PMO chief Gabai blasted for anti-Druse remarks

PMO director-general: 'My words were misunderstood.'

Druse shepherd 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Druse shepherd 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prime Minister's Office Director-General Eyal Gabai came under fire on Thursday, with MKs calling for his dismissal after he blasted the Druse community, accusing them of intimidating state officials. Speaking at a forum of senior industrialists Thursday morning, Gabai said the word Druse "has become a word which intimidates government offices. "People say they're armed and we should be careful. You see them shooting while driving around the area in their all-terrain vehicles, and nobody wants to mess with them," he said. He was speaking about the fear of state planners to begin construction on lands populated by members of the Druse community, specifically regarding the project to install a pipeline in the Kishon River. Gabai recounted the recent incident at the Kishon, when the plan to lay a natural gas pipeline to Haifa was dropped once it was realized that the pipe would traverse Druse lands. "A commissioned environmental-minded opinion stated that emissions should be reduced. The Infrastructure Ministry and Netivei Gaz [a gas company] wanted to lay down the new pipeline. When they found out the route went through Druse territory, they gave up," he said. Within minutes after Gabbai's comments were revealed on radio and Internet news, MKs - Druse and Jewish alike - immediately jumped at the chance to blast one of the leading figures in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's inner circle. Druse MK Hamed Amer (Yisrael Beiteinu) called on Netanyahu to fire Gabai. "His statement was severe. We are a minority that has given so much to the state and its security and we will continue to do so," he said. On the other side of the political spectrum, another one of the four Druse representatives in the Knesset, MK Said Nafah (Balad), described Gabbai as "another racist from the racist-producing school. "The Druse are victims, and their blood is on the hands of Gabbai and those who appointed him," he continued. "The policy of racist discrimination that disregards the rights of the Arab minority - including the Druse - that is what is threatening good order." Kadima faction chair MK Dalia Itzik called on Gabai to retract his words and apologize to the Druse community. "The regrettable words by the PMO director-general do not reflect the opinions of Israeli society," she said. Gabai issued a statement immediately after the speech saying, "My words were misunderstood. I was referring to people who [have] developed prejudices against the [Druse] sector, instead of speaking to [the entire community]." On Israel Radio later Thursday, Gabai said, " My words were badly chosen." He insisted that his words were taken out of context and that his attack was actually directed at government offices, which, he said, were finding excuses to avoid work. "Offices operate on the basis of assumptions which let them avoid doing their jobs," he said. The Prime Minister's Office said it was "obvious the director-general feels a lot of appreciation toward Israel's Druse citizens and cherishes their immense contribution to the State of Israel."