American Jews slam Israel’s ‘racist’ nation-state bill as thousands protest against it in Tel Aviv

American Jews slam Israel’s ‘racist’ nation-state bill as thousands protest against it in Tel Aviv
Thousands of people have taken to the streets of the Israeli capital in protest against the so-called nation-state bill, which, they say, would enable ethnic segregation. The controversial bill also drew criticism from US Jews.

Demonstrators marched through the streets of Tel Aviv chanting: “Full equality and no less,” “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies" and "The nation bill is a disaster," according to witnesses. 

"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. Our stance is clear: all citizens –all– are equal,” the organizers of the rally stated, as cited by the Jerusalem Post.

Between 2,500 and 7,000 people took part in the rally, according to various Israeli media reports. The demonstration was organized by a wide range of NGOs, rights groups and at least four Israeli political parties. The march was reportedly led by some members of the Knesset – the Israeli parliament.

The bill in question, which is currently being debated in the Knesset and is expected to come to a final vote on Monday, declares Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people. Opponents of the controversial legislation say it would prioritize Jewish values over democratic ones and effectively endanger the rights of Israeli Arab citizens as well as even secular Israelis.

One of the most controversial clauses of the new bill envisages the establishment of settlements or communities that are segregated by religion or nationality. “The state may allow a community, including members of one religion or of one nationality, to maintain a separate communal settlement,” the provision says, according to the Jerusalem Post. This particular clause even drew criticism from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, however, actively supports the legislation.

“The law of division and discrimination that this government is promoting – which they call the Nation-State Bill – will leave a great many of us out; out of towns with “admission committees; out of fair treatment in the courts; out of citizenship; out of democracy. To this, we will not agree,” the groups participating in the rally said in a statement.

The controversial bill also drew criticism from abroad, particularly from US Jews: 14 American Jewish organizations expressed their concerns over the legislation to the incoming Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog, who is also the opposition leader in the Knesset.

Some of these groups, such as the New Israel Fund, also took part in Saturday’s rally. “This is tribalism at its worst,” the New Israel Fund CEO Daniel Sokatch told Haaretz. “Beginning with Israel’s Declaration of Independence, the Jewish value of human dignity and the principle of the equality of all people have formed the democratic foundation of the state. This law is completely incompatible with those values,” he added.

Meanwhile, if adopted, the nation-state law would acquire the status of a “basic” law, which gives it a power equal to the constitution (even though Israel does not have a written one). “If racism, sexism, and religious fundamentalism are to be protected in Israel’s basic laws, it should be no surprise when the country embodies those values. This bill and the government that supported it are a danger to Israel’s future,” Sokatch, who even wrote a piece on the issue for the San Diego Jewish World media outlet, warned.

Others were seemingly also concerned over Israel’s international reputation. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, particularly warned that adoption of the bill would “make Israel an open target on the world stage for all those who seek to deny the Jewish people our right to a homeland.”

The news comes just days after the Irish Senate, the upper house of parliament, supported a bill that makes it illegal to import goods produced in the illegal Israeli settlements built on the Occupied Territories in the West Bank. The move prompted the Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to call for Israel’s embassy in Ireland to be closed “immediately.”

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