The nation-state law formalizes and legitimizes Israel’s ethno-supremacist and settler-colonial character by giving it the force of law. It affirms that only Jews have the right to self-determination in Israel/Palestine, makes Hebrew the only official state language, downgrading Arabic to a “special status” language, and promotes Jewish settlement throughout Israel/Palestine as a “national value.”
In the wake of the bill’s passage, analysts have sought to explain its political reasoning and timing. Ben White, a journalist and author specializing in Israeli-Palestinian affairs, reminded readers that the parliamentary path to the nation-state bill was started in 2011 by Avi Dichter, a Likud MK who at the time represented Kadima. Alongside other MKs representing Likud and Yisrael Beitenu, Dichter tabled the nation-state bill in order to legally privilege Israel’s status as the national home of the Jewish people over its declared democratic character. Dichter argued that the law was a necessary insurance policy to protect Israel’s Jewish identity and stymie the growing movement for democratization, and even bi-nationalism, led by Palestinian legislators and political organizations.
But now that the bill has been passed, it seems to be having the opposite effect. Instead of silencing calls for equality, it has galvanized a movement. On August 11, some 30,000 Palestinians and their Jewish allies converged in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv to denounce the nation-state law and commit to collectively fight against inequality and racism. The protest was organized by the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, an umbrella group representing Palestinian citizens of Israel. It followed a demonstration organized by the Druze community the previous week, in which 50,000 people similarly called for equal rights for all citizens.
The August 11 demonstration featured protestors waving Palestinian flags and condemning the consolidation of apartheid in Israel. Chairman of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee and former Hadash MK, Muhammad Baraka, announced that Israel’s Palestinian citizens are ready to continue the public struggle against the nation-state law at the grassroots level. Indeed, the Committee recently joined other rights groups and civil society organizations in petitioning Israel’s High Court to review the law.
To be sure, divisions abound among movement members over the tactics, political objectives, slogans, and symbols to adopt. Reports from the protest not only reflect a politically emboldened Palestinian community, but also highlight the divisions that threaten what many hope is an emerging movement. Among the fault lines is whether the movement should remain focused on the nation-state law and civil rights, or whether its emphasis should shift towards full decolonization and democratic equality in Israel/Palestine.
Still, Saturday’s demonstration was one of the largest Palestinian protests ever assembled in Tel Aviv. Whatever the ultimate outcome, it is clear the nation-state bill is energizing the very forces it was designed to undermine.