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From The Socialist newspaper, 9 August 2018

Rally against the Nationality Law, 4.8.18, Tel Aviv, photo by SSM

Rally against the Nationality Law, 4.8.18, Tel Aviv. The placard is a play of words on 'Netanyahu': 'Giz`anyahu' ('Racis-anyahu'). photo by SSM   (Click to enlarge)

Israel - Protest rally against the Nationality Law

Eyal Atsey-Pri and Shahar Benhorin, Socialist Struggle Movement, CWI in Israel-Palestine

Some 90,000-120,000 people in Israel, including thousands of Druze citizens, attended a protest rally against the Nationality Law on Saturday 4 August in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv.

The new law declares that "the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people", particularly advocates Jewish settling, declares "the complete and united Jerusalem" to be Israel's capital, and sweepingly ignores all national, ethnic and religious minorities in Israel, and of course the Palestinians in general.

The mass demonstration, promoted as the 'Druze Protest', was another slap in the face for the government, coming only 13 days after tens of thousands participated in a strike and demonstrations against LGBT+ discrimination, and with further demonstrations to come against the Nationality Law planned by the High Follow-Up Committee for the Arab Public in Israel.

"Bibi [Netanyahu], resign, we will not give up on equality", the crowds shouted in the square. Every time the name Netanyahu was mentioned on the stage, tens of thousands whistled contempt. In addition, shouts of 'Ayoub is a traitor' were heard clearly, in reference to the Druze media minister Ayoub Kara (Likud party), who voted in favour of the Nationality Law.

Compared to the mass demonstration for LGBT+ equality (see article: 'Israel - Tens of thousands protest and strike for LGBT rights on, this demonstration was less establishment-critical and a bit older in composition. But it appears that the vast majority of the tens of thousands who came to the square sought an effective protest against the right-wing government, which is engaged in provocative incitement aimed at preserving and nurturing its support base in the settler and religious right-wing layers of the population.

Like with the threat of deporting asylum seekers earlier this year, arrogance led the Netanyahu government to advance the Nationality Law assuming it would aid support for Netanyahu, the Likud party and the other government coalition parties, from among the most nationalist strata of the Jewish public - allegedly without having to pay an actual political price.

Once again, as was the case with the Surrogacy Law [the provocation that led to the LGBT+ demonstration], the government was surprised by the intensity of the opposition from significant layers of the public.

The few polls conducted show that a majority of the Jewish public and about half to a small majority of the general public support the Nationality Law, and Netanyahu is therefore determined not to back down from it. But a large minority opposes it and the protests can in themselves affect public opinion.

The pro-LGBT+ protest aroused sympathy (at least partially) even among voters of the right-wing Likud and Jewish Home parties. The development of the struggles and the intensity of the opposition to government policy in various spheres illustrate the extent to which the government's real support base is in fact narrow. But it is 'inflated' by, among other factors, security demagoguery against which the official 'opposition' has no real answer.

The protest on the ground blocked a deal with Netanyahu

The rally organisers, led by Druze mayors and Druze officers in the army reserves, focused the event on a problematic, exclusive message. Not a general protest against the law, which continues and further institutionalises discrimination against non-Jewish citizens in Israel in the cynical interests of the right-wing regime; but instead, an exclusive protest, on an ethnic basis, against the discrimination of the Druze minority, on the pretext of the existence of a 'Blood Covenant' between the Israeli Druze and the state, manifested in the participation of Druze men in compulsory military service.

That right-wing message from the Druze organisers linked up this protest with a battery of generals, heads of Mossad, former Shabak security personnel and politicians from the establishment 'opposition' parties, who came to the rally. Some of them were among the speakers on the stage.

Originally, it was the High Follow-Up Committee for the Arab Public that planned to organise the protest rally in Rabin Square, under a call for general opposition to the right-wing Netanyahu regime and to discrimination on the basis of nationality. The call by the Druze leaders then to hold it under their messages, including the authoritarian idea that minority rights should be conditional on any 'proof of loyalty' to the regime, particularly with military service, led the Follow-Up Committee to declare its original event postponed.

Not coincidentally, the rally's stage host, mayor of the Druze town Daliyat al-Karmel, Rafiq Halabi, who demanded that demonstrators shouldn't wave political party flags, nevertheless did not forget to thank Druze Members of the Knesset [MPs], including specifically Hammad Ammar of the racist party Yisrael Beiteinu, which is part of the coalition government.

Halabi sent his blessing to "the Bedouin brothers who serve with us [in the army]", and not to all groups under government attack.

The religious leader Sheikh Mowafaq Tarif, who lit a torch for the "glory of the state" at the last Independence Day ceremony, repeated in the rally the message seeking to prove patriotism: "The Druze are loyal", "All our lives we've been proud of the enlightened, democratic and free State of Israel, where human dignity and freedom are a supreme value and a foundation-stone within its steadfast foundations". As if there is no poverty, institutionalised discrimination, racism, and occupation and oppression of millions of Palestinians.

These messages excluded most of the Arab-Palestinian public from the rally, and also not a few young Druze, who do not identify with the current Druze rebellion, as they are fed up with the false promises for equality based on 'proof of loyalty', and with the ongoing discrimination and the divisive 'divide and rule' policies towards the Arab public.

Tarif, on his part, did not hesitate to declare that he believes in the sincerity of Netanyahu's intentions. A few days earlier he claimed that Netanyahu was offering the Druze a "historic plan" - when actually all that was proposed was cynical legislation that would honour Druze military service, ostensibly diverting budgets to Druze communities and offering benefits to Druze and other non-Jewish citizens serving in the army.

It's reasonable to assume that the deal would have already been signed, as Tarif hoped, and the rally would have been cancelled, had it not been for the protest organisers. Netanyahu tried to 'get rid' of them, including by scuppering a negotiating meeting, a day after he had already announced an agreement was reached with the Druze leaders - but the move backfired and encouraged the Druze leadership to close ranks.

'Blood Covenant'

The 'compromise plan' proposed by Netanyahu sought to reinforce the status that Israeli governments had designated for the Druze and Circassians: 'mercenaries' against the Arab masses in the region. The historic 'blood covenant' that the Druze elite forged with the Zionist movement and the State of Israel - which has not prevented expropriation of lands, suffocation of construction plans, and racist attacks on the Israeli Druze - is mainly a deal in which the Druze shed their blood in exchange for symbolic and very limited privileges compared to the rest of the non-Jewish public in Israel. No wonder that more and more Druze reject such a bad deal.

The 'blood covenant' ran into a crisis with the Nationality Law, which underlined in a most formal manner that even meeting all the possible 'obligations' demanded by the state would not provide non-Jewish minorities with full and equal citizenship rights in Israeli society.

The confusion created by the Nationality Law among the Druze elite has been so great that even Amal Ass`ad, a Druze general (reservist), claimed that the State of Israel was on its way to becoming an apartheid state under Netanyahu's administration.

However, it seems that among the younger generation of Druze, including many of the youth who enlist in the army and civil-national service, opposition to the Nationality Law is the strongest, with a considerable difference compared to the traditional leaders.

That was implied in the speech in Arabic and Hebrew of Sabeel Hattar, 23: "Netanyahu, why did you choose a discriminatory law? What would you achieve with that, apart from the attempt to stick a finger in the eyes of the minorities? ... We will not allow you to destroy the dream and the future. Our unequivocal request [in Arabic, it also means our demand] is to annul the Nationality Law, without compromise, without compromise". Her words received special enthusiasm from the audience.

The organisers, who want to find a way to re-arrange and re-ratify the alliance with the state, flooded the square with hundreds of Druze flags and Israeli flags, and the rally ended with the singing of Israel's anthem. But for many Druze people, the Nationality Law may actually accelerate the process of increasing a more critical and sober approach to their relations with the Israeli establishment.

Despite the fact that the different factions of the official Druze leadership oppose military refusal, three Druze officers have already declared their retirement from the army in response to the Nationality Law approval. In recent years, while official figures of Druze draft to the army remain high, it seems that the Druze refusal movement has been somewhat strengthened, with the background of opposition to discrimination and to the occupation.

Young Druze, like other young people in Israel, especially non-Jews, suffer from acute housing shortages. This is compounded by unemployment, precarious contracts and the discriminatory attitude in society, which block, limit and impede job opportunities and personal development.

"How dare they raise their heads?"

The surprise at the top of the Netanyahu regime at the Druze rebellion was expressed well by Akiva Lamm, a spokesman for MK Moti Yogev (Jewish Home party), who tweeted (and immediately erased) his disbelief that a 'slave' could not thank his master any more: "Druze would never have dared to lift their heads like this. Jews seeking evil for the state are behind this crisis. Those who will suffer from it will be the Druze community".

The conflict between the state and the Druze Zionist elite is a matter of concern among parts of the Israeli establishment, not least because the 'bridge burning' destabilising policy of the government may well contribute to the process of radicalisation among young Druze and to the loosening of another fig-leaf used to nurture a democratic image for the discriminatory capitalist state.

The rally had the potential to become a much bigger 'headache' for Netanyahu and the hawkish right-wing government, if it would have been organised not around a narrow ethnic message and a show of 'loyalty to the state' but under a call to build a broad front for the overthrow of the Nationality Law, racial discrimination and the government itself - while reaching out a hand to the struggle for equality of the entire Arab public and to different social struggles, including the LGBT+ equality movement.

Unfortunately, the LGBT+ rights organisations have also refrained on their part from pushing in the direction needed. However, a number of LGBT+ rights activists decided to attend the rally and promote such a message. Repulsively, some of them were met with homophobic violence on the part of more reactionary elements at the event - but they were also praised by others.

The mass mobilisation for the rally was bad news for the government. But the next steps should lie in building a broad and general struggle against the government and for equality, and therefore it is necessary to strengthen the next rally planned in Rabin Square for Saturday 11 August.

This is the full version of an article which was carried on the website of Socialist Struggle Movement, Israel-Palestine, and is an improved translation (from the original Hebrew) compared with the shorter version which was printed in the Socialist.

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