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TEL AVIV: Tens of thousands of Arab Israelis and their supporters chanted against “apartheid” and for “equality” on Saturday in central Tel Aviv at a rally protesting a law that declares Israel the nation state of the Jewish people.
Israeli Jews also joined the demonstration, the second since last Saturday, when thousands from Israel’s Druze minority took to the streets in Tel Aviv to denounce the law they say makes them second-class citizens, AFP reporters said.
Protesters waved Palestinian and Israeli flags at the rally, which Israeli state television said drew a crowd of more than 30,000 people.
Several clauses contained in the law that passed last month are sources of concern, especially since the text is part of Israel’s so-called basic laws — a de facto constitution.
It makes no mention of equality or democracy, implying that Israel’s Jewish nature takes precedence — something for which Israel’s far-right religious nationalist politicians have long advocated.
One section refers to Israel as the historic homeland of the Jews and says they have a “unique” right to self-determination there.
Others define the establishment of Jewish communities as in the national interest and make Hebrew the sole official language, downgrading Arabic to special status.
Israeli Arabs, the descendants of Palestinians who remained on their land when Israel was created in 1948, make up around 17.5 percent of the Israeli population.
They are concerned the new law could allow for open discrimination against them in everything from housing to budgeting and land allocation.
Members of Israel’s 130,000-strong Druze community — who serve in the police and military — have been among those strongly denouncing the legislation.
At Saturday’s rally, protesters accused the Israeli government of being an “apartheid regime,” shouting in Hebrew and in Arabic, “equality, equality” and “apartheid will not pass,” AFP reporters said.
The rally was organized by groups representing the Arab Israeli minority, while the one that took place last Saturday had been organized by the Druze.
Yael Valia, a 45-year-old woman who works for a start-up, waved an Israeli flag and described herself as a “Zionist,” adding that “this is why we must guarantee equality for all the citizens of this country.”
Next to her, an Arab Israeli psychologist and mother of two, Watan Dahleh, carried one of her children on her back and held the hand of the other.
She said she brought them to the rally “because their future is at stake.”
Members of the Druze community also took part in Saturday’s rally.
At least five court challenges have been filed against the nation-state law, and it will now be up to judges to decide whether to limit its interpretation.
“It is a racist law that reminds us of what happened in South Africa during apartheid,” said Mohammed Barake, who heads an Arab Israeli committee that filed one of the five court challenges
Amos Shoken, publisher of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, was also present at the rally and urged Arab Israelis “not to despair” and to continue to mobilize against the controversial law.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, has remained defiant.
“The state of Israel is the national state of the Jewish people. Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. Individual rights are anchored in many laws,” Netanyahu said Sunday.
“Nobody has harmed — and nobody intends to harm — these individual rights but without the Nation-State Law it will be impossible to ensure for (future) generations the future of Israel as a Jewish national state,” he said.