Tens of thousands protest Nation-State Law at Arab-led rally in Tel Aviv

A crowd forms around Rabin Square in Tel Aviv as the second consecutive protest against the Nation-State Law begins

Palestinian flags fly at Nation-State Law protest in Tel Aviv, August 11th, 2018 (Credit: Courtesy)
Palestinian flags fluttered in Tel Aviv Saturday night as tens of thousands of Arabs and Jews from around the country gathered at Rabin Square for the second time in two weeks for a large-scale protest against the recently passed Nation-State Law. The crowd marched toward the Tel Aviv Museum, carrying signs in Hebrew and Arabic calling for equality, the cancellation of the law and democracy.
Some signs read “Resist apartheid.” Most of the protesters were Arab Israelis, and most of the crowd’s chants were in Arabic.
“No, no, the fascist [law] won’t pass,” they chanted, as well as “Bibi, Bibi, resign. We don’t want you anymore!” and calls that the groups were all brothers.
“Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies,” also sounded through the masses.
However, a group of supporters of the far-left Arab movement Balad were filmed, chanting, “With spirit and blood we will free Palestine.”
The protest was organized by the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, a non-governmental umbrella organization that represents Israel’s Arab community in the political sphere.
Transportation was organized from cities such as Haifa and Nazareth, enabling residents of the North, which has a large Arab population, to attend the demonstration. Protest supporters touted that buses of Arabs were “coming in droves” to the march, in reference to a statement made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2015 about buses of Arabs “coming in droves” to the ballot boxes ahead of the last election.
Among the attendees and speakers were Monitoring Committee head Mohammad Barakeh, Hebrew University sociology professor Eva Illouz, Joint List MK Ayman Odeh and Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken.
Barakeh wished peace activist Uri Avnery, who suffered a stroke last week, a quick recovery, before saying the Palestinian flag was the flag of the oppressed Palestinian people.
“It is the flag of a proud nation,” he said.“Friends, you know that not all the Arabs here think the same. Neither do all the Jews. But all the Arabs and all the Jews came here in droves to protest.”
Barakeh said there would not be another nakba (“disaster”), referring to the 1948 War of Independence and its effect on Palestinians. “We are staying here,” he said.
Illouz broke into tears at the start of her speech, as she recalled the acceptance she received as a Jewish Moroccan immigrant to France when she was a child.
“Equality is not an abstract term,” she said. “When you are equal you don’t feel fear. You live with a feeling of self-respect. Equality builds the man from within and society from the outside.”
She called for centrist parties to join “the camp of equality.”
“Zionism has no meaning if it does not intend to create a society that strives for peace,” Illouz said. “Today is a historical moment because Jews and Arabs together are stating that they are protesting together for equality.”
Though the monitoring committee decided not to allow demonstrators to wave Palestinian flags, a significant number of them could be seen among the signs, along with a few Israeli flags.
As the protest proceeded toward the stage in front of the museum, Palestinian flags were gradually balanced out and overcome by Israeli flags.
“Tel Aviv has been conquered, and the flags of the Palestinian enemy are starring in its very heart,” MK Oren Hazan (Likud) said in response to the flags.
Netanyahu tweeted, “There is no greater testament to the necessity of this law [than the waving of Palestinian flags]. We will continue to wave the Israeli flag and sing Hatikva with great pride.”
Two men from the Nazareth area said they were in support of the presence of Palestinian flags and said they called for two separate countries.
“Also, it’s what represents us at the end of the day,” one of the men said. “We are also Palestinian.”
One Israeli, however, said he was bothered by the presence of the Palestinian flags.
“It bothers me very much, because this is an Israeli protest against an Israeli law,” he said. “My views on the conflict are clear, but this moves the focus away from the important issue.”
Odeh said the protest intends to relay that “a Democratic state must be a state for all its citizens.”
MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) said Saturday afternoon the demonstration is “one cry of many,” and that tens of thousands of Arabs and Jews gather to demand equality and democracy, without a racist hierarchy of citizens.
He also promised that the Joint List would take the abolition of the law to task in the United Nations and throughout Europe.
Numerous other Arab and Jewish leaders and MKs gave statements in support of the protest Saturday afternoon. The Givat Haviva Center for a Shared Society called on the Jewish public in particular to attend.
MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) called it the “most important protest in Tel Aviv for the Arab public” in many years.
The committee petitioned the High Court against the law on Tuesday before announcing Saturday’s protest. The petition alleges that the Nation-State Law discriminates against non-Jews, primarily Israel’s Arab minority, whose numbers make up around 20% of the state’s population.
On Thursday, the Council of the Orthodox Church in Israel called for attendance at Saturday’s protest, saying the Nation-State Law denies the Arab minority’s historical presence in Israel and severely violates its rights, while endangering Christian and Muslim holy places.
The Latin Patriarchate called “to all citizens of the State of Israel who still believe in the basic concept of equality... to express their opposition to this law and the dangers inherent in it for the future of this country.”
The Nation-State Law’s language cements a right to self-determination in the State of Israel for the Jewish people, and addresses this in regards to language, flag, state symbols, holidays and the status of the Jewish Diaspora. Much of the criticism against it stems from the fact that it does not mention the value of equal individual rights for all citizens.
Last week’s protest was organized by the Druze community, following its own petition to the High Court days earlier. Contrary to the country’s larger Arab minority, most Druze men serve in the IDF, and the sect has long pledged its collective allegiance to Israel. Consequently, the two protests were viewed in a different light by many Jews, who claim the protest on August 11 had an agenda that runs deeper than simple opposition to the Nation-State Law.