Netanyahu refuses to revisit nation-state law, despite controversy regarding Druze

Government rushes to mollify Druze community after leaders file a petition against the law, calling it an “extreme act of discrimination” against minorities in Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with the leader of the Druze community in Israel, Sheikh Mowafaq Tarif (second from left), at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on July 27, 2018. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with the leader of the Druze community in Israel, Sheikh Mowafaq Tarif (second from left), at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on July 27, 2018. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO.

Despite the ongoing criticism of the nation-state law and misgivings about some aspects of the legislation voiced by some members of the coalition, the newly passed law will not be revisited, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Finance Ministry stressed on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett expressed his concerns about the new law, which defines Israel as the national home of the Jewish people.

Despite its largely symbolic status, it has caused a wave of international backlash, criticizing it as racist and discriminatory. Bennett called the law “damaging” to the Israeli Druze community and urged the government to amend it. Druze leaders have filed a petition against the law with the High Court of Justice, calling it an “extreme act of discrimination” against the minority communities in Israel. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon also spoke up.

Kahlon told Army Radio on Thursday that “the nation-state law was enacted hastily. … We made a mistake and we need to fix it.”

Kahlon associates said on Thursday that the finance minister was not referring to changing the phrasing of the law, as Bennett is urging, but rather to other ways of countering the discrimination it entails against the Druze community—first and foremost by providing solutions to the housing and employment issues that are of great concern to the Druze.

On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called an urgent meeting with Kahlon, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Communications Minister Ayoob Kara, and Druze MKs Hamad Amar (Yisrael Beytenu) and Akram Hasson (Kulanu). The meeting focused on the needs of the Druze, but Netanyahu and Levin, who campaigned for the law, made it clear that the law would not be changed.

Hasson said after the meeting was over: “We won’t back down from our petition to the High Court of Justice [against the law] until we see changes to the law.”

Nevertheless, Hasson summed up the meeting as “positive,” and said Netanyahu had promised to look into the legal possibilities of changing other laws to benefit the Druze.

Amar added: “In the meeting, I laid out a clear demand to give the Druze equal standing in the nation-state law.”

On Friday, Netanyahu met with Druze leaders, including the head of the community in Israel, Sheikh Mowafaq Tarif. Ahead of the meeting, Tarif said he was happy to sit with the Netanyahu, emphasizing that “we aren’t talking about budgets or other issues right now. We want to know what our standing is in the nation-state law, and what expression is given to the standing of the Druze and our rights in the state.”

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, the meeting was “held in a good atmosphere and the prime minister listened to their words as [Druze] community representatives. The latter said that they trust in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s leadership. The representatives raised before the prime minister their request to amend the law.”

The Prime Minister’s Office said that “the goal is to reach a quick and acceptable solution that will express the great esteem of the State of Israel for the unique partnership of fate with the Druze community.”

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