Palestinian flags flutter at a protest against the Nation-State Law in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, August 11th, 2018.
(photo credit: KOBI RICHTER/TPS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could not have asked for anything more. The Palestinian flags being waved in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Saturday night, from his point of view, said it all.
Only a small minority of the estimated 20,000 at the demonstration raised the Palestinian colors – but they knew that they would get all the attention. Similarly, while most slogans were calls for equality or against the government, it was the mantra “With blood and spirit, we’ll free Palestine” that naturally echoed loudest.
Although the organizers reportedly urged participants not to wave the Palestinian flags so as not to deter the participation of Jewish Israelis, mainly from the moderate- and far-Left, the calls were ignored.
Netanyahu responded to the images by firing back on Twitter: “There is no greater testament to the necessity of this law.” He expanded on this theme at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, saying, “We are proud of our state, our flag and our national anthem. Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. The individual rights of its citizens are anchored very well in the basic laws and other laws. Now it is clearer than ever that the Nation-State Law is also necessary” – and he pledged to uphold it.
It was hard not to compare this week’s demonstration with the rally the previous Saturday night arranged primarily by the Druze community. There, Israeli flags flew proudly alongside the Druze colors and the event ended with the national anthem, “Hatikvah.”
Both demonstrations show the very real feelings of discrimination or of being marginalized that the Nation-State Law evokes, particularly the determination of Hebrew as the official state language while Arabic was granted a “special status.”
But there was a fundamental and very evident difference. While the Druze protesters clearly identify as loyal citizens of the State of Israel – the majority of them serving in the military and security forces – it appeared that the bulk of the Arab demonstrators were calling for a Palestinian state alongside the Jewish one or, at best, a bi-national Palestinian-Jewish state.
The site of the rally was a message in itself. The Palestinian flags were not being raised in an Israeli Arab town such as Umm el-Fahm or Sakhnin, or even in a mixed city like Haifa. They were fluttering in the bastion of secular Israel.
The calls were not to amend the Nation-State Law or to cancel it and turn the Declaration of Independence into law instead. The slogans were negating Israel’s very existence as the Jewish state.
This was not a rally of solidarity with the state, like the Druze held. It was a demonstration against the Zionist entity and enterprise.
The protest was organized by the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, a self-appointed non-governmental umbrella organization that is meant to coordinate representation of Israel’s Arab community. Arab parliamentarians, including Ayman Odeh, Ahmad Tibi and Yousef Jabareen, were present. It showed yet again that the Arab MKs do not always best serve the interests of the public they are meant to represent.
Jabareen, who earlier this year submitted a counter bill dubbed “The Palestinian-State Law,” was quoted by Israel Hayom as demanding the complete abolition of the new Nation-State Law. “Adding the word ‘equality’ won’t save it and it will sow the seeds of racism in any form. Those who would be satisfied with amending the law want to mask it. No less.”
Arabs comprise some 20% of Israel’s population and have enjoyed full citizenship rights, both before and after the passage of the Nation-State Law. The rally was not aimed at achieving certain socio-economic goals, such as improved housing, education, employment or infrastructure in the Arab sector; it was aimed at taking away the right of the Jewish majority to say that Israel is a Jewish state. The call to turn Israel into a “state for all its citizens” sounds innocent and politically correct – but the underlying meaning is the end of the world’s only Jewish state.
The Nation-State Law defined the Blue-and-White stripes and Star of David as the Israeli flag. Despite the rhetoric, even after the law passed, it is not illegal to raise the Palestinian flag in Israel. But as Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid tweeted, “It’s interesting what would happen were someone to try to march in central Ramallah carrying the Israeli flag.”
The red, green, black and white flags waved at Saturday night’s rally were all red flags for the Jewish state.
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