Israeli Arabs hold a Palestinian flag during a protest against the Jewish nation bill in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Aug. 11, 2018. The recently passed law enshrines Israel's Jewish character and downgrades the standing of Arabic from an official to a "special" language. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Thousands attend Arab-led rally against Israeli bill

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Members of Israel's Arab minority led a mass protest in central Tel Aviv on Saturday night (Aug. 11) against a contentious new law that critics say marginalizes the state's non-Jewish citizens.

The rally marked further fallout from the explosive nation-state law and came a week after thousands of Druze, also members of the Arab minority, packed the same city square.

Israel's 1948 declaration of independence defined the country as a Jewish and democratic state and the government says the recently passed bill merely enshrines the country's existing character. But critics say it undercuts Israel's democratic values and sidelines the country's non-Jewish population, namely the Arab community that makes up 20 percent of the country.

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

Israeli media reported tens of thousands of Jews and Arabs attended the protest. Some Arab protesters waved Palestinian flags and others held signs reading "equality." Some knelt and preformed Muslim prayers.

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.

Ayman Odeh, an Arab member of the Israeli Parliament, told The Associated Press: "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."

Many Jewish Israelis, including top retired security officials and politicians, have also harshly criticized 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 such as 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, Israel's cultural and commercial center, 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 country's 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.


  1. The crux of objections to the Nation-State Law appears to be that the words “democracy” and “equality” no longer appear, and that Arabic is no longer an official language, but has a “special status.” Government documents will continue to be issued in Arabic. Behind these objections is the perception that this is an in-your-face move by Netanyahu to sppease hard-right elements of his ruling coalition.
    The Jewish publisher of Haaretz, Amos Schocken, writes “The nation-state law defines Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people and does not mention the word ‘equality,’ thus getting further away from the country’s definition as a Jewish and democratic country (a definition that was already determined in the country’s Basic Laws dating back to 1992). This change, which delivers bad tiding, is meant to intensify the separation between Jews and Arabs and the atmosphere of nationalism in the public debate (which the prime ministers and other ministers encourage).
    Interesting that RNS is currently running an essay by Mark Silk that treats the subject of religious liberty facetiously.

  2. “treats the subject of religious liberty facetiously”
    Or satirizes President Trump’s political shell-games with religious liberty?

  3. Israel can be a democratic state, or it can be a Jewish state. It’s one or the other.

  4. Hi, AP – I agree. But it’s a little dangerous to see any issue through the lens of our culture wars, don’t you think? The Israeli public and press are torn on this latest move by Netanhayu, with the publisher of Haaretz issuing a strong denunciation. We try to provide a summary of the Israeli-Palestinian responses on our website (, but so far it seems the press response in the US has been muted. As usual, there’s more interest in Omarosa’s book than in world issues.

  5. Likewise. I hope we’ll be seeing more of you over here. I’ve missed you!

  6. Hah! You just want someone to fight with! I’ll see what I can do….:)

  7. Actually, I like having a strong opponent. Take that as a compliment…for what it’s worth 🙂

  8. Haaretz is Israel’s New York Times, the left-of-center paper of record. Its strong denunciation is not surprising. Press response in the US may have been muted, but there is strong opposition (and some support as well) among the American Jewish community.

  9. Thank you. I think Netanyahu feels confident because of the shift in public opinion among Israelis and Palestinians. The Jerusalem Times reports:
    “Support for a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the lowest point in two decades, according to new data released by a private survey on Monday.
    “Only 49% of Israelis and 43% of Palestinians support the idea, according to a poll conducted at the end of June. In 2010, 71% of Israelis believed in a two-state resolution and 57% of Palestinians. A look at only the June 2018 data for Israelis Jews shows that the Israeli support also drops to 43%.” At the moment, under indictment, Bibi appears to need to unite his coalition.

  10. Criteria for the definition of “people having the right of self-determination” was proposed during 2010 Kosovo case decision of the International Court of Justice:

    1. traditions and culture

    2. ethnicity

    3. historical ties and heritage

    4. language

    5. religion

    6. sense of identity or kinship

    7. the will to constitute a people

    8. common suffering.

    As a sovereign under international law, Israel has every right to define itself as it has.

  11. If the two state solution is not the answer, then all Palestinians should have equal rights with the Israeli Jews any place in a combined state of Israel/Palestine, otherwise you have the apartheid situation now. Further, the Palestinians scattered through out the world should have the right to return. Finally, the US should stop all assistance to Israel and buying off the surrounding Arab states and spend the money on our own health care and our veterans.

  12. “Further, the Palestinians scattered through out the world should have the right to return”

    Nope. That was always a poison pill provision that Arafat loved to use as part of a plan to demographically eliminate Israel. It is not a serious provision and when employed it tells the world, “I am not giving a real peace plan. Just playing up to the world press”

    2-3 State solution is the only real option here.anything elsewhere just puts the issue off

  13. I said “”if the two state solution is not the answer.” If the two or three state solution is still the answer, then make it a reality now. The Israeli settlers need to leave the West Bank today. Jerusalem should be an international city where both states can have their respective capitals. If Jews can have a right of return, then so can Palestinians. I am tired of wasting my tax dollars on this mess. We need those funds back here to help our poor with health care.

  14. There is no alternative here. The one you suggested would destroy Israel and has always been offered specifically to do so. .

    The Palestinian capitals already exists in Ramallah and Gaza. What war did the Palestinians win to make a claim on Jerusalem?

    “If Jews can have a right of return, then so can Palestinians.”

    With their own state. Just like the Israelis. 🙂

    A 2/3 State solution is really the only permanent viable solution

  15. Israel needs to open its borders to multiculturalism and diversity. After all, Israel is a nation of immigrants, and anyone can be an Israeli. We can all look forward to a day when no one group has dominance in Israel and everyone is treated equally and with respect. Those jews who insist that Israel remain “jewish” (jewishness is a social construct) are just fearful jewish supremacists who need to be silenced and thrown in jail. There is no place for hate and bigotry in 2018.

  16. Israel is the Sovereign Nation-State of the Jewish people. Everyone else should respect that.

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