Only five ministers showed up to the inaugural meeting of a committee established to deal with Druze and Circassian objections to the Jewish nation-state law on Monday, drawing anger from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu, who heads the committee, demanded that the other six explain their absence and said he would not allow absences at the next meeting in a week.
During the meeting it was agreed that legislation will be advanced to clarify the equal status of the minorities despite the summer recess, and that it will passed into law during the coming winter session, Hadashot TV news reported. The planned legislation will also define the status of minority community members who serve in the armed forces.
“It is important to make the right decisions, and not reckless ones,” Netanyahu told the ministers who did show up. “We worked on the Jewish nation-state law for eight years. I am not saying that we will work on this for another eight years, but it will also not be eight days.”
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 constitution’s commitment to equality for all its citizens.
Members of Israel’s Druze community serve in the Israeli army and have expressed particular outrage at the law’s provisions, saying it renders them second-class citizens.
Attending the meeting alongside Netanyahu were Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara, Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, and Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel.
The meeting took place during the Knesset’s summer recess, when much of the country is on vacation.
Netanyahu told the committee that he wants explanations from Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Finance Minster Moshe Kahlon, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, Construction Minister Yoav Gallant, Regional Cooperation Minister Tzahi Hanegbi, and Culture Minister Miri Regev as to why they did not attend.
Liberman and Kahlon sent their deputies, while Gallant sent the director general of his ministry, the Hebrew-language Haaretz newspaper reported. Hanegbi is in Colombia, representing Netanyahu on a state visit.
Netanyahu also said he will demand that everyone attend the next meeting — to be held next week — with their short-term solutions for the nation-state bill, and also long-term solutions for dealing with the difficulties facing Druze in Israeli society.
He instructed the ministers to present their ministries’ activity for the minority populations in Israeli society, including housing, employment, social welfare, and benefits for discharged soldiers, among other things.
Before the meeting began, the head of the Druze community sent a message, saying, “We continue to request and demand from the prime minister to set the legal status of the Druze community, which will ensure full equal rights and equal citizenship in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence,” Haaretz reported.
The Netanyahu government says the new nation-state law merely enshrines the country’s existing character, and that Israel’s democratic nature and provisions for equality are anchored in existing legislation. It has resisted calls to amend or scrap the law and instead have insisted on passing new legislation meant to address the concerns of the Druze.
An estimated 50,000-plus people, waving Israeli and Druze flags and calling for equality, gathered at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Saturday night to demonstrate against the bill.