Tens of thousands of people rallied on Saturday night, August 4, in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square in a mass protest led by the Arab-Druze community in Israel against the recently-passed racist nation-state law. The day following the mass rally, members of Israel’s Druze community were still basking in its afterglow. Participants in the rally, including Druze community elders who have led other public battles in the past, say this was the largest demonstration the Druze community has ever organized, both in numbers and in terms of the forces leading the protest itself.
According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, many claim that the demonstration, which was led mainly by retired army officers and mayors, was seen as a challenge to the community’s traditional spiritual leadership, headed by Sheikh Muwafak Tarif. For this reason, many members of the Druze community contend that the struggle depends on those leaders, rather than on the traditional religious figures. A key activist told Haaretz that the spiritual leadership sensed the energy of the demonstration and heard its messages, which is why they were not quick to accept a dirty deal offered by far-right PM Benjamin Netanyahu last week. The only way to bring about a change in the nation-state law or to create legislation that would ensure equality for all citizens of the state, the activist said, was to continue fighting on all fronts: publically, in the courts and in the Knesset.
Samer Sweid, from the town of al-Buqei’a (Peki’in) in the Galilee, a Communist and Hadash activist who was present at the rally, said that he did not agree with some of the slogans that were displayed and voiced during the rally. The sign Sweid held called for equal rights for everyone, in contrast to what has been dubbed “mercenary talk,” whose proponents contend that the Druze, are those are entitled to equal citizenship because they serve in the Israeli military. Sweid told Haartez that the overwhelming sentiment in the crowd was that equality is the key and that Netanyahu should be toppled or resign. Sweid also maintains that, while the rally constituted a challenge to the traditional leadership, it was still not a vote of no confidence in that leadership. “As of the rally, the feeling was that the leadership is still able to represent the majority and is in control of the grass roots. However, everything depends on the outcome of the struggle. If it succeeds, there’s no doubt that it will give the traditional leadership strength, but if they compromise and go, for example, for the plan that was offered [by Netanyahu], there’s no doubt it will create a shock wave in the community,” Sweid said.
Last week, towards Saturday night’s mass rally, Sweid participated in a meeting at the Communist club in the Druze village of Yarka in the Western Galilee, under the banner “Druze Progressive Initiative against the Nation-State Law.” Also in attendance were two former Druze MKs: Dr. Abdallah Abu-Ma’arouf, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of Israel, and Said Nafa’h.