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There's a Reason the Opposition Didn't Attend the Nation-state Protest

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Demonstrators shout slogans as Israeli Arabs and their supporters march during a rally to protest the nation-state law, Tel Aviv, Israel, August 11, 2018.
Demonstrators shout slogans as Israeli Arabs and their supporters march during a rally to protest the nation-state law, Tel Aviv, Israel, August 11, 2018.Credit: AFP

“Cowards!” scream the articles published since the demonstration organized by the Arab community’s Higher Arab Monitoring Committee in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square last Saturday. “Rhinoceroses,” charge the cartoonists. The question asked over and over by those writers is this: How is it possible that the leaders of the Zionist Union party didn’t attend the demonstration?

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So here’s the answer: We didn’t come because we believe Israel must be both a Jewish and a democratic state. That’s not an easy combination, and some say it’s impossible. But I believe it’s essential, and so did the signers of the Declaration of Independence, who represented all the different groups in the pre-state Jewish community’s leadership. They wrote in that declaration that Israel is the state of the Jewish people and that it will ensure equality for all its citizens.

I am loyal to their path, even if there are some people who don’t accept the idea of equality for all Israelis, like the current government, which refused to add that into the nation-state law. On the other side, there are people – and regrettably, the leaders of the Arab parties’ Joint List are among them – who have trouble accepting Israel’s definition as the Jewish nation-state, even if it were to ensure equality.

We believe in both halves of this equation, and we consider both vital. We won’t acquiesce in Israel conceding either half of the equation, regardless of whether it’s the Jewish-state half or the half that promises equality to all citizens under a democratic system of government. I cannot support any formulation that gives priority to either of these values at the expense of the other.

The claim that we weren’t at the demonstration because we were afraid is very reminiscent of the government’s charge that we didn’t support the nation-state law because we opposed enshrining Israel’s definition as the state of the Jewish people in legislation. It’s regrettable that even as the government suffers from the sickness of blaming others, some of these writers suffer from the sickness of self-blame.

I believe in two states for two peoples, a program which means that each state provides a national solution for one of those two peoples. In conversations with the leadership of the Joint List, I repeatedly explained this view. But at the same time, I’ll continue to strive for Israel to provide equality to all its citizens, Jews and Arabs alike, without conceding its identity as the Jewish nation-state.

So why, we are asked (in the best case, when we aren’t simply accused of racism straight away), did you attend the Druze demonstration but not the Arab one? No, it’s not because we make a distinction between Druze and Arabs, or even between those who serve in the army and those who don’t. It’s important for me to say this clearly: Every citizen deserves equality; it is not conditional!

But the Druze demonstration called for equality within the state of the Jewish people. That is our struggle, the struggle over the values the Israeli flag is supposed to represent. As leader of the opposition, I’ll continue to oppose allowing any group being gagged, delegitimized or painted as traitors, whether it is members of an organization disliked by certain members of the governing coalition or Jews who wish to visit the land of their forefathers.

I’m currently working to make the Declaration of independence the basis of Israel’s constitution by legislating it as a Basic Law. And I would have expected Haaretz to join this effort – possibly even through an editorial.

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