Gantz courts Druze vote, pledges ‘equality’ for minority

At Blue and White campaign event, head of centrist party hints at faction’s support for changing nation-state law

Benny Gantz, center, leader of the Blue and White faction, speaks to a woman during a meeting with members of the Druze community in the city of Daliyat al-Karmel on March 7, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)
Benny Gantz, center, leader of the Blue and White faction, speaks to a woman during a meeting with members of the Druze community in the city of Daliyat al-Karmel on March 7, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz vowed to work on behalf of Israel’s Druze community, telling the Arabic-speaking minority that they deserve “equality” at a campaign event outside the northern city of Daliyat al-Karmel on Thursday.

“This is our first week of touring (the country) and it was important for us to reach the Druze community, to come and listen. And we have come to tell you that we are going to work for you,” Gantz told the dozens of Druze community leaders present.

“We heard and listened to your very basic demand for equality. All citizens who live in the State of Israel want to be ordinary citizens and we are not doing anyone a favor [by granting equality],” the former IDF chief added in apparent reference to the politically contentious nation-state law, which many Druze and Arab Israelis have blasted as discriminatory.

In its platform released earlier this week, the Blue and White party said it would “ensure that the value of equality is enshrined in a Basic Law,” but declined to say whether it would push to amend the original legislation.

Retired Israeli army general Benny Gantz, one of the leaders of the Blue and White political alliance, speaks next to a large screen depicting his face next to a caption in Arabic reading “equality is a red line,” as he addresses members of the Druze community of Israel in the city of Daliyat al-Karmel in northern Israel on March 7, 2019. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)

In his first comments after entering politics in January, Gantz said he would “fix” the law, though he later qualified his remarks in an interview with the Yedioth Ahronoth daily.

The nation-state law 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.” Critics, both at home and abroad, say it undermines Israel’s commitment to equality for all its citizens. It has 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.

“Unfortunately, there are extreme elements on the right and the left trying to split Israeli society,” Gantz said Thursday. “We will present to the citizens of the State of Israel an alliance of hope.”

Several prominent candidates from the Blue and White party were present at the campaign event, including Gadeer Mreeh. The former news anchor is placed 25th on the 25-candidate list of the centrist party, which has been polling at well over 30 seats, setting her up to be the first Druze woman in the Knesset.

Unlike Gantz, Daliyat al-Karmel Mayor Rafik Halabi directly addressed the nation-state law, which he has opposed.

“Our struggle here against the nation-state law is not because of the dominance (it gives) to Jewish culture, not because of the Law of Return, not the flag, but a real struggle over our Israeliness, our citizenship, the depth of our belonging and the essence of our identity,” he said.

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