Loyalty laws draw unexpected supporters and opponents

It is not surprising that Israel Beitenu (“Israel is our home”), the party that ran on the platform of “No Loyalty – No Citizenship” would propose a bill giving preference to those who have served in the IDF or national service when applying for public sector jobs, over those who have not. The bill is considered part of the loyalty/citizenship package.

Since it’s mainly Arab citizens who do not perform IDF or national service – and Haredim – the bill represents a sort of reverse affirmative action: give the people who already dominate most of the Israeli public and private sectors – Jewish IDF veterans – even more advantages and place further obstacles on the Arab minority which is already underrepresented (I have no evidence of Haredi representation in the public sector), and discriminated against in housing, budget allocations, educational resources and private sector jobs.

Israel Beitenu’s large former Soviet-immigrant constituency is sure to give the party points for sticking it to the Haredim as well.

But there are a few things about the bill that might seem surprising. First, the actual sponsor of the amendment is Hamad Amar, a Druze MK who is number twelve on Israel Beitenu’s list, from the Arab town of Shfar’am. Since Druze are often conflated with Arabs in Israel, the bill might seem to discriminate against Amar’s own group. But there’s a major difference: many Druze citizens serve in the IDF, or national service.  According to this fine article by Mordechai Nisan, 83% of Druze males serve.

I sense deep and growing tensions between the two communities. Rising Jewish nationalist sentiment has its Arab counterpart and in the climate of growing resentment, I’ve heard anecdotally that Arab Muslims are none too happy about Druze participation in the army. Nisan points out that such tensions are nothing new in the history of this land, pointing to precisely the same triangular tension in the early 1930s:

Catalyzing Jewish-Druze cooperative efforts were Muslim assaults against the Druze, as in Usfiya, and the murders of prominent Druze personalities who supported collaboration with the Jews. The tiny Druze community … sought Jewish friendship and believed that this would guarantee their welfare as they faced the wrath of the Arab population.

I’m reminded of a focus group with young Bedouin men that I observed last year, in which one of them glowered and grinned as he said: “ah, how I hate the Druze.”

Mr. Amar does not reveal any hint of consistent legislative thinking but does seem to play up sectoral politics. Just last month he sponsored a bill supporting equal employment for the Druze and Circassian communities. Of course, I’m all for that. But the hypocrisy is appalling.

My theory of a growing Druze/Arab-Muslim split is reflected in the language of Amar’s equal employment bill, in which he stresses that Israeli legislation should not lump Druze and Arab-Muslims together, because they are distinct groups with distinct needs. Yet the Druze do not seem to have suffered too much up to now from affirmative action laws intended both for them and other Arabs. I can only explain the insistence on separation as a symbolic gesture to create further fragmentation; or to please Amar’s racist party boss.

A second twist has to do with who supports and who opposes the bill for preferential hiring in public service: the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved it for a first reading back in May (this part is no surprise – Israel Beitenu heads that committee). But then an all-star cast seemed to line up against it. Last week, Haaretz reported on a letter from Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to the Prime Minister, saying that the bill was discriminatory and ought to be stopped (following a Channel 2 item revealing the letter).

Proving once again that right-wing politicians can also be committed to democratic norms and sensitive to Israeli social realities, Likud MK and Speaker of the Knesset Ruby Rivlin strongly opposed the bill. It’s worth citing his explanation for his unambiguous repudiation, quoted in the Jerusalem Post:

Those who finish army and national service can be rewarded with housing, scholarships and grants – but they should not receive benefits that harm other populations and the civil service,” Rivlin said. “The civil service should represent all the groups that make up Israeli society, even if the state exempted them from serving in the army.

Former Justice Minister Daniel Friedman came out against the bill in an op ed in the print version of Yediot on Monday – saying that the state needs to integrate minorities into the work force, not contribute to increasing anger and alienation.

But Israel Beitenu leaves no doubt about its determination to embrace Jim Crow-style exclusion nearly five decades after America shamed itself into transition. Its MK David Rotem, who heads the Constitutional Committee, actually agreed to amend the first version of the bill to ensure that it would not discriminate against other non-IDF serving groups, as reported in Haaretz:

Following criticism of the wording of the bill, the committee’s chairman, MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu ) said he would change it to exclude immigrants who came to Israel after the age of compulsory army service, people with disabilities, and people already in government service who are applying for civil service jobs.

As a footnote, I was personally disgusted by Amar’s own description of why the bill was important. His justification (quoted in the same Haaretz article above) was practically an attack on those who do not do army service, who are:

draft-dodger[s] who at that time [Army age] went to university and gained work experience.”

As such, Amar effectively equates draft-dodging with higher education; that’s about as shamelessly anti-intellectual, anti-success and anti-social mobility as a leader can get. He conveys to the Israeli people that real Israelis stay away from school, which is for non-patriotic sissies. Some ticket into the global future.