Led by Druze, thousands protest Israel's nation-state law

Illustrative Members of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force stand on an armored vehicle near an IDF soldiers in the Israeli Golan Heights near the Quneitra crossing between Israel and Syria

Led by Druze, thousands protest Israel's nation-state law

Tens of thousands of Israeli Druze and their Jewish supporters gathered in downtown Tel Aviv on Saturday in protest of a recently adopted Jewish "nation-state" law which they claim discriminates against other groups.

The Druze, numbering around 130,000 in Israel, have had special status since the 1950s, when they were drafted into the military, unlike Israel's Muslim and Christian populations.

In Israel they number around 120,000 - less than two percent of citizens.

The Druze are the most integrated minority in Israel, but the controversial law has provoked anger and fear.

Haaretz stated that "the plan outlines a Basic Law and a regular law that will recognise the contribution of minorities who defend the country by "enshrining eligibility for the benefits of minority members of all religions and communities who serve in the security forces, for the goal of closing gaps and promoting social equality".

"Just as we fight for the existence and security of the state so we are determined to fight together for the character and right to live in it in equality and dignity", Tarif was quoted by Reuters as saying. The government says the bill merely enshrines the country's existing character, but critics say it undercuts Israel's democratic values and marginalizes the country's non-Jewish minorities.

The Druze are an Arabic-speaking group with their own distinct religious and cultural traditions.

The nation-state law makes Hebrew the country's national language and defines the establishment of Jewish communities as being in the national interest.

The highly-contested nation-state Basic Law passed by a 62-55 margin in parliament last week, speaks of Israel as the historic homeland of the Jews and says they have a "unique" right to self-determination within its borders.

"We have never dared to challenge the Jewish identity of the state, and no one can teach us what sacrifice is, and no one can preach loyalty to us", said Sheikh Mowafaq Tarif, a spiritual leader of the community, according to the Walla website.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to stop the protest by holding talks with Druze leaders but failed. Israeli law guarantees them full equal rights, but many say they face constant discrimination, citing inferior services and unfair allocations for education, health and housing. The Druze revere Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, whose tomb in northern Israel is one of their most sacred sites. Asad, who was part of the meetings, told Israel's YNET news that Netanyahu refused to sit with someone who accused the Israeli leader of running an apartheid state.

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