US Jewish federations slam nation state law as ‘a step back for all minorities’

In unusual rebuke, umbrella Jewish organization urges government to address ‘very real’ concerns of Druze community

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)

The Jewish Federations of North America on Thursday criticized the Israeli government for passing the controversial nation-state law, saying the legislation was a “step back for all minorities.”

The law which enshrines Israel as the home of the Jewish people, has been condemned for making Israel’s non-Jewish minorities into second class citizens and prompted widespread outrage, particularly from the Druze community, which takes pride in its service in the Israel Defense Forces.

“As strong supporters of Israel, we were disappointed that the government passed legislation which was effectively a step back for all minorities,” the umbrella group said in a rare rebuke posted to its Facebook page.

“Jewish Federations stand shoulder to shoulder with the Druze community and urge Israeli legislators to work with the community as soon as possible to address their very real concerns,” it said.

High level talks with the Druze community aimed at finalizing a concession plan over the legislation fell apart in the evening after Druze army officer Amal Assad told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel has become “an apartheid state.”

Netanyahu reportedly told the Druze representatives at the meeting that he was committed to working on a compromise, and then walked out of the room at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv.

Earlier Thursday the Druze leadership vowed to push ahead with a planned weekend protest but said they would continue negotiations with the government over changes to offset the new legislation.

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

A protest demonstration against the law slated for Saturday night in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square would go on as planned, the leadership said in a statement.

A 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 Wednesday. Support of Druze religious, education, and culture institutes will 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 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.

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 at home including from Israel’s minorities and opposition political parties, and from 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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