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'Today I asked myself why? Why do I need to serve the state?

Druze officer calls on community to quit IDF over nation-state bill

Open letter urges end to compulsory military service for the community amid anger over legislation seen as discriminatory to Israel’s minorities

Illustrative: Druze soldiers on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on March 8, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: Druze soldiers on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on March 8, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A Druze officer in the IDF has issued a letter calling on fellow members of his community not to enlist in the IDF and announcing he will leave the army in the wake of the controversial nation-state bill.

“This morning when I woke up to return to my base, I asked myself why? Why do I need to serve the state?” the officer, Capt. Amir Jamal, wrote in an open letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, published Sunday on his Facebook page.

“This country that I, along with my two brothers, and my father, served with dedication, purpose and love of our homeland — in the end, what do we get, we are second-class citizens,” he wrote in the letter, first reported by the Haaretz daily on Monday. The post was reportedly taken down several hours later.

“After a lot of thought, I have decided to leave the army and not continue my service,” he wrote, also calling to end the compulsory draft for the Druze.

The army later released a statement saying that the officer had been summoned for talks with his commanding officers.

“Soldiers and officers from minority communities were and always will be a central part of the IDF on the field of battle and during peace time,” the statement said. However, it noted that “political statements are not permitted according to army regulations.”

His letter came as Netanyahu met Sunday with leaders of Israel’s Druze community in his office in Jerusalem amid ongoing efforts to make amends over the recently passed nation-state law.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Sheikh Muwaffak Tarīf, spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel, in Jerusalem on November 26, 2014. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Netanyahu announced that the government would establish a team that would “quickly bring forward recommendations for actions that will strengthen our important ties.

“You are describing real feelings and we need a solution,” Netanyahu told leaders of local and regional councils, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

However, he reiterated that he opposes altering the controversial legislation, which enshrines Israel as the exclusive nation-state of the Jewish people.

The meeting came as opposition to the law continued to mount, with coalition lawmakers calling for changes to address concerns in the Druze community, and others continuing to protest provisions in the law derided as discriminatory toward the country’s non-Jews.

Communications Minister Ayoub Kara speaks at a press conference about the Communications Ministry’s move to shut down the Jerusalem office of Al Jazeera on August 6, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“There are unceasing attempts to undo the definition of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people,” Netanyahu said in his statement. “We passed the nation-state law in order to ensure that Israel remains the nation-state of our people — this is the purpose of the state’s existence.

“The [nation-state] law does not in any way diminish the individual rights of anyone. It is meant to achieve the needed legal balance to ensure Israel’s character.”

Druze lawmaker Ayoub Kara, from the Likud party, praised Netanyahu’s move, adding that the team would present its findings in a matter of days.

“I welcome the prime minister’s decision, together with the Druze council heads, to establish a special team to discuss and solve the sect’s acute problems — in workforce, education, enforcement on illegal construction of houses, [rights of] discharged soldiers, and more,” he wrote on Twitter.

“The team should bring forward its conclusions within a few days and promise quick and efficient implementation,” Kara added.

The nation-state bill — which for the first time enshrines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” and says “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people” — has sparked widespread criticism from Israel’s minorities, the international community and Jewish groups abroad.

Last week, Israeli Druze leaders, including three Knesset members, petitioned the High Court of Justice against the legislation, saying it was an “extreme” act that discriminated against the country’s minorities.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) meets with Sheikh Muafak Tariff, spiritual leader of Israel’s Druze community, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara (L) and other Druze leaders at his office in Jerusalem to discuss the nation-state law on July 27, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

While most opposition has come from outside his coalition, Netanyahu has faced internal pressure to give the Druze some sort of special status in recognition of their contributions to the state, which include serving in the military.

But the prime minister said Sunday at a cabinet meeting that their complaints against the law were unfounded.

“Nothing in this law violates your rights as equal citizens of the State of Israel, and nothing prejudices the special status of the Druze community in Israel. The people of Israel, and I am part of it, love and cherish you. We greatly value our partnership and our alliance,” he said.

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.

Members of Israel’s Druze community arrive to attend a celebration at the holy tomb of Nebi Shu’eib in northern Israel on April 25, 2018. (AFP Photo Jalaa/Marey)

The nation-state law, proponents say, 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 became one of the Basic Law, which, similar to a constitution, underpin Israel’s legal system and are more difficult to repeal than regular laws.

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.”

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