True equality

The Druze community deserves Israel’s support, because they behave like any other loyal citizens of the state. And that is how they should be treated – equal and like anyone else.

By
August 5, 2018 20:46
3 minute read.
A member of the Druze community holds a Druze flag as he speaks to an Israeli soldier near the borde

A member of the Druze community holds a Druze flag as he speaks to an Israeli soldier near the border fence between Syria and the Golan Heights, near Majdal Shams June 18, 2015. Gathered at a hilltop in the Golan Heights, a group of Druze sheikhs look through binoculars at the Syrian village of Hade. (photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)

Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Saturday night in support of Druze rights after the community came out against the Nation-State Law passed last month. The buzzword of the rally was “equality,” which many called to add to the new law.

Druze leaders and activists speaking out in recent weeks have said that they recognize and support Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people – but then oppose the law that says just that, because it does not give any special mention of the special bond between Druze Israelis and the state.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered a special legislative package, which Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Muwafak Tarif accepted at first. But the activists organizing the rally said it was not enough, since it did not include a change to a Basic Law, meaning that it would not be part of an eventual constitution.

The Jewish Nation-State Law does not immediately detract from or add to anyone’s individual rights. Nor does it change collective rights. Israel was established as the Jewish State and it has never had official legally recognized minorities. In fact, Joint List MK Ahmed Tibi has repeatedly proposed legislation that would have Israeli Arabs be recognized as an official minority, like the Quebecois in Canada – and it has always been rejected.

For the Druze to demand a constitutional provision singling them out would create a hierarchy by which they are the “good” minority and others are less. This is not something the government should do. All citizens of Israel should be treated equally with equal rights and benefits. And the Nation-State Law is remiss not to include the value of equality.

However, to start prioritizing minorities sets up Israel for other problems down the road. Netanyahu’s proposal to build the first new Druze village since the establishment of the State of Israel, and to pass a law recognizing the Druze and Circassian contributions to Israel and support their institutions, is only a band-aid on a larger issue.

Israel’s governments – over many years and with the support of the Supreme Court – have created a patchwork of specialized laws and policies that apply to this or that community. For example, there’s mandatory military service, but most ultra-Orthodox Jews don’t serve and Israeli-Arabs barely do as well. Neither group does civilian service in large numbers either.

Another example is the government’s massive investment of billions of shekels in the Israeli Arab sector, meant to reduce discrimination in budgets for Arab towns. On the surface, it looks like a good thing.

In practice, targeting policies at specific population groups – even when the intention is to lift them up – perpetuates social gaps and stymies attempts at integration. People should be allowed to organize socially and live in homogeneous communities if they choose and send their children to schools that reflect their values, but the government shouldn’t have a hand in crafting separate policies for people based on their backgrounds.

The Druze community deserves Israel’s support, because they behave like any other loyal citizens of the state. And that is how they should be treated – equal and like anyone else.

They should have an equal level of municipal planning and permits for expansion. Their holy sites should be protected like those of any other religion and their institutions should be funded like anyone else’s.

The section of the legislative package that grants people of all religions and backgrounds benefits for serving the country “in order to achieve social equality,” and “anchoring in a Basic Law recognition of those from all religions and backgrounds who take part in defending the country” – as the Prime Minister’s Office statement describes the proposed legislation – is more of a step in the right direction. These are laws that regard people according to what they do, not who they are.

The way to truly achieve equality under law is to treat people equally under law. Israel does a good job on granting equal civil rights to citizens. But when it comes to policy and budgeting, it needs to stop playing catch-up for minorities every few years and instead treat people equally from the get-go.


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