Israeli PM defends Jewish nation-state law after protest

Illustrative Members of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force stand on an armored vehicle near an IDF soldiers in the Israeli Golan Heights near the Quneitra crossing between Israel and Syria

Tens of thousands of Israelis demonstrated against Israel's controversial nation-state law Saturday in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square.

Minorities and many Jewish Israelis alike have criticized the law, adopted last month, for recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and saying "the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people". One clause of the bill downgrades the Arabic language from official to "special" standing.

Druze community members organized Saturday's march, held under the motto: "Equal rights for all citizens".

They further claim that the Nation-State Law defies the status quo that has existed in Israel since its establishment, and which is anchored "in its Declaration of Independence and in its spirit".

Benjamin Netanyahu said at Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting that the law doesn't harm any citizens, and is needed to "ensure the future of Israel as the state of the Jewish people for generations to come".

Hundreds of five-colored Druze flags - rarely seen outside the community - fluttered alongside Israeli flags, and mustachioed Druze elders, wearing red and white fezzes, cheered ahead of speeches by Druze and Jewish leaders.

The bill was passed by the right-wing governing coalition in a 62-55 vote on July 19.

Unlike Arab Israelis, members of both the Druze and Circassian minorities are subject to Israel's mandatory draft and serve in large numbers alongside Jewish soldiers in some of the IDF's most elite units.

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Unlike the rest of Israel's 1.9 million Arabic-speaking population, Druze are recruited and serve in the military, and some of them have also reached senior positions in the state apparatus.

"We, groups of citizens from all sectors of Israeli society, call upon you to join us in the mass rally, whose goal is a public and powerful struggle against the national law under the title, "We are all equal Israelis", it says".

"Just as we fight for the existence and security of the state so we are determined to fight together for the character and right to live in it in equality and dignity", said Tarif.

"We are all Israelis", he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page yesterday that the protesters from the Druze community were being egged on by the left in Israel and by the European Union.

The demonstrators were urged to lower party banners and to wave Israeli and Druze flags only.

Several Druze military officers recently said they would stop serving in response to it, sparking fears of widespread insubordination.

Organized by a group called, "The Struggle against the National Law", the goal of the protest is to show the "importance in preserving the democratic character of the State of Israel" for all of its citizens. According to Israeli media, Netanyahu abruptly ended a meeting with Druze officials this week and lawmaker Avi Dichter, a co-sponsor of the law, was heckled by Druze in attendance at another.

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