Thousands demonstrate in Tel Aviv against nation-state bill

(JTA) –Thousands of demonstrators gathered in Tel Aviv to protest the discriminatory aspects of the nation-state bill, which would legislate Israel as a state of the Jewish people.

The Saturday night protest, organized by several civil society and human rights organizations in conjunction with religious groups and political parties, decried a clause that would allow segregated communities, as well as the entire bill, which would become part of Israel’s Basic Law, which functions as its de-facto constitution.

The legislation, proposed by the Benjamin Netanyahu-led Likud Party, could be voted on as early as Monday. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he would like to see the legislation passed before the end of the Knesset’s current session next week.

In addition to the segregated communities, the bill would demote Arabic from an official language to a “special status,” would identify Jerusalem as the capital, make the Jewish calendar the state’s official calendar, and recognize Israeli days of remembrance as official holidays.

Several opposition lawmakers spoke against the legislation. “This government is destroying peace and destroying democracy and equality for a little more political capital for the tyranny of Netanyahu,” Arab Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh said at the demonstration. “The racist laws of a government that fears the power of a majority and tramples the minority will not remove us.”

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin last week also criticized the bill, saying it “could harm the Jewish people, Jews throughout the world, and the State of Israel, and could even be wielded as a weapon by our enemies.”

The groups participating in Saturday night’s protest said in a statement: “The nation-state law would turn racism, discrimination and segregation into an inescapable part of our lives. More than that – racism and discrimination are becoming desired and central in the State of Israel. The nation-state law will bring exclusion and damage to minorities to terrifying levels we have never seen before.” The statement also said, “Our stance is clear: all citizens – all – are equal. We are all equal citizens – Arabs and Jews, women and men, Mizrahim, Ethiopians, those of us from the former USSR, and members of the LGBTQ community.”

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