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Members of Israel's Druze minority have staged a massive rally in Tel Aviv against the "nation-state" law which gives unique rights to the Jewish people. The Arabic-speaking Druze are known for their loyalty to Israel.
Tens of thousands of Israeli Druze and their Jewish supporters gathered in downtown Tel Aviv on Saturday in protest of a recently adopted Jewish "nation-state" law which they claim discriminates against other groups.
Representatives of the Arabic-speaking Druze are angry over several facets of the new law, which legally defines Israel as "the historic homeland of the Jewish people." The bill, now part of Israel's Basic Law, also downgrades Arabic from an official language to a language with a special status, encourages settlements in the occupied West Bank, and states that "the right to exercise national self-determination" is "unique" to the Jews.
The law is especially controversial among the 130,000-strong Druze minority due to their noted loyalty to Israel. 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 were born here, we will die here'
On Saturday, protesters chanted "Equality!" in front of Tel Aviv's City Hall, which was lit in the colors of the Druze flag.
"We came here to tell the entire Israeli nation, with all of the Israeli people, that this country is for all of us," retired Brigadier General Amal Assad told the AP news agency.
"We were born here, we will die here, we love this country, we have defended it, and we will continue to live here together — Jews, Arabs, Druze, Circassians [a dominantly Muslim ethnic group], Bedouins, as equal brothers," said Assad, who led the Druze campaign against the bill.
"We are all Israelis," he said.
Druze's secretive religion has elements in common with Islam, Judaism, Christianity and Hinduism. They revere Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, and form significant minorities in Syria and Lebanon.
Read more: Syrian conflict divides Druze community
Netanyahu walks out after mention of 'apartheid'
Several Druze military officers have resigned over the law.
Israel's hard-line Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sought to assuage Druze fears by meeting with their representatives after the law was passed. However, he walked out of the meeting with Assad and other Druze officials earlier this week after Assad warned the law would "lead to apartheid."
Netanyahu insists there is "nothing in this law that infringes on your rights as equal citizens of the state of Israel."
Liberal Jewish groups have spoken out against the law, which was also criticized by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.
dj/cmk (AP, dpa, AFP)