Druze MKs accept PM's plan to end rift over Nationality Law
Following meeting between Netanyahu and Druze leaders over furor caused by law, two sides hammer out details of plan to pass law committing country to recognize Druze contribution to state security, support community's religious, educational and cultural institutions; Druze MK celebrates 'historic plan.'
Druze MKs announced on Wednesday evening that they had accepted a 'historic' plan proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a meeting with Druze representatives and leaders that was called in an effort to allay fears that the recently-passed Nationality Law will impinge on their equality and basic rights.
The law has caused controversy since it passed into law in the Knesset last month. The clause stating that only Jews have the right of self-determination in the country has been the subject of fierce criticism and has caused offense among the Druze minority, many of whom serve the country loyally in the IDF.
The Nationality Law also states that the State of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people and that Hebrew is the official language of the state. Arabic, spoken by the Druze community, was downgraded as an official language and defined as having a special status, with the official state use of Arabic to be determined in separate legislation.
“We passed the proposal to our lawyer and he deemed it acceptable. For our point of view, this is a historic plan,” said MK Akram Hasson. “It removes the feeling of ranking citizens of class A and B citizens. It enables us to be proud and equal citizens with our people in our homeland. All we wanted was to be one nation in one state.”
The plan, Hasson continued, provides “a solution to all the problems and we will begin to feel equal and we have no interest in continuing the protest. There is light at the end of this tunnel.”
“The representatives were presented with a plan. Representatives of the committee will study the plan and answer the prime minister’s team shortly,” a previous statement read.
Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Mowafak Tarif praised the committee for its work and thanked Netanyahu for his swift and serous response to the Druze community’s concerns.
With the acceptance, the Druze MKs announced that they are withdrawing their High Court of Justice petition against the Nationality Law, which was submitted by MK Akram Hasson (Kulanu) MK Salah Sa'ad (the Zionist Union) and MK Hamad Amar (Yisrael Beytenu).
MK Sa'ad, however, expressed disapproval of the acceptance. “I regret that my friends surrendered to pressure and quit the important petition to the HCJ,” he said. “I am continuing with the petition against the Nationality Law. We will see you in the HCJ.”
Despite Sa’ad’s lone dissenting voice, MK Amar praised the proposal, saying that for the first time, his “Israeliness” will be enshrined in law.
“The proposal is acceptable in my eyes. The only thing that motivates me is the good of the Druze.
The Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement following the meeting saying that the status of the Druze community would be anchored in a new law, which will be advanced at the beginning of the Knesset’s winter session.
It will also recognize the contribution of the Druze community to the security of the state, and will include support for the community's religious, educational and cultural institutions.
In addition, the law will call for the strengthening of Druze communities and will provide a solution to residential housing shortages for the community, including the establishment of new communities according to necessity. It will also commit to preserving and nurturing Druze heritage.
The meeting, which was chaired by the Prime Minister's Office Director General Yoav Hurvitz and attended by Sheikh Tarif, Druze community leaders and ministers Ayoob Kara and Yariv Levin, lay out fundamental principles that will be outlined and sent for approval by the attorney general before being put before the Knesset, currently on recess, in October.
Also present at the meeting were MK Hamad Amar, former MK Shachiv Shnaan, Druze local council heads and the forum of senior reserve officers.
It was also agreed during the meeting all minorities, religions and ethnicities who serve in the Israeli security forces would be eligible for benefits, a matter which will also be codified in law in an effort to narrow economic gaps. Moreover, the law will explicitly recognize the contribution of minorities to the defense of the country
The attendees agreed that a committee would be established and led by Prime Minister Netanyahu on matters pertaining to the Druze community and that the implementation of the outlined proposal would be supervised by Netanyahu.
The components of the plan's outline are as follows:
1. Anchoring in law the status of the Druze and Circassian communities. The law will esteem the contribution of the Druze community to the State of Israel in building up the country, strengthening security and fashioning the face of Israeli society as an equal and varied society, and will include support for community religious, cultural and educational institutions; the strengthening of Druze towns and villages, including solutions for residential construction, and the establishment of new communities as necessary; and the preservation of the Druze heritage.
2. Anchoring in law the eligibility for benefits of minority community members—of all faiths and communities—who serve in the security forces, to achieve social equality.
3. Anchoring in a basic law recognition of the contribution of those—of all faiths and communities, including the Druze—who take part in the defense of the state.
The Deputy Director General of the Prime Minister's Office announced the establishment of a ministerial committee, chaired by Prime Minister Netanyahu, on the issue of the Druze community which will work—inter alia—to advance the outline and oversee its implementation.
Saturday night Druze protest in Tel Aviv
Prior to the agreement, members of the Druze community annoucned a plan to stage a demonstration on Saturday night in Rabin Square against theNationality Law where they will erect a tent decorated with Israeli and Druze flags and sing the Israeli national anthem.
Jabar Habish, one of the organizers of the strike who serves as a reserve officer in the IDF, said that the aim of the protest is to raise further awareness about the Nationality Law.
“At the rally we will try to gather the whole nation so they understand that this is not a campaign with which only Druze are affiliated,” said 25-year-old Habish.
“Anyone who feels Israeli and wants the state to continue to ensure equality is invited to attend. We are the moderate voice of the state and are, in practice, waging a double fight, both in the army and now,” he said.
Roi Rubinstein, Ahiya Raved, Moran Azulay and Itamar Eichner contributed to this report.