‘Zionism is not racism’: Minister praises Druze sacrifices for Israel

Minister of Settlements and National Missions Orit Strock was visiting a Druze non-profit as controversy swells around a bill saying Zionist values should set public policy.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Minister of Settlements and National Missions Orit Strock praised the Druze sector’s sacrifices for Israel in a visit Tuesday to an umbrella organization that helps strengthen Druze communities throughout the country.

Strock told the leaders of Ophakim La’atid (New Horizons) in Beit Jann that she has great appreciation and respect for the Druze community, which paid a heavy price in blood for the security of the country.

The Orthodox minister from the Religious Zionism party noted that she had made a point to be the government representative at the Remembrance Day ceremony in the Druze military cemetery in Shfaram in her first year in the Knesset because of her gratitude.

She added that she intends to help the Druze community from her ministry as well.

Strock’s visit was part of a series of tours she is making in the Galilee of mission-driven groups and communities in Israel, as part of the National Missions division in her ministry.

It came as controversy swells around a government decision under consideration to make the “values of Zionism” as expressed in the Nation State basic law into “the leading and decisive values in setting public policy, foreign and domestic policy, legislation and actions of the government and all its units and institutions.”

Opposition leader Yair Lapid called the decision “racist” on Tuesday, saying that it discriminates against the Druze sector.

“According to this bill,” he said, “if a Jew evades the IDF draft, he will receive more than [a demobilized Druze soldier].”

Development of the Negev and Galilee and National Resilience Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf, who introduced the proposal, blasted the criticism.

“Zionism is not racism,” he said. “Zionism is the realization of the vision of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. It is time Lapid learned this.”

The Otzma Yehudit minister added that under his bill, all soldiers would receive equal benefits upon completing their IDF service, whether they are Jews or non-Jews.

Ophakim La’atid was established in 2009 to lead the Druze in Israel to become a “progressive, excellent and influential society within the state on the road to equality,” as its website says. Its 12 current projects include promoting leadership skills among Druze youth, building young, strong, core communities in weaker villages, and teaching Israeli society about the Druze population.

At-risk youth are a particular target for the association, which encourages striving for higher education and nurturing a spirit of voluntarism, while preserving the community’s unique heritage. Its 800 members include role models for the youth such as the first IDF Druze combat pilot, the first Druze women who became a lecturer at the Haifa University, the first Druze professor and six NGO chairmen.