Tens of thousands of Israeli Druze and their supporters rallied in central Tel Aviv Saturday to protest a new law they say makes them second-class citizens.
The law, which passed last month and is part of Israel’s so-called basic laws, a de facto constitution, proclaims the country the nation state of the Jewish people.
It makes no mention of equality or democracy, implying the country’s Jewish character takes precedence, and speaks of Israel as the historic homeland of the Jews, who have a “unique” right to self-determination within its borders.
Arabs have strongly criticised the legislation, particularly those from Israel’s 130,000-strong Druze community.
Druze, unlike other Arabs who may volunteer, are subject to compulsory service in the military or police alongside Jewish Israelis.
Holding colourful Druze flags alongside Israeli ones, protestors at Saturday’s demonstration, estimated by local media at over 50,000, chanted “equality”.
“Despite our unlimited loyalty to the state, the state doesn’t consider us equals,” Israeli Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Muafak Tarif said in a speech.
Former military general Amal Aad said that senior Druze members of the security establishment like himself “want to retain our Israeli identity, and think the government and its head can fix the law”.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had conducted a series of meetings with the Israel’s Druze leadership, telling them there was “nothing in this law that infringes on your rights as equal citizens of the state of Israel”.
But the meetings and implications of new pro-Druze legislation have not eased their discontent, with a number of junior Druze military officers resigning from the Israeli army in protest.