Night of Honor, Night of Disgrace

Saturday night’s demonstration should launch a new chapter in Israeli politics, in which the Arab community becomes an inseparable part of a large bloc capable of blocking the government

Israeli Arabs and their supporters take part in a rally to protest against Jewish nation-state law in Rabin square in Tel Aviv, Israel August 11, 2018.

Saturday night’s protest march through the streets of Tel Aviv and the demonstration that concluded it were a badge of honor for civic society in Israel. Tens of thousands of Israelis, Jews and Arabs, marched shoulder to shoulder in a joint struggle against the disgrace of the nation-state law and for equality for all of the state’s citizens.

This was the second weekly mass demonstration in a row against the nation-state law, and it carried special significance. Its success bodes well for the vigor of Israel’s democratic camp and its protest capabilities. Last week, the protest focused mainly on the rights of a single minority, the Druze. But Saturday night, the masses marched in favor of equality for everyone – the Druze and all of Israel’s Palestinian citizens.

The most excluded and oppressed group in Israel, and the one most badly hurt by the nation-state law, proudly made its voice heard Saturday night in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square and gained impressive solidarity from Israel’s Jewish citizens. It wasn’t just the Arab community, but everyone who values democracy that together shouted “no” to the nation-state law.

Given this, the position of the leaders of the two main opposition parties, Yesh Atid and Zionist Union, was particularly shameful: They chose to boycott the demonstration. Nobody expected anything better from Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, given his history of racist statements against the Arab community. But when Avi Gabbay, Tzipi Livni and most of Zionist Union’s other Knesset members sat out a mass demonstration against a law they publicly opposed, they failed to do their duty as a major opposition party.

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Those who rightly demonstrated against the law together with the Druze in that same square just a week earlier, yet decided to boycott a similar demonstration organized by the Arab community’s Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, missed an important opportunity to expand the protest. No excuse can obscure this.

Zionist Union deserves a badge of shame for its behavior. Palestinian citizens of Israel and all Israelis who desire equality should know that at the moment of truth, Zionist Union fled from doing its job.

Saturday night’s protest must not be a one-time event. It’s key lesson isn’t just that Jews and Arabs joining forces can generate a meaningful protest against the most right-wing nationalist government in Israel’s history. Saturday night’s demonstration also should launch a new chapter in Israeli politics, in which the Arab community ceases to be an excluded, ostracized group and becomes an inseparable part of a large bloc capable of fighting and blocking the right-wing government.

It’s not necessary to agree on everything to protest together on behalf of a joint goal. We should no longer fear cooperation between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority. We need to fight together. Saturday night’s demonstration proved this beyond the shadow of a doubt.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.