Israel’s Druze protest new Jewish nation bill
They fear being marginalized
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.
Thousands of members of Israel’s Druze minority pack a central square in Tel Aviv on Saturday.