Israeli Druze Leaders to Netanyahu: Change Nation-state Law

Netanyahu did not commit, said he would continue consultations. Druze leaders demand Israel gives all citizens equal rights

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sheikh Muwafak Tarif, and other Druze leaders at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, July 27, 2018.
GPO

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Friday with Israeli Druze leaders, who requested that he change the nation-state law. Netanyahu gave no commitments, saying he would consult on the matter.

Sheikh Muwafak Tarif, spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel, met Netanyahu alongside Communications Minister Ayoub Kara (Likud), who hails from the Druze community, in Jerusalem. Senior officers from the Israeli military, who are also Druze, were in attendance as well.

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The Druze leader requested that Netanyahu change the recently passed nation-state law, which affirmed that only Jews have the right to self-determination in Israel. The Druze leader asked that the Druze community's status will be fixed and be constitutionalized, and that equal rights will be afforded to all citizens as per Israel's Declaration of Independence. The Druze invited the prime minister to meet with Druze leaders in Druze communities in Israel and told him that they "trust his leadership."

Netanyahu promised to continue his consultations on the matter and to meet Druze municipal leaders next week to discuss the issue. The prime minister also said he would establish a taskforce, led by his chief of staff, Yoav Horowitz, to examine the sheikh's requests.

"The goal is to reach a quick and acceptable solution that will express Israel's gratitude to the unique fateful partnership with the Druze community," the Prime Minister Office's press release read.

According to a statement by Netanyahu Thursday, the government is not expected to make changes to the nation-state law despite ongoing protests against the legislation by the Druze community. Instead, a plan will be formulated that “reflects Israel’s deep commitment to the Druze community.”

The nation-state law is designed to alter the application of the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty in court rulings, and permit judges to give priority to Israel’s Jewish character in their rulings. 

On Sunday, Druze lawmakers were the first to file a High Court of Justice petition against the Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People. A hundred Druze Israel Defense Forces reserve officers added their voices to that effort on Wednesday, prompting Education Minister Naftali Bennett to speak out in support of “our blood brothers” on Twitter

The Druze are a unique religious and ethnic group that broke away from Shia Islam in the 11th century. There are about 1.5 million Druze worldwide, living mostly in Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan.

Unlike other Arab citizens, Druze men are subject to the army draft and the community’s soldiers have long been venerated for their distinguished service.