Israeli PM defends Jewish nation-state law after protest

Col.-Gen. Sergei Rudskoy of the Russian Military General Staff speaks to the media as a screen shows the map of Israel Jordan Syria and Lebanon in Moscow Russia

New Law in Israel Sparks Backlash from Arab Minority Group

Tens of thousands of Druze and their supporters rallied in central Tel Aviv on Saturday to protest against the legislation.

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. They are considered to be fiercely loyal to Israel.

The new Nation State law declares Israel is a homeland exclusively for Jewish people.

The Druze are ethnic Arab members of a religious minority that is an offshoot of Islam incorporating elements of other faiths.

These and other things are happening because the laws of the state anchored in basic laws only individual rights without any constitutional balance vis-à-vis our national component; therefore, we legislated the Nation-State Law in order to ensure the existence of the State of Israel as a state that is not only democratic but as the national state of the Jewish people and of it alone.

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The law also downgraded Arabic from an official language to having "special status".

According to the plan submitted by the prime minister's representatives, "the law will recognise the contribution of the Druze community to the security of the state, and will include support for community institutions (religion, education and culture), will strengthen Druze residential settlements, and establish new towns if needed". Critics, however, say the law effectively discriminates against Israel's Arabs and other minority communities.

During the Saturday demonstration, protesters chanted "equality" while waving colorful Druze flags. Israel's 130,000 Druze live mostly in the north of the country. "We never questioned the Jewish identity of the state", said Sheikh Muafak Tarif, the spiritual leader of the Druze in Israel. This has been perceived by the law's opponents Israel turning its back on the values of equal citizenship and full democratic rights for all, while its proponents argue that equal rights are enshrined in other legislation.

Individual rights, Netanyahu said, are anchored in numerous Jewish state's (existing) laws, but not so Jewish national rights.

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The Israeli left-wing and leaders of Israel's wider Arab community have also condemned the new law.

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

Netanyahu said the "deep connection with the Druze community" was essential and that a ministerial committee would "advance the connection and these commitments".

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the controversial legislation after a cabinet meeting on Sunday.

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