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PM says to form ‘special committee’ to resolve Druze nation-state law outrage

The chief of staff and director general of the Prime Minister's Office, Yoav Horowitz, presented a draft of the three additional laws that would establish the special status of the Arab minority communities in Israel, in particular the Druze and Circassia
GPO

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday said he intends to form a special ministerial committee in his bid to appease the Druze community’s outrage over the passage of the controversial  nation-state law.

"The deep connection with the Druze is also necessary and so we will form a special ministerial committee which will honor that bond, as well as the status of all minorities serving in the Israeli army," Netanyahu said speaking at his weekly cabinet meeting.

Defending the bill he said, “No one has harmed them [the Druze] and no one intends to harm, but without a nation-state law it is impossible to fortify Israel’s status as a Jewish state.”

His comments followed the mass Druze-led protests held in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Saturday evening that saw some 50,000 Israelis take to the streets to protests their opposition to law.

According to organizers, the aim of the protest was to show the “importance in preserving the democratic character of the State of Israel” for all of its citizens which has since come under question since the law was passed.

AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner

Netanyahu explained that the intention of the law was to “prevent family unification clauses” and the stop the “entry into Israel of Palestinians without supervision.” At the same time, he said in his cabinet address, it secures “the right of Jews, and only them, to immigrate to Israel.”

“This law may also help us to block future infiltrators from entering,” the term that has recently been used to describe African-Asylum seekers in Israel who fled from Eritrea and Sudan.

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. Israel, which lacks a traditional constitution, holds its basic laws as preeminent, as they are meant to guide the judiciary and require a supra-majority in parliament in order to be overturned.

The law's backers say it strengthens the state's status as a homeland for the Jewish people and note it was backed by a slim majority of the country's lawmakers. Polls published earlier this week found that just over half of voters support the legislation.

Arab citizens, who make up some 17.5 percent of Israel's more than eight million population, have strongly criticized the law, particularly those from Israel's 150,000-strong Druze community, who, unlike other Arabs who may volunteer, are subject to compulsory service in the military or police alongside Jewish Israelis. Israel’s Druze, however, feel the law has legally marginalized their civic identity.

Asher Westropp-Evans/i24NEWS

Two clauses of the law have drawn particular concern: one which demotes Arabic from an official language of the state to one with "special status"; and another which encourages the promotion of “Jewish settlements”.

In order to quell backlash against the law, Netanyahu's office has proposed three additional laws that would establish the special status of the Arab minority communities in Israel, in particular the Druze and Circassian populations.

The first law would provide for the promotion and strengthening of the Druze and Circassian communities in Israel, enshrining their special status and historic contribution to the state.

The second law is meant to establish benefits for “all minority community members – of all faiths and communities – who serve in the security forces, to achieve social equality,” the GPO statement said.

The third law would establish a basic law -- part of a series of laws that inform and direct Israel’s legislative and judicial branches -- recognizing everyone who contributes to Israel’s armed service, regardless of religious affiliation.

However, Druze local council heads have expressed that nothing short of repealing the nation state law or adding the tenet of equality to it would appease them. A special ministerial committee, as the one announced on Sunday, is unlikely to do little more to quell the community's concerns.

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