SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 221 September 2018

Israel-Palestine: protesting the nationality law

Impressively, despite government-backed hostility and incitement, 20-30,000 demonstrators marched on Saturday 11 August in central Tel Aviv, demanding the repeal of the new Nationality Law. It completed a third consecutive week in which tens of thousands of people filled the city’s streets to protest against the discriminatory policies of Benjamin Netanyahu’s regime. This year has seen the stormiest struggles against government policies since 2011.

In contrast to the mass rally in the previous week – under the title of a ‘Druze protest’ – the 11 August march was held in an atmosphere of a much harsher incitement from the Israeli right wing. This was because it was organised on the initiative of the High Follow-Up Committee for the Arab Public in Israel, was openly opposed to divide-and-rule on ethnic, religious and national grounds, and because it clearly demanded the repeal of the Nationality Law and an unconditional end to any discrimination on the basis of nationality.

The Follow-Up Committee’s appeal to mobilise was issued in a joint call by over 25 political parties, organisations and civil society associations, including the Socialist Struggle Movement (CWI). This was the boldest of the important demonstrations in Israel in recent weeks.

It was also significant because of its composition, with a big presence of Jews and Arab-Palestinians, and not only from one exclusive ethnic or religious background. Protesters came from all over the country, including from dozens of Arab towns and communities. A demonstration of this sort, on the scale of tens of thousands, has not been seen for years. It may even have been the largest of its kind.

It was noisy, energetic, diverse and full of solidarity, with slogans in Hebrew and Arabic, and thousands of placards against the Nationality Law and for equality. It was colour-full with flags: Palestinian and Israeli national flags, Pride and red flags, and black flags for mourning. The slogan, ‘The people demand to repeal the law’, was shouted in Hebrew and Arabic in the spirit of the ‘Arab spring’ and the protests of 2011. Alongside it echoed the slogans: ‘We won’t remain silent till the law is repealed’; and, of course, ‘Bibi [Netanyahu] Go Home!’

Socialist Struggle activists helped lead these and other chants, such as, ‘The answer to discrimination – struggle against the government’; ‘We’ll fight, protest, strike, till the law is repealed’; and ‘Equality and welfare, not racism and incitement’, and were joined by Jewish and Arab demonstrators. We distributed hundreds of stickers saying, ‘Jews and Arabs fighting the racists’, in Hebrew and Arabic. Before the start of the march, Jews and Arabs stopped to take pictures of the protest placards we brought: ‘Equal rights now! No to a government of discrimination and racism!’

The nationally mixed character of the demonstration cannot be taken for granted, given the deep national schism and the incitement campaign organised against it, and which continued all the more forcefully the following morning. Netanyahu and government ministers – with the generous help of the leaders of the ‘opposition’ parties led by Avi Gabbay, Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid – did everything possible to sow division between Jews and Arabs and isolate those who protested on Saturday from the rest of the broad public in Israel. They did not hold back on demagoguery and the exploitation of existential fears.

At the start of the weekly cabinet meeting on the Sunday morning, Netanyahu claimed that the demonstration only proved the necessity of the Nationality Law. In other words, it is necessary, allegedly, to prevent a situation where the demand for the recognition of the national rights of the Arab-Palestinian minority in Israel will be addressed officially.

Netanyahu and the enemies of equality in power recycle the nationalistic mantra that granting equal rights to the Arab-Palestinian minority would harm the rights of the Jewish majority and come at its expense. This is part of the logic of the Nationality Law which seeks, alongside the government’s opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state, to negate Palestinian national rights, including the right to self-determination. This is in order to ‘ensure’, it is claimed, the right of self-determination of Jews in Israel.

In the face of this twisted logic, it should be emphasised that the right to self-determination is not an excuse for discrimination – and should be promoted for both national groups, without discrimination. The recent spin which fuelled the de-legitimisation campaign against the demonstration and those who took part, was the singling-out of those few dozens who waved Palestinian national flags – alongside other flags and placards in a diverse demonstration of various forces.

The Nationality Law is first and foremost an attack which seeks to further erase the national rights of the Arab-Palestinian minority in Israel. Some of the Palestinian citizens of Israel therefore wished to remind people that they exist and they have the right to demand full equality, including democratic recognition of national rights.

Among the parties and forces that make up the High Follow-Up Committee for the Arab Public in Israel, there was some controversy over the issue of the flags. Apparently, this was due to a desire that the demonstration should appeal to the broadest possible layers of the Jewish public, and cut across government attempts to portray it as an exclusively ‘Arab’ protest.

On the ground it was quite clear that both the Palestinian and Israeli flags would be an integral part of the demonstration – regardless of the organisers’ decisions. That is the general outlook, the consciousness at this stage, of the broad layers who oppose the Nationality Law and the right-wing government.

For some of the young Palestinians, the meaning of marching in the heart of Tel Aviv under the Palestinian flag is expressing opposition to the erasing of their national identity, and their continued discrimination and oppression. For some of the Jews who came with the flag of the Israeli state, it was an attempt to clarify that they are ‘part of Israeli society’ and ‘not against the state’, in the face of the incitement of the right-wing regime which attempts to delegitimise their views and label them as ‘traitors’. In a way, the carrying of both flags reflected the fact that there are two nationalities living here – both of whom should have equal rights – and that there is a need for a joint struggle against repression and for fundamental change.

What could have further helped the building of a broad united movement was an explanation that equality of rights between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, does not threaten to negate the right of existence or self-determination for either side. Such an approach – linked to joint struggles against oppression, for the defence of democratic rights and around common goals – is a must in order to overcome the reality of national division, discrimination and never-ending conflict between the two peoples.

Now what is required is a strategy based on linking up the struggles and building a broad movement on the ground. The potential was well illustrated with the 11 August march, by the mass roars against the Nationality Law, and against Netanyahu at the huge rally in opposition to LGBT discrimination. The Druze protest also attracted layers interested in linking up with other sectors fighting against the discrimination policies of the Netanyahu government – rather than staying separate under narrow, even right-wing, ethnic messages.

Significantly, the trade union organisation, Power to the Workers, published a principled declaration against the Nationality Law. It includes opposition to "any legislation aimed to sow conflict and division between different parts of the Israeli working class". This is a very important example for the Histadrut (the national trade union centre) and the rest of the workers’ organisations in Israel. The great challenge remains to continue to build the struggle on the ground, with the aim of throwing away the Nationality Law, all other discriminatory laws and the racist, capitalist government into the dustbin of history.

Yasha Marmer,

Socialist Struggle Movement

The full version of this article is available here - from the CWI website

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