Loyalty oath protest - Tal Cohen - Oct 16, 2010
Left-wing demonstration against loyalty oath bill in Tel Aviv on October 16, 2010. Photo by Tal Cohen
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Tal Cohen
"In Nuremberg it also began with legislation!" / "Not loyal to Lieberman!" / "If there's racism, there will be no loyalty!" Photo by Tal Cohen
Tal Cohen
"The voice is the voice of Lieberman, but the hands are the hands of Netanyahu" (Biblical reference meaning here that Netanyahu supports Lieberman's extreme statements). Photo by Tal Cohen

Thousands marched in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening in a joint Jewish-Arab protest against the cabinet's approval of a controversial amendment to the citizenship bill, requiring non-Jews seeking citizenship to pledge allegiance to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

The demonstrators marched carrying signs reading "Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies" and "Together we will protect the democratic space". Among the organizers of the protests were Hadash, Meretz, The Green Movement, and Gush Shalom parties and many social and human rights organizations.

Top political figures delivered speeches during the demonstration, among them Hadash MK Dov Khenin, Meretz MK Haim Oron, Hadash MK Mohammed Barakeh, and journalist Merav Michaeli.

Khenin warned that the idea of a population transfer of Israel's Arab citizens to a Palestinian state started as a nightmare, but has since transformed into a practical plan.

"The statement 'The Arab citizens of Israel are the true demographic threat' was not uttered by Rabbi Meir Kahane or Avigdor Lieberman, but by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Jerusalem conference. Two years ago, the idea of population transfer was a slogan of extreme right-wing parties. A month ago it was the subject of an official speech by the Foreign Minister in the United Nations," Khenin said.

"Friends, the population transfer has turned from a nightmare into an operational plan. Against this we stand here today."

Meretz MK Oron also condemned the loyalty oath bill, calling it racist and anti-democratic.

"This anti-democratic attack of legislation was meant to exclude the Arab population from the democratic game and to eternalize an ethnocentric right-wing regime in the government," said Oron. "The Knesset has 11 bills pending, and each one of them oozes with racism."

Last week, cabinet ministers approved by a majority vote a controversial amendment which would require every non-Jew wishing to become a citizen of Israel to pledge loyalty to "the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state."

The amendment is one of the promises Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made to Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party in the coalition agreements. Since coming into government Yisrael Beitenu has advanced a long list of "loyalty" laws, which many consider to be discriminatory against Israel's Arab citizens.