FIFTY thousand Druze protested at a massive rally in Tel Aviv, claiming that the country they helped to create has turned its back on them.
The Druze — who are subject to the military draft — have been infuriated by the controversial new law declaring Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people while omitting any reference to equality.
In the city’s Rabin Square, they waved signs proclaiming “If we are brothers we must be equals”.
With Tel Aviv city hall lit up in the colours of the Druze flag, Druze religious leader Sheikh Mowafak Tarif told the rally: “Despite our unconditional loyalty to the state, the state doesn’t see us as equals.
“The cry of the Druze community is real. They feel justifiably that someone seeks to take their Israeliness away.”
But before the huge protest, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walked out of a meeting with Druze leaders after a former IDF brigadier general, activist Amal Asad, called Israel an “apartheid state”. He also said in an interview: “This country is for all of us. We were born here, we will die here.
“We love this country, we have defended it and we will continue to live here together — Jews, Arabs, Druze, Circassians, Bedouins, as equal brothers. We are all Israelis.”
Sheikh Tarif said at Saturday night’s rally: “We’re all proud of the democratic and free State of Israel, where human dignity and freedom are the supreme values.
“We’ve never doubted the Jewish identity of the state. We recognised its Jewish character with full equality for its non-Jewish citizens.
“No one can teach us what sacrifice is, and no one can preach to us about loyalty and devotion — the military cemeteries are a testament to that.
“We are determined to fight alongside you for the state’s character and the right to live in it with equality and dignity.”
Before the rally, 40 former Israeli diplomats released a statement against the nation-state law, saying that they are “embarrassed” and “pained” by it.
They added: “During our years of service for the State of Israel, we could always look world nations in the eye and tell them with an honest heart that Israel, being the only democracy in the Middle East, is indeed a proud Jewish state, but one run in the spirit of Israel’s prophets and upholding equality between its different components, including by maintaining Arabic as an official language alongside Hebrew.
“Being proud of the right we were given to represent the State of Israel, defend it publicly, promote its interests, its security and our government’s policy, and act to advance science, the economy and culture in Israel, we express our protest against the legislation that excludes the minorities among us — Arabs, Muslims, Druze, Christians, Circassians and others.”
The new law not only declares that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, it anchors in law the state’s menorah emblem, Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, national holidays and the right of all Israeli residents to preserve their heritage without consideration of religion and nationality.
It also removes Arabic as an official language and instead gives it “special status”.