Ara and in Haifa, where Jews and Arabs protested together.
Earlier in the day, UN High Commissioner for Minority Rights Dr. Fernand de Varennes announced that an investigation had been opened following a complaint filed by the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, an extra-parliamentary umbrella organization that represents Arab citizens of Israel.
The complaint was filed by Arab MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List), and outlines what the committee perceives to be racist sections of the law, namely, “the denial of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, the violation of the Arabic language and the Arab population’s right to equality as a national minority with collective, cultural linguistic and religious rights.”
Dozens of protesters also demonstrated against the law on Saturday night in front of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s house in Haifa.
Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman said Kahlon and his Kulanu MKs voted for a racist bill that marks onefifth of the population as inferior and legitimizes discrimination in a Basic Law. She said Kahlon cannot expect to receive Arab votes in the next election after that.
“We must remember that he and his party stood shoulder to shoulder with the extreme Right to remove us from the circle of equal citizens,” she said. “We will not be citizens only on Election Day. Kahlon, we will judge you and your hypocrisy.”Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.
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