Israeli Lawmakers Call to Amend Nation-state Law After Druze Officer's Death

After the Israeli army released the identity of a fallen Druze commander who was killed in Gaza, Finance Minister Lieberman calls on parliament to reconsider the controversial bill ■ 'I agree with every word,' FM Lapid says

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Lieberman in the Finance Ministry last week.
Lieberman in the Finance Ministry last week.Credit: Emil Salman

Declassification of the name and photo of a Druze commander who fell during a covert mission in the Gaza Strip in 2018 sparked calls among Israeli lawmakers to amend the controversial nation-state law that defines the country as the nation state of the Jewish people.

“There is a clear contradiction between the nation-state law in its current form and all the praise being given to the Israeli hero, Lt. Col. Mahmoud Kheir el-Din and many good men like him who have fallen for the sake of the state,” Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman tweeted Sunday.

"I call on both the opposition and the coalition to recalculate the route and instead of making do with words like “brothers in arms,” for Druze society, to do what is needed.” In response to a query from Haaretz, his office said that he intended to submit an amendment in the next few days.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who is also alternate prime minister, quoted Lieberman and wrote: “I agree with every word.”

The chairman of Kahol Lavan, MK Eitan Ginzburg also voiced his agreement with Lieberman and said that his party had submitted two bills to amend the law, which are now before the Ministerial Committee on Legislation.

One is an amendment to the Basic Law on Equality, which would state that all Israeli citizens are equal before the law and that the rights of individuals cannot be infringed on the basis of religion, race, gender or other reasons. The second is an amendment to the Basic Law on the Declaration of Independence, enshrining its spirit and values in law.

In 2017, Lieberman had objected to the nation-state law, officially known as the Basic Law in Israel – the Nation State of the Jewish People, saying its supporters are trying to turn Israel into "a state of Halacha [Jewish law].”

“There is a problem with the wording with regard to the Druze, who are not Jewish. Our position is that the Declaration of Independence should be made into a law,” Lieberman added.

Before the vote on the nation-state law, in July 2018, Lieberman’s party, Yisrael Beiteinu, threatened to vote against it because of the clause allowing the establishment of communities in Israel based on shared religion and nationality.

This is because many immigrants from the former Soviet Union are not recognized as Jews according to Jewish law. In the end, after the clause was softened, all the Yisrael Beiteinu MKs voted for it except for then Druze MK (now minister in the Finance Ministry) Hamad Amar, and Lieberman himself, who was not an MK at the time.

Mahmoud Kheir el-DinCredit: IDF spokesperon

On Sunday morning, the Israel Defense Forces released the name and photo of Lt. Col. Kheir el-Din, who was killed in a covert operation that went wrong in the Gaza Strip in 2018. Kheir el-Din, 41 at the time of his death, was part of the special operations branch of Military Intelligence. Until today, he was referred to only as Lt. Col. M. Then IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot awarded Kheir el-Din a posthumous citation.

Kheir el-Din was killed shortly after the Knesset passed the nation-state law defining Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people, consequently sparking protest among the Druze community in Israel. Some claim that Kheir el-Din's identity was not publicized due to considerations other than state security, and that the move was advanced by senior officials who worked with then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an attempt to prevent embarrassment due to their support of the law.

The spiritual leader of the Druze community, Sheikh Mowafak Tarif, said on Sunday following the disclosure of Kheir a-Din’s identity: “The Druze community will continue to fight for equal citizenship and equal rights in their country, Israel. The price the community has paid and pays to protect the state is heavy, very heavy. The state owes a great deal to the Druze community.”

“On this day, with the revelation of the name of a hero of Israel who fell in battle, the decision makers should do some soul-searching with regard to their attitude toward the members of the community," the sheikh added.

The nation state law cites a number of values identified with Israel, some of which already appear in other laws. The law states that Israel is the historic birthplace of the Jewish people, who have a unique right to national self-determination in Israel.

It enshrines the symbols of the state, the flag, the seven-branched candelabrum, the hymn, the Jewish calendar, Independence Day and Jewish holidays. It states that Jerusalem, “complete and united” is the capital of Israel – as already appears in the Basic Law on Jerusalem – and gives the status of an official language to Hebrew only.

A controversial clause in the law says that the state will invest resources in preserving ties to Jews elsewhere in the world, but not in Israel. This wording was demanded by the ultra-Orthodox parties to prevent a commitment by the state to the Reform and Conservative communities in Israel.

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