Thousands of protesters marched through central Tel Aviv on Saturday night to protest the controversial nationstate bill, calling it racist and discriminatory.
Under the banner “This is home for all of us,” public figures, MKs and social activists addressed the demonstration, which saw participants marching from Rabin Square to Dizengoff Center.
The Jewish nation-state bill is a draft Basic Law with constitutional heft that declares the country as the nationstate of the Jewish people. It would anchor in law the state’s menorah emblem, Jerusalem as the capital, national holidays and the right of all residents to preserve their heritage without consideration of religion and nationality.
It would make Hebrew the official language of the state, with Arabic receiving a “unique status,” demoted from being an official language as it is today.
The bill is expected to come to a final vote in the Knesset on Monday night.
The protest was a joint effort of a range of civil society organizations, including organizations working for social justice, anti-racism, aliyah and absorption, LGBTQ rights, human rights, shared society and peace, together with political parties.
Addressing the crowd, MK Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Joint List, said that what is most frightening to the rightwing government is that Jews and Arabs can live together.
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“The nation-state bill won’t make us disappear, but it will massively harm democracy,” he said. “The large protest was an important step in the fight against fascism.
“Racist legislation of a government that fears power, of a majority that tramples the minority, will not remove us. We will remain in our homeland, we will remain here – two nations. The thousands who came here are hope for a state of equality and peace,” Odeh said.
Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg opened her speech with a call for calm and peace in the South.
“Now is the time to prevent the next war,” she said. “But what we see is that the Israeli government is trying to hide the fact that is had no solutions with racist and inciteful bills.”
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, CEO of the Movement for Progressive Judaism, slammed the bill as “despicable.” He told elected officials not to be silent.
“Do not play your political poker game for the elections at the expense of the image and values of Israeli society and at the expense of the and generous society here,” he said.
Kariv ended his speech with a prayer for peace in the South – a topic not forgotten by speakers at the protest, which came at the end of a day of fierce conflict with Hamas.
The participating organizations were: Omdim Beyachad (Standing Together); The Association of Ethiopian Jews; The New Israel Fund; Peace Now; The Israel Religious Action Center; Sikkuy; The Coalition Against Racism in Israel; Mossawa Center; Young Labor; Hadash; Meretz; Ta’al; The Association for Civil Rights in Israel; Zazim – Community Action; the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality; AJEEC NISPED; Kulan; Socialist Struggle; Combatants for Peace; and Shatil.
In a joint statement, the participating organizations said: “The nationstate law would turn racism, discrimination and segregation into an inescapable part of our lives. More than that – racism and discrimination are becoming desired and central in the State of Israel. The nation-state law will bring exclusion and damage to minorities to terrifying levels we have never seen before. Our stance is clear: all citizens – all – are equal.
“But the government is not willing to recognize this. Because they have no solutions for any of us – not to the housing crisis, not for the elderly and disabled, not for the high cost of living, not for the collapsing healthcare system, not to the crisis with the Jews of the Diaspora – they are legislating unnecessary, terrifying and discriminatory laws like the nation-state law. The law incites, confuses, and divides citizens of the State of Israel from one another.”
A section of the bill that says “the state may allow a community, including members of one religion or of one nationality, to maintain a separate communal settlement,” has drawn criticism from President Reuven Rivlin, the attorney-general’s office and the Knesset legal adviser.
The message of Saturday’s protest, according to the organizers, was that “we are all equal citizens – Arabs and Jews, women and men, Mizrahim, Ethiopians, those of us from the former USSR, and members of the LGBTQ community.
“The law of division and discrimination that this government is promoting – which they call the nationstate bill – will leave a great many of us out: out of towns with ‘admission committees;’ out of fair treatment in the courts; out of citizenship; out of democracy. To this, we will not agree.”Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.
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