The controversial Nation-State Law may have faded from the public consciousness lately, but for Israel's Druze community it still looms large as an election issue. The law raised the ire of many Druze who consider the issue a major factor in the upcoming elections. We travelled to the Druze town of Usifiyeh on Mt. Carmel to hear what the residents' viewpoint.
Some 400 years ago, the Lebanese Druze Emir Fakhr-al-Din ibn Maan (an early leader of the Mount Lebanon Emirate, a self-governed area under the Ottoman Empire) established the village of Usfiyeh on the remains of a 5th-century Jewish town, Husifah.
Cooperation between the Druze villagers and the local Jews began during the Great Arab Revolt (1936-1939) when the Druze suffered from harassment by the local Arabs and sought the protection of the Jewish pre-state militias.
That cooperation blossomed into the sacred blood covenant between the Druze and the Jews of the Zionist movement. Since the 1948 War of Independence and throughout the history of the State of Israel, Druze and Jews have fought side by side in defense of the country.
Today, Usfiyeh is the second largest Druze town in Israel. A quick survey of residents of the IDF veteran's neighborhood reveals a troubling conclusion. The Nation-State Law designating the state as a state of the Jews alone with no reference to its non-Jewish inhabitants has angered many Druze citizens.
Walid Sattar, a resident of the town with an impressive IDF military background and dressed in traditional Druze garb, is furious and blames Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the law: "Bibi backstabbed us; we support the State of Israel and Bibi (Netanyahu) equates us with the Arabs of Umm el-Fahm who commit terror attacks."
At the local meat market, we meet Muwafiq Mansour who also served in an IDF combat unit. "In the past I voted for (the Kulanu Part led by) Moshe Kahlon, but after the Nation-State Law passed with the support of Kulanu, I will vote for (Blue and White Party led by Benny) Gantz. My son is an officer in the army and I am ashamed because Bibi betrayed us. We supported the Jews before the establishment of the state but unfortunately this is what we get…"
The Kulanu Party garnered much success in Usfiyeh in the 2015 election winning 32.6% of the vote there. The Zionist Union and the Joint List (Arab parties) garnered 22.43% and 21.36% respectively. The Likud only received 3.87% of the votes in the town.
At a cellphone repair shop we met Kayuf Baha as he was serving a customer who refused to be interviewed. "I plan to vote for Gantz because of Ghadir Marih, the popular Druze representative from (the neighboring Druze town of) Daliyat al-Karmel. She will advance the cause of minorities," said Baha.
"As someone who served in the IDF, as well as all of my family members, the Nation-State Law really disturbs me. This law really harmed us. We have given everything to the state and unfortunately it blew up in our face," he added.
Although the Blue and White Party has a female Druze candidate in a realistic spot, none of the women we attempted to interview in Usfiyeh agreed to be interviewed. Some said that they do not understand politics and one told us that she "votes according to what the extended family agrees on."
At a local hummus shop, Mussa Ilon, a Christian resident of the town served us black coffee and expressed anger at the law: "It doesn’t matter who I vote for, I want to move Netanyahu," he declared. Usfiyeh has a small Christian minority, a monastery and two ancient churches.
Hussein Sibasi, a Druze resident of Daliyat al-Karmel, joined the conversation. "Generally, I deliberate whether to vote for Likud. Now, because of the law —there's no chance. The Likud of today is chauvinist, fanatic and nationalist."
David Haliva, an avowed Likud supporter from Beer Sheva tried to convince the café patrons that Netanyahu is good for the Druze. "God willing, when Bibi is elected, you will hear that the Nation-State Law is altered or withdrawn. The Druze are our brothers," he declares.
Haliva says that the Likud made a major error and they are now trying to walk it back but don’t know how. "Look at what a beautiful state we have here. Look at this beautiful town you have. There is security and a good economy."
Sibasi is angered by Haliva's words and they get into an argument and tempers flare. "The Likud even threw the Druze minister Ayoob Kara to the dogs," Sibasi says. "Even he, who took a stance against the whole (Druze) population and voted for the law —Bibi threw him to the dogs. The Druze will no longer vote for Likud."