Middle East

Thousands join rally against Israel’s ‘Jewish state’ bill

Controversial law has angered minorities, who see it as a form of ‘apartheid’

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 August, 2018, 9:35am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 August, 2018, 10:32pm

Members of Israel’s Arab minority led a protest in central Tel Aviv on Saturday night against a contentious new law that critics say marginalises the territory’s non-Jewish residents.

The rally marked further fallout from the controversial nation-state law. Israel’s 1948 declaration of independence defined it as a Jewish and democratic state and the government says the recently passed bill merely enshrines its existing character.

But critics say it undercuts Israel’s democratic values and sidelines the non-Jewish population, namely Arabs, who make up 20 per cent of the population.

One clause downgrades the Arabic language from official to “special” standing.

Israeli media reported tens of thousands of Jews and Arabs at the protest. Some Arab protesters waved Palestinian flags and others held signs saying “equality” and “justice”. Some knelt and prayed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted footage on Twitter of protesters waving the Palestinian flags.

“No better testament to the necessity of the nation-state law,” he wrote.

But Ayman Odeh, an Arab member of the Israeli parliament, said: “This is the first time that tens of thousands of Arabs have come to Tel Aviv with Jewish democratic groups. They came to say this is not the end of the demonstrations, but the first serious demonstration against the Nation State law.”

Some Jewish Israelis, including top retired security officials and politicians, have also complained about the law.

Omar Sultan, from the Arab city of Tira in central Israel, said he was protesting to send a message to Netanyahu.

“This law is against us, against the Arabic language, against peace, against our future in this land, we are the real people of this land, we can’t agree on this law,” he said.

Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy full citizenship rights but face discrimination in some areas of society like jobs and housing. They share the ethnicity and culture of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and often identify with Palestinian nationalism, rather than Israeli.

Tens of thousands of Druze, also members of the Arab minority, packed the same square in the heart of Tel Aviv last week. The Druze are followers of a secretive offshoot of Shiite Islam and are considered fiercely loyal to the state and serve in Israel’s military, unlike most of the other Arab citizens.

Over the years, members of the Druze community have risen to prominence in the military and in politics. Some Druze have said they feel betrayed by the law and several Druze military officers recently said they would stop serving in response to it, sparking fears of widespread insubordination.