On August 11, tens of thousands of Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv to protest the recently passed nation-state law. Some of the demonstrators—against the wishes of the organizers—waved Palestinian flags and recited such chants as “with blood and fire, we will redeem Palestine.” But Evelyn Gordon notes something far more disturbing about the demonstration:
[T]he organizers . . . banned Israeli flags at the protest, arguing that they would make Arab demonstrators uncomfortable (here, too, some people disobeyed). They did this knowing that it would undermine their goal of strong Jewish participation since many Jews opposed to the nation-state law would still feel uncomfortable at a protest where Israeli flags were unwelcome. And this wasn’t a decision by a few rebellious protesters; it was made by the [Israeli] Arab community’s most representative body—the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, which consists of elected mayors, Knesset members, and other community leaders.
In other words, the organizers believed that Israeli flags were unacceptable to most of their community. So they informed Jews that no partnership was possible, even over an ostensibly major shared concern, unless the Jews agreed to forgo even the most basic symbol of their Israeli identity. . . .
[By contrast], Israeli flags were much in evidence at the Druze community’s protest against the nation-state law the previous week. Those demonstrators, Druze and Jews alike, considered themselves proud Israelis, nor did they have any objection in principle to Israel’s Jewish identity. They merely thought the law as currently worded contradicts Israel’s best values as a Jewish and democratic state.
By banning Israeli flags, the Arab community’s protest sent the opposite message: [that] Arabs didn’t come as proud Israelis who felt that Israel was betraying its best values; they came because they oppose the very existence of a Jewish state, up to and including its most innocuous symbol—the flag. And they object to the nation-state law not because of any infelicitous wording, but precisely because it enshrines aspects of Israel’s Jewish identity in a quasi-constitutional law, thereby making it harder (at least theoretically) for the supreme court to continue eroding this identity by interpreting “Jewish” at a “level of abstraction so high that it becomes identical to the state’s democratic nature” (to quote the former supreme-court president Aharon Barak). In other words, Arab demonstrators were dismayed because they fear the nation-state law will impede their decades-long effort to erode Israel’s Jewish identity—which, of course, is precisely why the law’s supporters favor it.
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