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Israeli Druze hold mass rally in Tel Aviv against Jewish nation-state law

Critics and members of Palestinian minority, which constitutes 20 percent of Israel, have likened new law to apartheid
Israeli Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Muafak Tarif, centre, arrives at Tel Aviv rally on Saturday (AFP)

Israeli Druze and their supporters massed in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Saturday night to protest against a new law they say makes them second-class citizens.

The nation-state law, which passed last month and is part of Israel's so-called basic laws, a de facto constitution, proclaims the country the nation state of the Jewish people.

The Druze, a religious minority in the Middle East, number about 110,000 in northern Israel, with another 20,000 in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. There are significant Druze minorities in Syria and Lebanon.

The nation-state law makes Hebrew the country's national language and defines the establishment of Jewish communities as being in the national interest. Arabic, previously considered an official language, was granted only special status.

Palestinian citizens of Israel have long said they are treated as second-class citizens by Israeli authorities, suffering from discriminatory legislation and radically inferior access to public services and infrastructure compared with Jewish citizens.

Critics and members of the state's Palestinian minority, which constitutes 20 percent of Israel, have likened the law to apartheid.

The new law makes no mention of equality or democracy, implying that the country's Jewish character takes precedence, and speaks of Israel as the historic homeland of the Jews, who have a "unique" right to self-determination within its borders.

Israel's Druze community has strongly criticised the legislation as they are subject to compulsory service in the military or police alongside Jewish Israelis.

Holding colourful Druze flags alongside Israeli ones, protesters at Saturday's demonstration, estimated by local media at over 50,000, chanted "equality," AFP reported.

"Despite our unlimited loyalty to the state, the state doesn't consider us equals," Israeli Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Muafak Tarif said in a speech.

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"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," Tarif was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Meanwhile, dozens of protesters also demonstrated against the nation-state law in front of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon's house in Haifa, the Jerusalem Post said.

Former military general Amal Aad said that senior Druze members of the security establishment like him "want to retain our Israeli identity, and think the government and its head can fix the law". 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has conducted a series of meetings with the Israel's Druze leadership, telling them there was "nothing in this law that infringes on your rights as equal citizens of the state of Israel".

Still, the meetings and implications of new pro-Druze legislation have not eased their discontent, with a number of junior Druze military officers resigning from the Israeli army in protest.

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