Analysis

Netanyahu's Spin Backfired, Fueling Massive Druze Nation-state Protest Rally

Until Thursday night, the success of the Druze protest rally in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv was in doubt. But when the premier chose to disparage a man they consider a symbol and source of pride, he enraged them anew

Israelis from the Druze minority together with others Hold Israeli national flags and Druze's flags as they take part in a rally to protest against Jewish nation-state law in Rabin square in Tel Aviv, Israel, August 4, 2018
\ CORINNA KERN/ REUTERS

Until Thursday night, the success of the Druze protest rally in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv was in doubt. The compensation plan prepared by the Prime Minister’s Office seemed to satisfy much of the community’s leadership. Some called it a “historic turning point.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been able to persuade many of the sincerity of his intentions.

Leaders of the Druze community met in his office. The Government Press Office photographers where polishing their lenses in anticipation of the photo-op that was to deciare the end of the crisis. But then Netanyahu went into a fury, unclear whether real or manufactured, and the meeting exploded, supposedly because of the words “apartheid state,” attributed to Brig. Gen. (res.) Amal Assad.

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It is not clear what caused Netanyahu to upset the applecart. He had worked hard for a whole week to dissipate the anger and insult of “our brethren” the Druze. But when he chose to disparage a man they consider a war hero, a symbol and source of Druze pride, he enraged them anew, both the young and the old, the religious and the less religious.

Unfortunately, the media fell prey to the most sophisticated spin factory in the Middle East. Many hours over the weekend were devoted to discussing the question of whether Assad did say the words, or was just quoting what he had posted. As if that was the heart of the matter. In the prime minister’s bureau, they were pleased. At least this went the right way for them.

In retrospect the preoccupation with Assad only fueled and magnified the emotions of the entire community. The tens of thousands of people who came to Rabin Square on Saturday night welcomed Assad with cheers as if he were a rock star. His speech consisted of texts from the Declaration of Independence. Many quoted the sentence “full equal social and political rights to all its citizens, irrespective of religion, race or sex.” The sentence that the prime minister, his ministers and the whole selfie bunch had refused to put in the Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People. The text that today is identified with “leftists.”

Representatives and leaders of the Druze community who spoke Saturday night at the rally were very careful not to malign the prime minister. They mainly asked for equality, and more equality. The audience chanted “equality, equality, equality!” Luckily, between the speeches there were also people who felt less obligated to the rules of etiquette, like Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who warned the Druze community leaders: “not to fall into the trap” of Netanyahu and his ilk, or the former head of the Shin Bet security service Yuval Diskin who told it like it is: Today’s political right wing is dealing mainly in fake news, incitement, slogans and populism.

The event’s emcee, Rafiq Halabi, who also gave the longest and most tiring speech, thanked the many dozens of supporters, some at the rally, others from afar. Most of them Jews, former officers and former politicians. Only a few were Druze or Bedouin. One name was not mentioned: Communications Minister Ayoub Kara.

The man who supposedly represents the Druze community in Likud and the government, sold his soul to the devil. He preferred his office over his commitment to his community, which sent him to the Knesset. Over the weekend he accused the left of organizing and funding the rally, and thus turned his own brothers into marionettes played from above by the New Israel Fund and others. The choice he made will cost him dearly; he’ll see the next Knesset only on TV.

The rally was a great success, beyond expectation, thanks to Netanyahu and to MK Avi Dichter. The Tel Aviv municipality building was lit up on Saturday night with the colors of the Druze flag. Thank God that we have a city like this.