Netanyahu seeks to mollify Druze MKs enraged by nation-state law

PM says plan to be drawn up expressing Israel's 'deep commitment' to community but mum on whether legislation will be altered amid criticism

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center-right) meets with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (center-left), Communications Minister Ayoub Kara (3rd-left), Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (2nd-left), Kulanu MK Akram Hasson (left), Yisrael Beytenu MK Hamad Amar (right), Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (2nd-right) and his chief of staff Yoav Horowitz (3rd-right) on July 26, 2018. (Haim Tzach/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with coalition lawmakers from the Druze minority on Thursday amid anger from the community over a recently passed law defining Israel as the exclusive nation-state of the Jewish people.

“Immediately at the end of these consultations a plan will be formulated to express the deep commitment of the State of Israel to the Druze community,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said.

The statement did not provide details on what the plan will include.

The meeting included Kulanu MK Akram Hasson and Yisrael Beytenu MK Hamad Amar — both members of the Druze community — 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.

Netanyahu’s office said the premier would meet Friday with Druze leaders, among them spiritual head Sheikh Muafak Tarif, who on Thursday met with MK Tzipi Livni 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.”

Raoul Wootliff and Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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