protest - Tal Cohen - October 17 2010
Yesterday’s rally against changes to the Citizenship Law. The sign on the bottom right reads “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.” 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 that Lieberman is making statements but Netanyahu is orchestrating his actions). Photo by Tal Cohen

Thousands marched in Tel Aviv last night as part of a joint Jewish-Arab protest against the cabinet's approval last week of a controversial amendment to the Citizenship Law that would require non-Jewish candidates for naturalization to pledge allegiance to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

Organizers and speakers said the passage of the amendment signals the start of a series of racist laws expected to be raised in the new Knesset session.

Many of last night's speakers also cited a recent Israel Prisons Service exercise simulating widespread arrests of Israeli Arabs during population exchanges with the Palestinian Authority in the framework of a peace agreement.

The organizers of the protest march, from Likud headquarters to the Kirya government compound, included the Hadash and Meretz parties as well as social and human rights organizations such as Gush Shalom and the Green Movement. Among the speakers were MK Dov Khenin (Hadash ), journalist Merav Michaeli and former MK Mossi Raz.

Khenin, who spoke outside the Kirya, said: "The democratic space is threatened by well-oiled pincers. One arm is the arm of racism. It begins with Arab leaders and continues to Arab citizens. The statement 'The Arab citizens of Israel are the true demographic threat' was uttered not by Rabbi Meir Kahane or Avigdor Lieberman, but by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at 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. And a week ago it was the subject of a practical exercise by the security forces," Khenin said.

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

MK Haim Oron (Meretz ) told the audience there were 11 bills before the Knesset that "smelled of racism" and constituted "antidemocratic legislative onslaught." Oron said these draft laws sought to exclude Israeli Arabs from the democratic game and to perpetuate "ethnocratic rightist rule for generations."

Protesters were bused in from Jerusalem, Haifa, Be'er Sheva, Nazareth, Acre and Umm al-Fahm. Among the signs they held was one that said: "Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies."