'Our brothers stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us' in battle

Bennett: Government must ‘heal wound’ caused to Druze by nation-state law

Jewish Home head says legislation ‘necessary and just’ but must be ‘fixed’ to limit damage done to Israel-supporting, army-serving minority group

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett leads a Jewish Home faction meeting at the Knesset on February 19, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett leads a Jewish Home faction meeting at the Knesset on February 19, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Jewish Home leader Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Wednesday acknowledged the “damage” caused to the Druze community in Israel by the controversial Jewish nation-state law that passed last week with his support.

“After discussions with many of our Druze brothers, it has become clear that the manner in which the nation-state law was enacted was very damaging especially to them, and to anyone who has tied their fate to the Jewish state,” Bennett said. “This, of course, was not the intention of the Israeli government.”

On Sunday, Israeli Druze leaders, including three Knesset members, petitioned the High Court of Justice against the Jewish nation-state legislation, saying it was an “extreme” act that discriminated against the country’s minorities.

On Sunday, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara, Israel’s only Druze minister,  said he had been warned by state security services of death threats made against him by members of the Druze community following his vote in favor of the law.

Communications Minister Ayoub Kara speaks to reporters prior to the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on November 12, 2017. (Olivier Fitoussi/Pool/Flash90)

The Druze MKs opposing the law come from across the political spectrum — from the coalition, MK Hamed Amar of the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party and MK Akram Hasson of the centrist Kulanu party, and from the opposition, MK Salah Sa’ad of the Labor party, represented in the Knesset by the center-left Zionist Union.

All three served in Israel’s security forces and have been active in Zionist organizations.

Bennett said that Israel’s Druze community “are our brothers who stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us on the battlefield and made a covenant with us — a covenant of life.”

He also said that the government has “a responsibility to find a way to heal the wounds.”

A spokesperson for Bennett declined to say whether he would back amending the legislation but the Jewish Home minister later tweeted a broad defense of the law, saying it was “necessary and just” but that there was “a specific mistake regarding our brothers the Druze that needs to be fixed.”

Similar to a constitution, the Basic Laws underpin Israel’s legal system and are more difficult to repeal than regular laws. The nation-state law, proponents say, which became a Basic Law, puts Jewish values and democratic values on equal footing. Critics, however, say the law effectively discriminates against Israel’s Arabs and other minority communities.

The law also declares that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, sets the Hebrew calendar as the official calendar of the state, and recognizes Independence Day, days of remembrance and Jewish holidays. One clause of the bill downgrades the Arabic language from official to “special” standing, but also cryptically stipulates that “this clause does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect.”

Druze IDF soldiers from the now-disbanded Battalion 299 in the field with the Druze flag. (Courtesy/IDF Flickr)
The Druze constitute a small minority, not quite 10%, of Israel’s Arab population. Around 138,000 of the world’s estimated 2.3 million adherents call Israel home; Syria is home to half a million and Lebanon to another 250,000.
The Druze, a breakaway sect from Islam, are the only minority that has taken upon itself Israel’s mandatory draft and serves in large numbers alongside Jewish soldiers in some of the IDF’s most elite units
The religion splintered off from Shia Islam in the late 10th century CE and spread to the Levant by the following century. Its actual beliefs and practices are kept a close secret by its members, but its theological principles draw from Islam, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity and a variety of other faith systems.
Bennett declined to say whether he has discussed the law with members of Israel’s Arab Israeli population or whether he felt it also “damaged” them.

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