Is­rael’s Druze protest new Jewish na­tion bill

They fear be­ing marginal­ized

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - World - AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

TEL AVIV — Tens of thou­sands of mem­bers of Is­rael’s Druze mi­nor­ity and their Jewish sup­port­ers, some chant­ing “equal­ity,” packed a square here Satur­day to rally against a con­tentious new law that crit­ics say side­lines Is­rael’s non-Jewish cit­i­zens.

It marked the first time in re­cent mem­ory that the Druze — fol­low­ers of a se­cre­tive off­shoot of Shi­ite Is­lam who are con­sid­ered loyal to the state — staged a large pub­lic protest. Hun­dreds of brightly col­ored Druze flags, rarely seen out­side the com­mu­nity, flut­tered in the square along Is­rael’s na­tional ban­ners. Nearby, City Hall was lit up in Druze col­ors too.

The rally marked the big­gest back­lash yet against the re­cently passed law that en­shrines Is­rael’s Jewish char­ac­ter and down­grades the stand­ing of Ara­bic from an of­fi­cial to a “spe­cial” lan­guage.

The law has out­raged Is­rael’s Ara­bic-speak­ing mi­nor­ity that in­cludes the Druze and makes up 20 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion. Crit­ics say the law un­der­mines Is­rael’s demo­cratic val­ues.

The Druze serve in the mil­i­tary, un­like most of the coun­try’s Arab cit­i­zens, who over­whelm­ingly fol­low Sunni Is­lam and have close fam­ily ties with Pales­tini­ans in the Is­rae­lioc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries. Over the years, mem­bers of the Druze com­mu­nity have risen to promi­nence in the mil­i­tary and in pol­i­tics.

On Satur­day, Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square was packed with Druze pro­test­ers and their Jewish back­ers, in­clud­ing for­mer mem­bers of the de­fense es­tab­lish­ment. The crowd chanted “equal­ity, equal­ity.”

The gov­ern­ment says the bill merely en­shrines the coun­try’s ex­ist­ing char­ac­ter, but crit­ics say it marginal­izes the coun­try’s non-Jewish mi­nori­ties.

Is­raeli Druze lead­ers say their al­liance with Jews dates back long be­fore they helped them win in­de­pen­dence in 1948. The Druze re­vere Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, whose tomb in north­ern Is­rael is one of their most sa­cred sites.

Se­bas­tian Scheiner / As­so­ci­ated Press

Thou­sands of mem­bers of Is­rael’s Druze mi­nor­ity pack a cen­tral square in Tel Aviv on Satur­day.

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