IDF chief hails minority troops amid effort to allay anger over Jewish-state law

IDF chief hails minority troops amid effort to allay anger over Jewish-state law

Gadi Eisenkot says Druze soldiers increasingly integrated, Bedouin recruitment up 30% this year; tells community leaders defending Israel a ‘shared responsibility’

IDF chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot (R), visits the tomb of Sheikh Amin Tarif in the village of Julis on August 17, 2018. (IDF spokesman)
IDF chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot (R), visits the tomb of Sheikh Amin Tarif in the village of Julis on August 17, 2018. (IDF spokesman)

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot on Friday highlighted the role of Bedouin and Druze soldiers in the Israeli army, as the government continues efforts to mollify outraged minorities over the controversial Jewish nation-state law.

Eisenkot visited the tomb of Sheikh Amin Tarif in the the northern Druze town of Julis to mark the upcoming holiday of Eid al-Adha, and met with local community leaders.

Eisenkot said recruitment to the IDF in the Bedouin community has risen 30 percent over the last year, and that Druze recruits are serving in a wider variety of units than ever before.

“In order for the army to realize its mission, dedicated, high caliber soldiers are needed, and I see the action of the Druze and Bedouin communities in the IDF every day,” 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 the Bedouin community also serve in the IDF in large numbers.

“I see this partnership grow by day — the same partnership and responsibility of the people’s army that represents everyone in the State of Israel,” said Eisenkot.

Illustrative: A memorial service for Israeli soldiers at the military cemetery in the Druze village of Isfiya in northern Israel. (Government Press Office)

“We need to look back 70 years with pride, and 70 years ahead to a shared future. It’s not integration, it’s a shared responsibility,” he said.

The nation-state law, passed by the Knesset on July 19 as one of the country’s Basic Laws, enshrines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” for the first time, but critics say it undermines the Declaration of Independence’s commitment to equality for all its citizens. Its supporters say equality for all Israelis is enshrined in other existing legislation.

Members of Israel’s Druze community have expressed particular outrage at the law’s provisions, saying it renders them second-class citizens. Members of the Druze community — including three Druze members of Knesset — have already filed High Court petitions against the law and several Druze military officers have resigned from the IDF in protest of the law.

Some 50-100,000 people attended a Druze-led protest last month in Tel Aviv.

The Bedouin community has also protested the law, filing a separate petition to the court, demanded the wording of the law be changed to make it apply equally to all Israelis, or else be abolished entirely.

A similar Arab-led rally against the law drew some 30,000 protesters to Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square last week.

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

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week convened another meeting of the ministerial committee he established to deal with the minority community’s objections to the law.

Rather than suggesting changes to the text of the law, the committee is instead tasked with developing plans to strengthen Druze, Circassian and Bedouin communities in Israel.

Netanyahu, who heads the committee, instructed the director general of the Prime Minister’s Office to meet with heads of the Druze and Circassian communities and to focus especially on issues of housing and employment.

During last week’s meeting, committee members agreed to advance legislation clarifying the legal standing of minorities in Israel during the next Knesset session, according to Hadashot news.

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