Druze resume protests against nation-state law as Knesset returns from break

Minority group says controversial legislation enshrines inequality in Israel; MK says law a ‘disgrace’ and ‘betrayal’ of the community

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Activists and members of the Druze community protest against the nation-state law, outside the Knesset, on October 15, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Activists and members of the Druze community protest against the nation-state law, outside the Knesset, on October 15, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Dozens of Druze protesters gathered outside the Knesset on Monday to demonstrate the nation-state law, as activists from the minority group resumed public protests against the contentious legislation they say renders them second-class citizens.

As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened the Knesset’s winter legislative session, demonstrators stood outside shouting, “We are not going anywhere. The nation-state law must be amended.” Others carried signs reading: “Brothers don’t abandon each other,” and “Equality is the highest value.”

Druze lawmaker Saleh Saad, from the opposition’s Zionist Union faction, said the law passed by the Knesset during the last legislative session was a “disgrace” and a “betrayal of the Druze community.”

He said Monday’s protest marked the resumption of Druze-led protests against the law.

Saad called for support in protesting the law that he said “harms equality, minorities and contradicts the Declaration of Independence.”

Protesters wave Israeli and Druze flags at a demonstration in Tel Aviv against the nation-state law, on August 4, 2018. (Luke Tress / Times of Israel staff)

The nation-state law — 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 and opposition, the international community, and Jewish groups abroad.

Critics argue that the legislation passed by the Knesset on July 19 contravenes the basis of Israel’s legal system, as well as its Declaration of Independence, by enshrining inequality among its citizens.

It prompted particular outrage from Israel’s Druze minority, whose members — many of whom serve in the Israeli army — say the law’s provisions render them second-class citizens.

In August, a group of Druze Israelis filed a petition to the High Court of Justice seeking to have the law overturned, arguing it “creates race-based discrimination, excluding 20 percent of the nation’s citizenry and creating castes among Israeli citizens.”

The law also prompted several Druze army officers to resign from the IDF in protest.

Along with the the Druze petition, Arab and Bedouin leaders, rights groups, academics, and the Meretz and Joint List political parties, have also asked the court to strike down the law.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Muafak Tarif, at his office in Jerusalem, on August 1, 2018. (Prime Minister’s Office)

In August, 50,000 people attended a Druze-led rally in Tel Aviv protesting the law, including top military and security officials. A similar, Arab-led rally against the law in Tel Aviv a week later drew 30,000 protesters.

The Netanyahu government insists the new law merely enshrines the country’s existing character, and that Israel’s democratic nature and provisions for equality are already anchored in existing legislation.

Last month, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said the law did not violate minority rights because it did not override previous semi-constitutional Basic Laws that guarantee equality.

Netanyahu has been trying to placate Druze anger with a package of benefits, and has stressed that he opposes altering the controversial legislation.

The nation-state legislation was passed as a so-called Basic Law, which like a constitution, underpins Israel’s legal system and is more difficult to repeal than regular laws.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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