Israeli Politicians Explain Why They Shunned Nation-state Protest

Few Jewish lawmakers attend Arab-led demonstration, while culture minister says march proves 'cooperation between left and Israeli Arabs who want another country'

Tens of thousands of demonstrators rallying in Tel Aviv against the nation-state law, August 11, 2018.
Tomer Appelbaum

The chairman of the Zionist Union, Avi Gabbay, said on Saturday night that he is not participating in the protest march of the Israeli Arab community against the new nation-state law because the event’s organizers support the Palestinian “right of return.”

“The demonstration is organized by people from Balad and the Joint List,” Gabbay told the “Meet the Press” television show. “They don’t believe in a Jewish state. I can go to a protest that talks about equal rights, but we will definitely not be at this demonstration, it doesn’t matter what it is for.”

Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud) seized on the presence of Palestinian flags at the protest to argue that "the left and Arab Israelis prefer the [Palestinian flag] colors of the red, black and green over the [Israeli flag colors] blue and white." Regev added that the protest "proves that there is cooperation between the left and Arabs who want another country – another government. It won't help and they had better internalize this: Hebrew is the official language of the State of Israel. The blue and white flag with the Star of David is the official flag. Our anthem is Hatikvah and our united capital is Jerusalem, the eternal city."

Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud) claimed "dozens of PLO flags" at the protest were "the clear and unequivocal proof that Israel needs the nation-state law."

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Of the 24 Knesset members belonging to the Zionist Union, only two participated in the protest: MKs Miki Rosenthal and Zouheir Bahloul, who has announced his intention of resigning from the Knesset in protest over the passage of the nation-state law.

Meretz MKs were the only ones among the Jewish parties to attend the rally, alongside the members of the Joint List. 

The chairman of the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, former Hadash MK Mohammed Baraka, said in response at the rally: “[Opposition leader MK Tzipi] Livni has not really left Likud and Gabbay has not yet left the Likud government, we who have gathered here in the square will overcome. We are extending an honest hand for Arab-Jewish cooperation to create reality and justice.”

Rosenthal said on Saturday evening: “What worries me and my colleagues of the [Zionist Union], who fear to stand proudly against the campaign of incitement, the most is that it may be detrimental to them publicly and politically. I am joining the protest not as support for its organizers and not in identifying with all its messages, but because of my belief that there is no Zionism without democracy and no democracy without equality for all.”

“Everyone has their own considerations. My heart and conscience are at peace with my participation. If I have to pay a political price, I will pay it,” said Rosenthal, in response to a question from Haaretz concerning his party’s MKs absence from the rally.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meanwhile took to Twitter to comment on the rally. In response to protesters waving Palestinian flags, Netanyahu wrote on his official handle: "There is no better testimony for the necessity of the nation-state law. We will continue to wave the Israeli flag proudly and sing the anthem (Hatikva) with even greater pride."

Earlier this week, new opposition leader Tzipi Livni told Army Radio that she would not attend the march because some of the members of the Arab Joint List do not share her view that Israel is the nation-state of the Jews.

MK Robert Tiviaev, who was sworn in just last week in the as a Knesset member for the Zionist Union, said the waving of Palestinian flags at the demonstration in Rabin Square was disgraceful. “Whether the nation-state law is right or not, there is no justification whatsoever for violating the law and waving Palestinian flags n Rabin Square. The Joint List is strengthening the extreme right and harming the State of Israel. It is shameful that members of the Israeli Knesset are cooperating with a violation of the law,” said Tiviaev.