Druze Protest Nation-state Law Outside Israeli Party Leaders' Homes; Politicians Vow to 'Fix' Legislation

Protesters seek commitment to amend contentious legislation that enshrined country's Jewish character

Members of Israel's Druze community protest in Tel Aviv on January 16, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

Dozens of Israeli Druze protested against the nation-state law on Wednesday outside the homes of the heads of three parties, demanding that the politicians commit to changing the contentious legislation less than three months before a general election.   

Protesters gathered outside the homes of Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, Labor chairman Avi Gabbay and Gesher chairwoman Orly Levi-Abekasis.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 12

Lapid spoke with representatives of the Druze community at his Tel Aviv home and vowed to amend the legislation.  

"I'm ashamed that Israeli citizens, soldiers, bereaved parents and disabled IDF veterans need to go out in the rain to demand the most basic thing – equality," Lapid said. "This is a disgrace to the country and we will fix the nation-state law."

>> Basic Law or basically a disaster? Israel’s nation-state law controversy explained ■ In grand debut, Israel's nation-state law reveals its ugly true colors | Analysis

Levi-Abekasis said that "if a situation has arisen in which this community, whose fate is tied to ours, feels like second-class citizens – our first task is to fix it. It's not a matter of right wing or left wing. I promise that we will do all we can in order to reach a broad consensus . . . our alliance will continue in this generation and in the next generation." She then invited Druze representatives to her bureau.

Brig. Gen. (res.) Amal Assad, among the leaders of the protest, told Haaretz: "We will go to the meeting and hear what she has to say. We want to hear a commitment to amending the law. We did not come to hear that we are loved and valued. We'll hear what she has to say."

Gabbay meanwhile said that Labor "is fully committed to amending the law to add the value of equality in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence." Recalling a Druze friend he served alongside in the military, Gabbay said that he "never imagined that we would be in this shameful situation in which his child and mine are unequal."

Following his meeting with Lapid, Assad said that "everyone agrees that action needs to be taken to fix the law," adding that the "law deeply hurt many Druze and humiliated non-Jews and everyone who believes in the vision of a Jewish and democratic state as stated in the Declaration of Independence."

Shachiv Shnaan, a Druze former member of Knesset, was among the protesters. "Our first starting point is that we are proud Israeli Druze," he said. "The country is our home and our pride. The second is that partnership is not opportunism. I am not a coward, but I am scared. Scared about the future of the State of Israel and scared that we will lose our common basic foundation – democracy."

Former lawmaker Zeidan Atashi said that "Israel has received all possible assistance, but no one has given more blood than the Druze community. Now they are pulling the rug from under our feet. It's good that there are those standing behind us."   

Protests are expected to be held in Haifa on Thursday, with protest leaders expected to meet Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon. On Friday, they are expected to meet Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and protest outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's home in Caesarea.

On Monday, former army chief Benny Gantz, seen as Netanyahu's main rival in the upcoming April election, said he would "do anything in his power" to change the law.

Speaking to dozens of Israeli Druze who protested outside his home in Rosh Ha'ayin, Gantz said the legislation should "express the deep, inseparable connection" between Israel's Jewish and Druze communities, "not only in combat, but in life, too; not only in hardships, but in good times too. We'll do it together."

Netanyahu's Likud party slammed Gantz's "attack of the nation-state law" and added that "everyone knows the obvious: Gantz is left-wing, just like Yair Lapid."

In response, Hosen L’Yisrael, Gantz's newly-founded party, dubbed Likud’s reaction "panicked" and said in a statement: "They shot our Druze brothers in the back, and we shall heal it."

Tens of thousands participated in August in a Druze-led protest against the nation-state law. The Arabic-speaking Druze community, excepting those in the Golan Heights, has long identified with the state and its institutions, and Druze men are subject to the military draft.