Ministers delay debate on equal rights bill aimed at reassuring Druze
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Ministers delay debate on equal rights bill aimed at reassuring Druze

Opposition Druze MK’s proposal seeks to make amends for controversial Jewish nation-state law; he warns community’s voters won’t remain loyal if government doesn’t keep promises

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)

Ministers on Sunday decided to delay by four months a debate on a bill intended to reassure the Druze community that its members were not being relegated to second-class citizens by the so-called nation-state law, passed in July, which enshrined Israel as a Jewish state.

The bill calls for legislating efforts to advance education, construction, welfare and other social issues in the Druze and Circassian communities. Both communities held demonstrations against the nation-state law after it was passed by the Knesset over the summer.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Druze leaders at the time, and said he would establish a government committee to strengthen ties to the community, while stressing that he opposes altering the controversial legislation.

On Sunday, the powerful Ministerial Committee for Legislation put the bill, proposed by an opposition lawmaker, on ice for four months.

“It seems that Netanyahu silenced the outcry with assurances that he knew that he will not keep,” said opposition MK Saleh Saad, a Druze lawmaker of the Zionist Union party, who had sponsored the bill. “A government that lies to the public can not expect that the public will remain faithful to that same government. I will continue to campaign for the equality and for the honor of the Druze.”

Zionist Union MK Saleh Saad at the National Labor Court in Jerusalem, on December 5, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

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.” It also defines Arabic as a language with a “special” status, effectively downgrading it from its de facto status as Israel’s second official language, though it cryptically stipulates that “this clause does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect.” Read the full text of the law here.

Its passage into the law books has elicited a hail of criticism by Israelis, Jewish leaders and the international community.

Multiple petitions against the law have already been filed with the High Court of Justice by Druze, Arab and Bedouin leaders, rights groups, academics, and the Meretz and Joint List political parties.

The Netanyahu government says 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 quasi-constitutional legislation.

But 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 which serve in the Israeli army — say the law’s provisions render them second-class citizens.

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

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