Netanyahu team presents plan to mollify Druze over nation-state law

Offer includes advancing legislation anchoring minority’s status in law; community leaders say they will consider proposal

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Druze regional council heads at his office in Jerusalem to discuss the nation-state law on July 29, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Druze regional council heads at his office in Jerusalem to discuss the nation-state law on July 29, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

A team tasked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with addressing the Druze minority’s complaints over the recently passed nation-state law on Wednesday presented its plan for resolving the dispute to community leaders. The plan includes legislating the rights of minorities who serve in the armed forces.

The controversial nation-state law enshrines Israel as the exclusive nation-state of the Jewish people, and has been criticized as discriminatory toward Israel’s non-Jewish minorities. It has prompted outrage from the Druze community, which takes pride in its service in the Israel Defense Forces.

The prime minister’s acting chief of staff, Yoav Horowitz, offered the compromise to Druze representatives led by spiritual head Sheikh Muafak Tarif during a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.

The concession plan envisions legislation to anchor the status of the Druze and Circassian communities in law and provide benefits to members of minority groups who serve in the security forces, the PMO said in a statement. Support of Druze religious, education and culture institutes will also be included in the laws.

In addition, recognition of the contribution made by all minorities and communities that participate in the defense of the state will be written into the country’s Basic Laws, which, similar to a constitution, underpin Israel’s legal system and are more difficult to repeal than regular laws.

Druze leaders said they will examine the proposal issue a response soon.

Druze Spiritual leader Mowafak Tarif attends a ceremony at the Knesset, April 15, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Speaking to Hadashot TV news, Tariff said it was “a historic and good offer.”

“This is an opportunity for us to receive all the rights assured us,” he said. “I am optimistic that it will be done and that the prime minister will keep to his word on every detail.”

Tariff indicated that if the community accepts the offer, a protest demonstration planned for Saturday evening in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square will be called off.

Druze lawmakers announced that they are willing to accept the proposal and that, at the request of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, they intend to withdraw a High Court of Justice petition they had filed on Sunday against the nation-state law, the Ynet news site reported.

The petition was filed by MK Akram Hasson of the Kulanu party led by Kahlon. It was joined by Hamad Amar of the coalition Yisrael Beytenu party and MK Saleh Saad, of the opposition Zionist Union.

Hasson said he and his fellow petitioners had an attorney look at the proposal and the feedback was that it was “acceptable and good for the community.”

“As far as we are concerned it is a historic framework. It eliminated the feeling that we’re being cataloged into first- and second-class citizens,” he said. “It enables us to be proud and equal citizens among our people and in our land. All we wanted was to be one people, and one country.”

Hasson said that if the framework is implemented, the Druze community will stop all its protests. “There is light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

“The historic framework for the first time anchors my Israeliness,” Amar said.

Horowitz, the PMO official, announced that a ministerial committee will be set up, chaired by Netanyahu, to address the Druze issue and advance the proposed plan.

A team composed of government officials and Druze representatives will finalize specific details of the plan within 45 days, and work on legislating the laws will begin as soon as the Knesset returns from summer recess in October, the PMO said. The goal is to pass all the laws within 45 days of parliament reconvening.

Communications Minister Ayoub Kara attends a press conference in the northern city of Safed, July 10, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Communications Minister Ayoub Kara (Likud), a Druze Israeli politician who participated in the meeting, said that “community representatives are seriously and positively considering the framework that was put forward as a solution to the dispute,” Hadashot reported.

One Druze local council leader told Channel 10 news that there was no decision yet on the offer.

“As far as we are concerned, we are continuing with the demonstration on Saturday night,” he said, but noted that there are those who are prepared to accept the new offer and cancel the demonstration.

Unlike Arab Israelis, members of both the Druze and Circassian minorities are subject to Israel’s mandatory draft and serve in large numbers alongside Jewish soldiers in some of the IDF’s most elite units.

Since the beginning of the week, several Druze IDF officers have said they will resign their commissions in protest of the legislation, which was passed as a Basic Law on July 19.

The nation-state law — which for the first time 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” — has sparked widespread criticism from Israel’s minorities, the international community and Jewish groups abroad. It also downgrades the status of Arabic so that it is no longer an official language in Israel.

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