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Two major Israel-backers join criticism of nation-state law

Jewish Federations of North America and International Fellowship of Christians and Jews latest groups urging Israel to address Druze concerns of discrimination

Activists and supporters of the Druze community in Israel protest against the national-state law recently passed by the Knesset for its ostensible discrimination against the community, at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on August 4, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Activists and supporters of the Druze community in Israel protest against the national-state law recently passed by the Knesset for its ostensible discrimination against the community, at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on August 4, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The Jewish Federations of North America and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, two organizations that provide major funding to projects in Israel, have joined the chorus of criticism against Israel’s controversial new nation-state law.

JFNA, which donates millions of dollars to Israel and the Jewish Agency for Israel annually, focused its criticism on dissatisfaction with the law among Israel’s Druze community, whose members say its provisions render them second-class citizens.

In a statement Thursday that a spokesperson posted on Facebook, the umbrella group for federations across North America said it stands “shoulder to shoulder with the Druze community” and urged Israeli legislators “to work with the community as soon as possible to address their very real concerns.”

“As strong supporters of Israel, we were disappointed that the government passed legislation which was effectively a step back for all minorities.”

The nation-state law that passed on July 19 as a Basic Law enshrines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” for the first time; critics say many provisions in the law are discriminatory toward the country’s non-Jewish minorities. It has sparked widespread criticism at home, the international community, and Jewish groups abroad.

The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews also criticized the law this week, issuing a statement urging the Israeli government to amend it “so that it includes ‘equality’ for Druze and other minorities.” The group raises more than $140 million per year, mostly from Christians, to assist Israel and the Jewish people.

Last week, the Anti-Defamation League expressed “strong concern” over the law, calling for a “reformulation of elements in the bill that could undermine Israel’s cherished democratic character, exacerbate relations between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs as well as those between Israel and Diaspora Jews, and indeed, impair Israel’s international reputation.”

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)

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.

Netanyahu has been trying to placate Druze anger over the new law with a package of benefits, but on Thursday he cut short a meeting with community leaders, citing criticism by Brig. Gen. (res.) Amal As’ad accusing him of turning Israel into an “apartheid state” and calling the law “evil and racist.”

On Friday, Netanyahu indicated that his political opponents on the left were leading the Druze-led efforts against the law.

In a sign of solidarity, tens of thousands of Israelis, including several retired high-ranking military officials, attended a protest Saturday night against the law in Tel Aviv.

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