Middle East

Israel's ‘Jewish State’ law irks country's Druze

Druze leaders ponder their status in what new law describes as ‘nation-state of the Jewish people’

Ali H. M.Abo Rezeg   | 26.07.2018
Israel's ‘Jewish State’ law irks country's Druze

Israel

By Abdel Raouf Arnaout  

JERUSALEM

The so-called “Jewish State” law, passed last week by the Knesset (Israel's parliament), has angered Israel’s Druze community, members of which typically serve in the Israeli military. 

Druze leaders, some of whom are serve as senior officers in the army, have been left to ponder the status of their non-Jewish community in a country described by the new legislation as “the nation-state of the Jewish people".  

An Arabic-speaking ethnic group who adhere to their own monotheistic religion, Israel’s Druze community -- estimated at about 120,000 people -- is concentrated largely in the country’s northern regions.

Unlike the country’s Arab Christians and Muslims, Druze men serve in the Israeli military and generally consider themselves loyal citizens of Israel.

The Israeli government’s communications portfolio is currently held by a Druze minister, Ayoub Qara.

(Druze living in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, who remain closely bound to their Arab identity, constitute a notable exception to this rule, however.) 

Along with asserting that a “united Jerusalem” is the capital of Israel, the new legislation makes Hebrew the country's sole official language, stripping Arabic of the designation.  

While Arab Knesset members blasted the law as a manifestation of “Israeli racism” against the country’s Arab minority, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed it as a “defining moment for Zionism and Israel”. 

High-profile members of Israel’s Druze community, for their part, have also voiced opposition to the new legislation.  

“My name is Amal Asaad, a citizen of the state of Israel and a non-Jew. I am a Druze, and I live in the village of Asfiya,” a retired Israeli Druze general said in an open letter to Netanyahu.  

“What do you mean by a ‘national state for the Jewish people’?” he asked. “If I am not a Jew, then the state will not be my state.”

“I have served for 26 years -- as a combatant and a commander -- in the Israeli army, while Druze youth took part in Israel’s wars, in all battles and on all fronts,” Asaad said.

“We are rooted in this country no less than any Jewish citizen, because it is our country and our homeland for hundreds of years,” he added.  

The Druze outrage prompted Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett to admit that the law’s wording “harms… anyone who links his fate to the Jewish state”. 

“This is not the intention of the Israeli government; these are our blood-brothers who stand with us on the battlefield,” Bennett tweeted earlier this week.  

Nevertheless, Bennett went on to assert that “the law itself is necessary and will remain”. 

Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni, a member of the Knesset, tweeted in a response to Bennett: “The cries of our Druze brothers against the [Israeli] government came in real time.”  

She added: “The solution was on the table, but the government objected to adding the word 'equality' to the [text of] the law… which harmed the feelings of Israeli citizens, and prevented us from all being part of the law.”  

According to Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, 100 Druze officers in the Israeli army reserve have set up a special forum to protest the law.  

“We feel as if they decided to bury us outside the cemetery,” the newspaper quoted retired Israeli Druze General Imad Fares as saying.  

He added: “We always thought one day we would be treated equitably.”  

Fares went on to point out that his son was currently serving as an officer in the Israeli army, while his other son would soon join the army’s ranks.  

“Serving in the army is our duty as citizens,” the retired general said. “But I expect this country to reciprocate.”

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