Eight former police chiefs urge government to change nation-state law

Eight former police chiefs urge government to change nation-state law

Survey shows most Israelis back legislation, but also support Druze protest against law seen as excluding minorities

Then-commissioner of the Israeli Police Force Yohanan Danino during a ceremony at the national headquarters of the Israel Police in Jerusalem, on May 30, 2013. (Flash90)
Then-commissioner of the Israeli Police Force Yohanan Danino during a ceremony at the national headquarters of the Israel Police in Jerusalem, on May 30, 2013. (Flash90)

Numerous former Israel Police commissioners and other senior officials came out against a newly passed law defining Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, adding their voices to a growing chorus of opposition to the legislation.

The law, passed earlier this month, has roiled the country amid mounting criticism of provisions that many decry as exclusionary toward minority groups. However, a poll published Monday showed a majority of Israelis supporting the legislation.

On Monday, eight former police commissioners signed a letter calling for the law to be changed and expressing support for minority groups’ opposition to it.

“We call on the members of the government to change the nation-state law in a way that will give proper expression to the status of [minority] ethnic groups so it will be absolutely identical to the rights the law grants to us as sons of this land,” Hadashot TV news quoted the letter as saying.

The letter was signed by a total of 78 former top officers, including police commissioners Yaakov Terner, Rafi Peled, Asaf Hefetz, Yehuda Vilk, Shlomo Aharonishki, Moshe Karadi, Dudi Cohen and Yohanan Danino.

The letter was sent to the government as well as current Police Commisioner Roni Alsheich, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, according to Hadashot news.

Police officers stand next to the coffin of Israeli police officer Zidan Saif, 30, a member of Israel’s Druze minority, during his funeral in his northern home village of Yanuh-Jat, on November 19, 2014. Saif was killed during a terror attack on a Jerusalem synagogue the day before. (photo credit: AFP/Jack Guez)

Last week, veterans from army’s Golani and Paratroopers brigades — including former chiefs of staff — released letters expressing support for the Druze and other minority groups.

Unlike Arab Israelis, members of minority groups such as the Druze and Circassians are subject to Israel’s mandatory draft and serve in large numbers alongside Jewish soldiers in some of the military’s most elite units. They also serve in the police and Border Police gendarmeries.

Several lawmakers within Netanyahu’s coalition have pushed for changes to the law that would grant the Druze a special status of their own, but Netanyahu has insisted he will not amend the legislation.

A poll released by the Walla news site Monday showed a majority of the public supports the legislation — and also backs the Druze minority in opposing the law.

The survey found the law is unsurprisingly backed by an overwhelming majority of right-wing voters. The legislation was passed earlier this month by a 62-55 vote with the backing of right-wing coalition parties.

Overall, 58 percent of respondents to the poll said they support the law in its current form, opposed to 34% who oppose the legislation. Another 8% did not know whether they support the law.

Among right-wing voters, support for the law jumped to 85%, with only 10% saying they oppose it. Backing for the legislation was even higher among voters from Likud and the national-religious Jewish Home party, at 92% and 97% respectively. The ultra-Orthodox also gave a thumbs-up to the law, with 75% of Shas supporters and 74% of United Torah Judaism voters saying they approve.

Young national-religious men take part in the Jerusalem Day Flag Dance at the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem on May 13, 2018. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

On the other side of the political map, 75% of left-wing voters expressed opposition to the law, with only 19% throwing their support behind it and another 5% saying they did not know.

By party affiliation, 71% of voters from the main opposition Zionist Union faction oppose the law, as do 89% of supporters of the left-wing Meretz party and 100% of voters from the Joint (Arab) List.

Centrist voters, however, were strongly split in their feelings on the law, with 49% supporting it and 45% opposing it. Six percent of centrist voters did not know how whether or not they support the law.

Reflecting this divide, 48% of Yesh Atid voters back the law and 46% said they oppose it. Among supporters of the coalition’s center-right Kulanu party, whose backing allowed the law’s passage, 60% said they support the law and 40% said they oppose it.

The legislation, which was passed as a semi-constitutional Basic Laws has drawn fire from critics who say it discriminates against minority groups by reserving the right to national-self determination exclusively for Israel’s Jewish citizens and downgrading Arabic from an official language to one with “special” status.

Supporters of the law see it as necessary to balance Israel’s Jewish and democratic characters, as well as enshrine into law the country’s status as a Jewish state.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Druze regional council heads at his office in Jerusalem to discuss the nation-state law on July 29, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

In addition to defining Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, the law 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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has faced growing calls to change the law amid anger from members of the Druze community, though he has rebuffed calls to alter the legislation.

Though a majority of respondents to the Walla poll — which was made up of 532 people and conducted by Panels Politics — said they support the law, 54% said Druze opposition to the law is justified, with 23% saying it is not and another 23% saying they do not know.

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