PM indicates Druze efforts against Jewish state law funded by the left

Netanyahu posts article that says campaign to combat controversial legislation is sponsored by the New Israel Fund; group denies accusation

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Muafak Tarif at his office in Jerusalem on August 1, 2018. (Prime Minister's Office)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Muafak Tarif at his office in Jerusalem on August 1, 2018. (Prime Minister's Office)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday posted an article to his official Facebook page that claimed left-wing organizations were funding the Druze-led opposition to the controversial nation-state law.

Netanyahu’s post comes amid growing protests among the Druze community over the Knesset’s refusal to include any mention of equality for minorities in the recently passed law, which enshrines Israel’s character as a Jewish state.

On Thursday, Netanyahu angrily cut short a meeting with Druze community leaders pointing to a post published in recent days by one of them that accused him of leading Israel to an “apartheid state”

The article cited by Netanyahu on Friday, published by right-wing news site Mida, claimed the New Israel Fund is among the organizations sponsoring a Saturday mass rally by the Druze in Tel Aviv against the law, which has been criticized as discriminatory toward the country’s non-Jewish communities.

Mida claimed the Druze-led initiative was spreading “baseless claims” that the legislation would sanction discrimination against non-Jewish minorities and downgrade the official status Arabic language.

The law does downgrade the Arabic language from official to “special” standing, but also cryptically stipulates that “this clause does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect.”

“The nation-state law does not infringe on the rights of Druze citizens in the country, and does not differentiate between Druze and Jewish citizens,” the Mida article said.

The article claimed the newly established Forum Against the Nation-state Law, that is organizing Saturday’s rally, is sponsored by Anu, an Israeli civil rights group that is funded by UNESCO, the New Israel Fund and other left-leaning organizations in Israel.

Activists and supporters of the Druze community in Israel set up a protest tent in Tel Aviv on August 1, 2018. ( Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Netanyahu has repeatedly leveled harsh criticism against the NIF in the past, accusing the group of being hostile to Israel and funding various anti-Zionist activities and groups. Most recently, he accused the group of convincing the Rwandan government to backtrack on an agreement to resettle illegal African migrants deported from Israel. He did not provide any evidence the NIF was responsible for scuttling that deal.

In response Friday, NIF president Mikey Gitzin slammed Mida as a site “that is based on lies and is a tool for Netanyahu.” He said that while the NIF has shared a platform with Anu in the past, and both organizations support the Druze campaign against the law, it did not prove they were financing the campaign.

Anu also issued a statement Friday denying it was funding Saturday’s protest.

Netanyahu’s Facebook post came a day after he walked out of a meeting with Druze community leaders in the wake of harsh criticism of the law by IDF Brig. Gen. (res.) Amal As’ad, who has warned that the law risks turning Israel into an “apartheid” state and called the law “evil and racist.”

Also on Thursday, the law’s original sponsor, Likud MK Avi Dichter, faced the community’s rage at a ceremony to honor Druze veterans at a college in the northern town of Carmiel. Amir Khnifess, head of the Forum Against the Nation-state Law burst into the auditorium and shouted at Dichter that he was “racist” and “Nazi” during his remarks.

Hadashot news reported Friday that in the wake of the attack, the Knesset has decided to significantly step up security for Dichter.

Illustrative: A memorial service for Israeli soldiers at the military cemetery in the Druze village of Isfiya in northern Israel. (Government Press Office)

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.

Netanyahu has been trying to placate Druze anger at the new law with a package of benefits.

A concession plan envisions new 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 Wednesday. Support of Druze religious, education and culture institutes would also be included in the legislation.

In addition, recognition of the contribution made by all minorities and communities that participate in the defense of the state would 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.

But on Friday, hundreds of residents from the northern Druze towns of Daliyat al-Karmel and Isfiya who gathered to protest against the law called on their leaders to reject Netanyahu’s compromise offer, according to a Hadashot news report.

Residents said they were not willing to accept any compromise offer that did not include a change in the law itself.

Hadashot news also reported that thousands of former soldiers from the IDF’s elite Sayeret Matkal unit signed a solidarity letter with the Druze community.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, third from right, meets with the spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel, Sheikh Muafak Tarif, second from left, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on July 27, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

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.

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 at home including from Israel’s minorities and opposition political parties, and from the international community and Jewish groups abroad.

Most Popular
read more: