Palestinian flags fly at Arab protest against Nation State Law

Arab demonstration against Nation State Law photo: Shlomi Yosef

Thousands attended the demonstration in Tel Aviv, but Zionist Union politicians mostly stayed away.

Following last week's demonstration led by Israel's Druze community, a further demonstration against the recently legislated Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People took place last night in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, this time organized by the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Affairs, which is broadly representative of Israel's Arab population. The committee is headed by former Knesset member Mohammad Barakeh. About 30,000 people took part.

The demonstrators were addressed by Barakeh, Mazen Ghanaim, mayor of Sakhnin and head of the National Committee of the Heads of the Arab Local Authorities, sociologist Professor Eva Illouz of the Hebrew University, historian Professor Kais Firro of the University of Haifa, Amos Schocken, publisher of the Haaretz newspaper, and sociologist Dr. Maha Karkabi-Sabbah of the University of Haifa.

Many Palestinian flags were displayed at the demonstration. Activists of the National Democratic Assembly party (Balad), which is now part of the Joint Arab List in the Knesset, distributed video clips with the slogan "Millions of Martyrs are Going to Jerusalem". Sources from the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality party (Hadash), also part of the Joint Arab List, claimed that the Balad activists aimed to undermine the aims of the demonstration, even though they were bound by decisions of the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Affairs.

Minister of Science and Technology Ofir Akunis was the first Likud politician to seize on the display of Palestinian flags to criticize the demonstration. "The dozens of PLO flags at the demonstration in Tel Aviv are the decisive proof of the necessity of the Nation State Law. Against those who dispute that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, who disparage the blue and white flag and the national anthem Hatikva, the Nation State Law is one of the most important laws legislated in Israel in recent years," Akunis said. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this morning, "Yesterday, we saw conclusive evidence of the sedition against Israel's existence and of the necessity of the Nation State Law."  

Mohammad Barakeh said during the demonstration, "I heard that the media are broadcasting incitement over the waving of the Palestinian flag. But the Palestinian flag is the flag of the Palestinian people. This is the flag they are trying to erase from history with the Nation State Law, but it is the flag of a proud people." The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Affairs had asked the various groups taking part in the demonstration not to wave the Palestinian flag but to focus on opposition to the Nation State Law, but the appeal failed. Some of those carrying the flag chanted "With fire and blood we shall redeem Palestine."  

Addressing the demonstration, Prof. Illouz said, "Zionist leaders from Ben Gurion to Jabotinsky insisted on equality. Today, the government of Israel has renounced that aspiration. I renounce the privilege given to me as a Jew. I don't want it."

Schocken said, "There are certainly important disagreements between the people here tonight on important matters, but faced with a divisive government that incites against its citizens and that has now anchored discrimination in a Basic Law, we must unite… The Nation State Law defines the State of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people but does not mention equality. This is a change that heralds evil and is intended to intensify the divide between Jews and Arabs… this is a struggle over democracy. To you, Arab citizens, I say do not give this right-wing government the prize of despair and isolationism. You have the political power to reshape political discourse in Israel through participation in elections. Use that power."

Knesset members from the Joint List, headed by Ayman Odeh, announced in advance that they would take part in the demonstration, and called on the general public to join them, but it was clear that the Zionist left was divided. Although Meretz Knesset members planned a full turnout, in the Zionist Union things were different. Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay said in an interview on television program "Meet the Press", explaining why he would not take part in the demonstration against the Nation State Law, "I cannot go to a demonstration at which they talk about the Palestinian right of return. I respect those who go out to demonstrate because they are for equality. This demonstration was organized by people from Balad and the Joint List. I'm prepared to grant equality even to those with whom I disagree, but I won't go to demonstrate with them."

Knesset member for Meretz Michal Rozin, who took part in the demonstration, said, "We will not be bowed by the Netanyahu government's policy of divide and rule. Anyone who thinks that a government that discriminates against one community today won’t discriminate against another community tomorrow is mistaken and misleading. Regrettably there are politicians who decided not to attend the demonstration. You cannot oppose the Nation State Law and talk about equality for all, and at the same time refuse to express solidarity with Israel's Arabs."

The demonstration was not in fact organized or led by the Joint List but by the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Affairs, but opposition party leaders who stayed away from last night's demonstration used the party political argument to explain why they saw a difference between it and the previous week's Druze demonstration.

The real difference of course lies in military service. Whereas the Druze and some Bedouin serve in the IDF, other sections of the Arab population are not drafted and do not wish to be. At the same time, one of the arguments against the government and against the attempts to resolve matters with the Druze separately is that equal citizenship in Israel should not be dependent on military service.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on August 12, 2018

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2018

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Arab demonstration against Nation State Law photo: Shlomi Yosef
Arab demonstration against Nation State Law photo: Shlomi Yosef
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