Israel’s Druze community has delivered the most damaging wave so far in the ongoing backlash against the Nation State law passed by the Knesset two weeks ago.
Druze politicians are petitioning the High Court against the law, while a number of Druze IDF officers have announced they will be resigning in protest.
The uproar created a political problem unlike those coming from the left-wing and the Israeli Arab community.
The law is popular with the Likud’s right-wing base, but the fact that it has angered the Druze community, whose sons serve in the IDF and are therefore seen by right-wingers as “loyal”, could make some right-wingers have second thoughts.
These concerns for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are borne out by a poll, published this week by the website Walla, that showed that 58 per cent of Israelis supported the law, but at the same time 54 per cent back the Druze in their campaign to oppose it.
The first serious opposition came from three Druze Knesset members, two of them members of coalition parties, who petitioned the High Court last week together with the Forum of Druze Regional Councils.
“We have no problem with the Jewish people and no problem with the state of Israel being the home of the Jewish people,” explained Akram Hasson, a Kulanu MK.
“But what about us? What about those who have sacrificed since the state’s establishment and fought for it. What about 420 dead Druze soldiers? This law makes us second-rate citizens.” And criticism intensified when Druze IDF officers, most of whom have voiced their opposition in private, began speaking out publicly. At least three officers in active service are known to have announced their resignation. One of them, Captain Amir Jmall, a company commander, wrote on Facebook: “I gave the state my soul, until today. I endangered my life. [But now] for the first time I refused in my service to salute the flag.
“For the first time, I refused to sing the national anthem.”
It is unclear how widespread the unrest among Druze soldiers and officers is, but it was extensive enough for both the Druze leadership and the IDF to put out emergency statements.
Sheikh Muwaffak Tarif asked his fellow Druze to “leave the IDF outside the political debate” and promised them “we will fight for you. We have no argument with the IDF.”
Chief of the General Staff Gadi Eisenkot wrote: “as a national army whose role is to safeguard the security of Israel’s citizens and win wars, we are committed to protect human dignity, without connection to ethnicity, religion or gender.
“That is the way it has been and will always remain. We are committed that the joint responsibility and camaraderie with our Druze brothers, with Bedouin and every other minority who serve in the IDF, will continue to guide us.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Sheikh Tarif and other Druze leaders last week, but despite hearing their concerns, he refused to countenance any changes to the Nation State Law. Instead, he promised legislation that would favour the Druze community.
On Sunday, he told Likud ministers not to apologise for the Nation State but “fight for the truth”, calling the debate a “one-sided dialogue in shallow studios, filled with ignorance.”
“While we are speaking with the Druze representatives, the Nation State Law is a foundation stone to our existence,” he said.