Israel PM Defends Law in Face of Druze Outrage


Tens of thousands are protesting in Tel Aviv against "nation-state" law that prioritized Jewish values in Israel and has been criticized as discriminating sparking local and global condemnation.

The impact of the law on Israel's Druze minority is a particular focus of the rally.

Druze community members organized Saturday's march, held under the motto: "Equal rights for all citizens".

"The nation-state law comes to state the obvious: the founding principles on which Israel was established, principles that unfortunately are being eroded, time and again, in High Court rulings that have turned this country from a nation-state of the Jewish people to a state of all its citizens, all its [African] infiltrators", he told Army Radio.

Haaretz stated that "the plan outlines a Basic Law and a regular law that will recognise the contribution of minorities who defend the country by "enshrining eligibility for the benefits of minority members of all religions and communities who serve in the security forces, for the goal of closing gaps and promoting social equality".

"Despite our unlimited loyalty to the state, the state doesn't consider us equals", Israeli Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Muafak Tarif said in a speech.

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Leader of the Opposition MK Tzipi Livni called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "Bibi, decide - this Nation State Law or the Declaration of Independence. The same way we fight for the existence of the state, we are determined to fight for the right to live in equality and dignity. Hundreds of brightly colored Druze flags, rarely seen outside the community, fluttered in the square along Israel's national banners. The government says the bill merely enshrines the country's existing character, but critics say it undercuts Israel's democratic values and marginalizes the country's Arab minority, which makes up about 20 percent of the population.

"We are all Israelis", he said. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Jewish Home Party, said on Twitter that a special law needs to be passed for what he called the "Druze brothers", adding that it was "not our intention" to hurt them.

The Nation-State Law, first of all, entrenches the Law of Return.

Last week, two Druze officers resigned from their positions in the IDF in protest against the law. But criticism from Druze has had more resonance, despite their small numbers, because of their reputation as loyal supporters of the state.

Earlier in July, Israel's parliament (Knesset) adopted a controversial bill that declares the occupying entity "the nation-state of the Jewish people", in what is widely criticized as an apartheid measure that could lead to discrimination against its own Arab population.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who pushed for the legislation, has repeatedly refused any suggestion to amend the law. According to Israeli media, Netanyahu abruptly ended a meeting with Druze officials this week and lawmaker Avi Dichter, a co-sponsor of the law, was heckled by Druze in attendance at another.