The Israeli Jewish public's assumption that the Druze enjoy equal status in Israel was always fanciful illusion
Here’s a riddle: when is a campaign for equality not really about equality? When it’s in Israel, it seems.
Earlier this month, tens of thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel - those belonging to the small Druze religious sect - staged a protest in Rabin Square in central Tel Aviv. They were joined by large numbers of Israeli Jews, including former senior security officers and the two largest centre-left parties in the parliamentary opposition, Zionist Union and Yesh Atid.
All expressed outrage at the country’s new nation-state Basic Law, which gives constitutional backing to the principle that all Jews in the world enjoy a privileged status in Israel denied to the country’s native, non-Jewish population. The Basic Law also strips Arabic - the mother tongue of a fifth of Israel’s population - of its former status as an official language.
The crowd chanted “Equality! Equality!” and urged the repeal of a law that has been accused by legal groups of formalising a system of apartheid in Israel.
Fast forward a week, to the Saturday evening before last. Tens of thousands of Muslims and Christians - also part of the 1.8-million-strong Palestinian minority - staged their own protest at the same Tel Aviv location and at the same hour. They also called for equality and the repeal of the law. And yet this time only a smattering of Israeli Jews turned out to support them, while the Zionist Union and Yesh Atid parties actively boycotted the event.
What happened? What was so different about the first and second demonstrations?
The starkly contrasting reactions from Israeli Jews to the two protests neatly highlighted several things: the hypocrisy of a so-called Israeli left that claims to believe in equality; the widespread misunderstanding by most outsiders of what a Jewish state entails; and the delusions of a Druze community that thinks it is “owed” equality by a self-declared Jewish state.
Let’s start in reverse.
The Druze are incensed by the Basic Law because most believe they have demonstrated “loyalty” to Israel - to use an idea imposed on them by the state - through their service in the Israeli army.
Members of the Israeli Druze community arrive to attend a celebration at the holy tomb of Nabi Shoaib in northern Israel on 25 April (AFP)