Tel Aviv readies for Druze-led mass protest over controversial nation-state law
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Druze leader: Rally is for state of Israel, not against it

Tel Aviv readies for Druze-led mass protest over controversial nation-state law

Organizers say tens of thousands expected in Rabin Square to demonstrate against legislation criticized as discriminatory toward Israel’s minorities

Activists and supporters of the Druze community in Israel at a protest tent against the nation-state law passed by the Knesset in July 2018, in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on August 1, 2018. In the background is a five-colored Druze religious flag representing five wise prophets of Al-Mowahideen (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Activists and supporters of the Druze community in Israel at a protest tent against the nation-state law passed by the Knesset in July 2018, in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on August 1, 2018. In the background is a five-colored Druze religious flag representing five wise prophets of Al-Mowahideen (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Tens of thousands of people are expected to gather in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square Saturday evening for a mass demonstration against the controversial Jewish nation-state law. Among the key organizers of the rally are leaders of the Druze community, whose members serve in the Israeli army and who have expressed particular outrage at the law’s provisions, saying it renders them second-class citizens.

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 and opposition, the international community, and Jewish groups abroad.

Participants and speakers at the rally are expected to include the Druze community’s top spiritual leader, Sheikh Muafak Tarif, Brig. Gen. (res.) Amal As’ad, former Shabak heads Yuval Diskin and Ami Ayalon, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, former Mossad head Tamir Pardo, and TV host and social commentator Lucy Aharish.

Police announced that from 18:30 (6:30 p.m.) the following streets will be blocked: Ibn Gvirol between Arlozorov and Shaul HaMelech, David HaMelech from Weizmann to Ibn Gvirol, Frishman from Masaryk Square to Ibn Gvirol, and Bloch from Arlozorov to Ibn Gvirol.

Organizers of the protest, slated to begin at 20:30 (8:30 p.m.), set up a protest tent in the square a week ago so that passers-by could discuss the law.

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

The nation-state law has been criticized as discriminatory toward Israel’s non-Jewish minorities, and also downgrades the status of Arabic so that it is no longer an official language in Israel.

The legislation has prompted particular outrage from the Druze community, which takes pride in its service in the Israel Defense Forces.

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.

People take part at a protest march against the proposed Nation-state Law in Tel Aviv on July 14, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu angrily walked out of a meeting with Druze leaders when a prominent Druze activist and former IDF brigadier general criticized the controversial nation-state law passed last month.

Netanyahu was apparently enraged by Brig. Gen. (res.) Amal As’ad accusing him of turning Israel into an “apartheid state” and calling the law “evil and racist.”

Brig. Gen. (res.) Amal As’ad. (Hadashot TV screen capture)

As’ad on Friday told Hadashot news he said no such thing, implying Netanyahu was looking for an excuse to end the meeting.

“I wrote a post 10 days ago in which I wrote that if that law is realized Israel is on the path to apartheid, and I’m not the only one saying that,” he said.  He also insisted that he had not crashed the meeting, contrary to some accounts.

But Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who was in the meeting, disputed his account.

“I heard with my own ears the outrageous statement that Israel is an apartheid state,” said Levin.

As’ad, a former infantry commander and veteran of multiple wars who lost a brother in fighting in the Gaza Strip, in the past expressed support for the Likud party. He has been active in initiatives to commemorate the sacrifices of Druze IDF soldiers.

He urged Druze to come to Tel Aviv on Saturday and take part in the protest. “Tomorrow’s demonstration is for the state of Israel, not against it,” As’ad said.

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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 2r, meets with the spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel, Sheikh Muafak Tarif, 2l, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on July 27, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

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.

In an apparent protest against the legislation, President Reuven Rivlin has reportedly vowed to sign the nation-state law in Arabic. Dr. Thabet Abu Rass of the Abraham Fund, which supports Jewish-Bedouin coexistence, claimed Monday that Rivlin made the comment at the sidelines of a conference in the Bedouin village of Kuseife that aimed to bolster employment rates in the Arab community.

A spokesperson for Rivlin on Tuesday declined a Times of Israel request to confirm or comment on the matter.

On Sunday, Rivlin met with regional council heads from the Druze community, who also slammed the law. He told them that “our partnership exists at the core and foundation of this state.”

“I expressed my opinion during the Knesset discussions,” he added. “I have no doubt that you are legally equal, and we should make sure that you also feel equal.”

The legislation, proponents say, puts Jewish values and democratic values on equal footing. Critics, however, say the law effectively discriminates against Israel’s Arabs and other minority communities. The law became one of the Basic Laws, which, similar to a constitution, underpin Israel’s legal system and are more difficult to repeal than regular laws.

Last month, thousands rallied in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to protest the exclusion of gay couples from a recently passed surrogacy law. Gay rights advocates and their supporters also observed an unprecedented one-day strike throughout the country.

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