Arab Israelis fight nationality bill with ‘second-class’ stamp
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Arab Israelis fight nationality bill with ‘second-class’ stamp

Unimpressed with their representatives in parliament, Arab youths take their struggle for civil equality to social media

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Activist Sana Jamaileh with the 'second class citizen' stamp she designed (photo credit: Facebook image)
Activist Sana Jamaileh with the 'second class citizen' stamp she designed (photo credit: Facebook image)

Israel does not issue stamps labeling some people as second-class citizens, but a new social media campaign by Arab Israelis to protest the government’s proposed “Jewish state” bill makes it look like Jerusalem is doing just that.

Artists Haitham Charles and Sana Jamalieh designed a mock official state stamp bearing the words “second class citizen” in Hebrew; encircled by the words State of Israel and the national emblem of the menorah and olive branches.

The mockup has gone viral on Facebook pages of Arab Israelis, who superimpose the image over their profile pictures as a way of agitating against the bill.

Charles told Arab Israeli news website Al-Hayat, “A friend suggested that we design a sticker in response to the terrible situation. We laughed and said: ‘All we need right now is for the new state seal to be stamped on our foreheads.’ That’s when we decided to invent this stamp.”

On Sunday, the cabinet approved a list of measures to be included in new legislation, drafted by right-wing parliamentarians, defining Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and enshrining its Jewish symbols in law.

Senior ministers Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid have threatened to bolt the coalition if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu advances the law next week.

The bill was also criticized on Tuesday by President Reuven Rivlin, a former Likud MK and speaker of the house, and on Wednesday Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he supported Israeli lawmakers who were opposing the measure.

Critics of the bill say the measure, which guarantees equal rights for all Israel’s citizens, would serve to further alienate Israeli Arabs from Israeli society.

Hanin Majadli, a 25-year-old Arabic literature student at Tel Aviv University, changed her profile picture to include the new stamp.

“It’s a brilliant campaign,” said the Baqa Al-Gharbiyah native, who created a popular Facebook page geared at teaching Israeli Jews colloquial Arabic. “It’s dramatic, it’s in your face, it’s provocative in a good sense. I also agree with the statement carried in it.”

Tel Aviv student and Arabic teacher Hanin Majadli photo credit: courtesy/Hanin Majadli
Tel Aviv student and Arabic teacher Hanin Majadli (photo credit: courtesy/Hanin Majadli)

Majadli said that Facebook campaigns have limited power to directly affect change, but can draw media attention which in turn could influences policymakers. “It’s better than just having members of Knesset talk on the podium all day,” she said

“I don’t think any [Israeli] Arab ever placed much hope in the Arab members of Knesset,” she said. “As far as we’re concerned, they have no influence.”

None of Majadli’s Arab friends were surprised by the new draft bill, she said. “It’s not like we woke up one morning and said ‘No, what is this law all about? The reality which we’ve always experienced is simply taking official form now. Before, it merely existed in government policy and in the Declaration of Independence. Since the establishment of the state Arabs were always second-class citizens by the mere fact they we live in the Jewish nation-state.”

The typical reaction of her friends was “‘When were we ever anything else?’ or ‘Who’s surprised’?” she said.

Salma, the cat of Sana Jamaileh, also features in the campaign photo credit: Facebook image
Salma, the cat of Sana Jamaileh, also features in the campaign photo credit: Facebook image

Sana Jamalieh, the project’s co-initiator, posted a photo of herself with the new stamp below the caption “Celebrating my old (but official) state: second-class citizen!” She also added a Hebrew hashtag with the same words.

Unlike Majadli, she had no hope of changing reality through the Facebook campaign. “I don’t expect to achieve anything by this symbol, I just wanted to make fun of the situation,” she told Arab Israeli news website Panet in an interview Tuesday, also posting the blue stamp on a black and white photo of her cat, Salma.

The fact that the stamp features in Hebrew (and English) but not Arabic is noteworthy. It could be interpreted as a cry of frustration directed at Jewish society, in a country where citizenship is increasingly being linked with the majority ethnicity.

“We did it to reflect the government’s tendency and portray the new reality,” Charles, a Gender Studies student at Tel Aviv University, told Al-Hayat. “We weren’t trying to be politically correct.”

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