NEW DELHI: Following the approval of the contentious “Nationality Bill” -- that will officially define Israel as nation-state for the Jewish people -- by the Israeli cabinet, hundreds of Israeli Arabs, as part of a social media campaign that has gone viral, have replaced their Facebook profile pictures with a stamp that says “second class citizens.”

(Image credit: Times of Israel)

The campaign was started by artists Haitham Charles and Sana Jamalia who created 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.

Speaking to Arab Israeli news website Al-Hayat, Charles explained the reason behind the campaign. “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.”

Jamalia, told Haaretz, “What’s new here? We were never first–class citizens. At least now you have said it out loud. I prefer that they tell us directly and not pretend we live in a democratic country…[where] they are self righteous and say there are equal rights.”

Jamalia and Charles sent images bearing the stamp out to friends, and they quickly gained popularity with Israeli Arabs superimposing the stamp on their profile pictures.

Hanin Majadli, a student from Tel-Aviv who changed her profile picture (see below), told Haaretz, “The Arab public in Israel has no partner. I think that most of the support we are receiving is from overseas. There is support from the Israeli left, which is also a minority and sometimes is also afraid.” “I don’t think this Facebook campaign will lead to the cancellation of the nation– state law. But we need to put it on the table, to raise awareness,” she added.

(Pictured: student Hanin Majadli)

The bill -- condemned by critics as a threat to Israel’s democratic character -- will, in addition to formally identifying Israel as a nation-state for the Jewish people, enshrine Jewish law and delist Arabic as an official language. Critics fear that the law will make the country’s Arab minority -- 20 percent of the population -- inferior to Jews in the eyes of the law as it will not accord them the “equality of social and political rights” found in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

Further, the bill threatens any resumption of dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian representatives, as the recognition of Israel as a Jewish State was a major bone of contention in the US brokered peace dialogue that ultimately collapsed as Fatah and Hamas announced a unity deal and Israel began an offensive on the Gaza strip this summer.

The passing of the bill comes as tensions in the region soar over the the issue of access to the Al Aqsa Mosque, the city’s most contested holy site and a wave of attacks, including last week's deadly assault on a Jerusalem synagogue. Israel vowed to respond to the violence with harsh measures, including stripping Palestinian attackers of their residency rights. The controversial policy of demolition of homes and an announcement to increase outpost construction has already been resumed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the nationality bill, linking it to preserving Israel’s democratic character as the country’s existence is under threat. “There are those who would like the democratic to prevail over the Jewish and there are those who would like the Jewish to prevail over the democratic… In the principles of the law that I will submit today both of these values are equal and both must be considered to the same degree," Netanyahu said.

The bill has created an uproar in Israel, with many voicing their opposition and stating that the bill will escalate tensions. Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who heads the centrist Yesh Atid party, called the proposed law "a bad law, which is badly worded." Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni and President Reuven Rivlin, a former Likud MK and speaker of the house, also criticised the bill. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas -- who had refused to agree to Israel’s demand that it be recognised as a Jewish State during the peace dialogue -- stated that he supports those in Israel opposing the proposed legislation.

The proposed legislation has sparked off criticism on social media across nationalities, with users tweeting their opposition.