Terra Incognita: The Druze, the balance and Israel’s unbalanced Right

The angry reactions came after a massive and unprecedented Druze-led protest in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, in which tens of thousands came to criticize the Nation-State Law passed last month.

Tens of thousands protest in Tel Aviv along with the Druze against the recently passed Nation-State Law (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ MAARIV)
Tens of thousands protest in Tel Aviv along with the Druze against the recently passed Nation-State Law
‘Fake news” write those who are angry that Druze are protesting the Nation-State Law in Israel. Demonstrators are dismissed for their “emotional” protest, while writers demand that we “name one right minorities lost under the new law.” Others say the protesters “stabbed us in the back.”
The angry reactions came after a massive and unprecedented Druze-led protest in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, in which tens of thousands came to criticize the Nation-State Law passed last month. Amid a sea of Israeli and Druze flags, speakers praised Druze for defending Israel since the 1940s, lending their voices to those who feel the law has strained relations between the state and a minority group.
Many of those in Israel who critiqued the protest were born after protest leader Amal Assad fought in the Battle of the Chinese Farm in 1973 against the Egyptians. This is one of the ironies of today’s Israel. Those who fought for decades to secure the state are being mocked as purveyors of “fake news,” talked down to as if they were children, or have their views dismissed entirely. What they say is reasonable, however. “We view the law as discriminatory,” Daliyat al-Karmle’s Druze Mayor Rafik Halabi told President Reuven Rivlin. The law doesn’t mention equality and that is one of the main things that angers the protesters.
The deeper story here is not the law, but the symbolism. “The feeling we are not equal was always a bit present in the street. It’s sad, because we’ve always believed that someday we would be equal,” Brig.-Gen. Imad Fares told Ynet in July. This articulates the problem clearly. Whereas many of Israel’s Druze served in the army for decades without questioning or protesting the state’s policies, they did so under unwritten commitments from the state to their community. These commitments for support included more investment in local communities, access to state jobs, and hopefully, land for development in Druze villages.
THE BROTHERHOOD found in battle has often been termed the “covenant in blood.” But over the years, some Druze felt that covenant has been taken for granted and that they were shunned after leaving army service.
In 2007, Druze in Peki’in rioted over the installation of a cellular antenna, complaining it was bad for the health of locals. In 2009, Druze protested what they called insufficient government funding for villages in the North, in a demonstration outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office. “Our soldiers serve at the front but there’s no state support at home,” said one demonstrator.
Thousands protested in Maghar against home demolitions in 2017. Druze have also been outspoken about Israel’s policies in Syria during the ongoing civil war there, demanding that Druze villages near the Golan Heights not be threatened by extremist elements among the Syrian rebels.
Israel’s delicate balance among its constituent groups is always at risk of being tipped. Anyone who followed these little protests over the years clearly saw the larger protest on Saturday night boiling under the surface. Whether it is the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) protesting army service, as happened this week in Jerusalem, or LGBT activists and their supporters rallying against the surrogacy law in July, or Bedouin protesting in the Negev, or the Ethiopian anti-racism protests – many communities in Israel assert there is a red line between their demands and the current state of affairs.
The Netanyahu administration and previous governments have sought to put off dealing with many issues. Whether it is taking a strong stand to fight racism, or dealing with land reforms in the Negev, or policies relating to the Western Wall or West Bank – on every issue the policy of Jerusalem is a short-term fix and often a political flip-flop. That is why in late July, activists rallied to bring the last Falash Mura Ethiopian community to Israel, yet another issue Israel promised to deal with and never did.
UNFORTUNATELY, THE response by some in Israel is a majoritarian arrogance. Instead of looking at a Druze officer who served for decades and listening to his concerns and honoring him, the attitude of an increasingly vocal group in Israel is to dismiss any criticism as “anti-Israel” and mock it. They tend not to want to see other groups in Israel as equal or worth listening to. Druze are called a “model minority” or “loyal minority” in the press, but what about just listening to what they have to say? Does loyalty only go one way? If a person is loyal to the state and serves in its army, hasn’t that person earned the right to be heard?
The problem in Israel is that too often, hasbara talking points that are put out for consumption abroad are also consumed domestically. For instance, pro-Israel people will speak highly of the “Arab doctors” who “work with Jews” or the “Muslim policeman” who is an example of how Israel is inclusive. They will say how Israel is the only country where “Christian’s flourish while they are being massacred elsewhere.” Ethiopian Jews in Israel, for instance, were sent on speaking tours abroad to “combat BDS claims of apartheid.” The idea was that if you show anti-Israel audiences a black Israeli, they will not be able to shout “apartheid.”
But these Ethiopian Jews, Druze, Christian Israelis, the “Muslim policeman” and the “Arab doctor” are all individuals, and they live a full life in Israel which doesn’t just consist of talking points. When an Arab doctor suffers discrimination at the airport through two hours of invasive checks and complains of racism, his views are discounted. When Ethiopian Jews take to the streets to protest racism, many of those who sent them abroad on speaking tours don’t even bother to join them in solidarity.
The message is clear: Your usefulness to Israel is a one-way street. Serve in the army and be quiet after. Be the face of diversity and then be quiet. Serve coffee in the “exotic” Bedouin tent to tourists, but don’t ask for your land rights. Clean the office floor, but don’t ask to travel without being hassled. And if you protest, then it’s “fake news.”
Many people have embraced the Druze, just as many embraced anti-racism protesters and surrogate-rights protesters. Embracing and understanding and listening to the protesters doesn’t mean one has to accept all their demands. But if a country is going to demand three years of someone’s life in the army, the least that can be done is to listen to them for three hours at a protest.
Follow the author on Twitter @Sfrantzman.