Netanyahu meets with Druze leaders but won’t commit to changing nation-state law
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Netanyahu meets with Druze leaders but won’t commit to changing nation-state law

PM expresses ‘great appreciation the State of Israel has for unique partnership’ with the minority group, says he will continue consultations

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) meets with Sheikh Muafak Tariff, spiritual leader of Israel's Druze community, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara (L) and other Druze leaders at his office in Jerusalem to discuss the nation-state law on July 27, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) meets with Sheikh Muafak Tariff, spiritual leader of Israel's Druze community, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara (L) and other Druze leaders at his office in Jerusalem to discuss the nation-state law on July 27, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with leaders of the Druze community Friday but did not commit to changing a recently passed controversial law defining Israel as the exclusive nation-state of the Jewish people.

Netanyahu’s office said the premier met with leaders of the Druze community, including spiritual head Sheikh Muafak Tarif, Brig. Gen. (res.) Amal Assad and former Labor MK Shachiv Shnaan.

Shnaan’s son Kamil was killed last year, along with fellow Druze soldier Haiel Sitawe, in a terror attack perpetrated on the Temple Mount by three Israeli Arabs.

After the meeting, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement which said that Netanyahu listened to what the Druze representatives had to say and their request to change the law.

“The representatives of the community said at the meeting that they trusted the leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu,” the statement read.

The Prime Minister’s Office stressed that Netanyahu did not commit to changing the law, but would continue his consultations.

“The goal is to reach a quick and acceptable solution which will express the great appreciation the State of Israel has for the unique partnership of fate with the Druze community,” the statement said.

However, after the meeting Assad said that the Druze community stood firm in its demand to change the law and to include a clause about equality. “We informed him that our protest will continue,” he said.

On Thursday Netanyahu met with coalition lawmakers from the Druze minority, including Kulanu MK Akram Hasson and Yisrael Beytenu MK Hamad Amar, as well as Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin.

Also present was Communications Minister Ayoub Kara, a Druze member of Netanyahu’s Likud party who voted in favor of the law.

On Thursday Tarif met with MK Tzipi Livni, head of the opposition Zionist Union faction.

“Not just a blood pact — a pact of equals,” Livni wrote on Twitter after the meeting. “Blood pact” is a phrase often used to describe the alliance between Israel’s Jews and Druze communities.

 

Livni presented Tarif with a copy of the Declaration of Independence — “the foundation on which the State of Israel was established.”

“Both the state of the Jewish people and equality for everyone, all Israeli citizens,” she said.

Members of the Druze community have been coming out against the nation-state law since it was passed by the Knesset last week, with Hasson, Amar and Zionist Union MK Salah Sa’ad filing a petition to the High Court of Justice on Sunday against the legislation.

Critics of the quasi-constitutional Basic Law say it effectively discriminates against Israel’s Arab and other minority communities. Supporters argue it is needed to place the country’s Jewish character on par with its democratic values.

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 Israel’s Druze community arrive to attend a celebration at the holy tomb of Nebi Shu’eib in northern Israel on April 25, 2018. (AFP Photo Jalaa/Marey)

Earlier Thursday, Kahlon, the finance minister, called for fixing the nation-state law, making him the second minister in as many days to suggest tailoring the legislation in order to maintain equal rights for the Druze community.

“The legislation was done hastily,” Kahlon told Army Radio. “We made a mistake and we need to fix it.”

On Wednesday Education Minister Naftali Bennett vowed to work to “heal the wound” the law has inflicted on the Druze community. Sources close to Bennett told The Times of Israel that the Jewish Home leader was open to amending the legislation.

Netanyahu will not consider amending the law, however, Hebrew media reported. Even so, reports Thursday said he is open to “other moves aimed at improving conditions for the Druze.”

Alexander Fulbright, Raoul Wootliff and Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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