The battle for universal draft arrived at the Arab public’s doorstep on Sunday when nearly 100 right-wing protestors held a demonstration in the Israeli Arab city of Nazareth in the lower Galilee.
Led by activists Baruch Marzel, Noam Federman, Itamar Ben Gvir and MK Michael Ben Ari (National Union), and under the watchful eyes of some 1,200 police officers, protesters called for the implementation of a universal draft, which would include not only ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students, but Israel’s Arab population as well.
Addressing the gathering, Marzel said, “We came here to open Nazareth’s first military recruitment office.” He said that he and his colleagues would like to bring back “several buses of Arabs who have enlisted — if not in the army then at least for civil service.”
Ben Gvir blasted some of the public figures who have been most vocal about recruiting the ultra-Orthodox. “Where are (Yesh Atid chairman) Yair Lapid, (Kadima MK) Yohanan Plesner and (Kadima chairman) Shaul Mofaz? Why don’t we see them here? There are hundreds of thousands of Israeli Arabs who could contribute to the state, and for some reason, their draft evasion does not concern these distinguished people.”
Ben Ari asked the crowd: “Why shouldn’t the Arabs serve? Why can’t they do national service and contribute to the state like everybody else?”
Two weeks ago, Ben Ari was removed from the room when Plesner presented the recommendations of his Knesset panel for boosting the participation of ultra-Orthodox Israelis in military service. In Nazareth on Sunday, Ben Ari complained that whenever he has asked about drafting the Arabs along with the ultra-Orthodox, Plesner has accused him of racism. “What’s racist? Without equal obligations, there are no equal rights.”
Ben Ari went on to say “How can it be the Arabs receive all that Israel has to offer on a silver platter — benefits that their brothers in the Arab world can only dream about — yet they do not lift a finger to help this country?”
Arab MK Jamal Zahalke (Balad) managed to infiltrate the rally, posing as a demonstrator, until Ben Gvir recognized him and the SWAT officers who were patrolling the rally spirited him away. Zahalke responded to shouts calling him a “terrorist” by calling the marchers “racists” and “fascists.”
Last week, Israeli police gave official permission for the rally to take place, but limited the number of participants to approximately 80 people, and set down strict guidelines as to where the demonstrators could march.
On Sunday, Zahalke told Maariv that the police should never have allowed the demonstration to take place. “We are all for freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate,” Zahalke said. “But this does not include racism. Racism is a criminal offense and should be prosecuted.”