It may have been unexpected, but everyone who was at the Druze-led rally at Rabin Square had to feel inspired. It felt right. It felt authentic. It felt real. Perhaps veteran Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea summed it up best in describing a moment in the square in his weekly column, “‘How many Druze are here tonight?’ a Tel Avivian asked an older Druze in garb with a white mustache. He replied: ‘The question you should ask is how many Israelis are here?’”
The rally last weekend at Rabin Square brought tens of thousands of Israelis together from all walks of life, Druze, Jewish, and others, including prominent public officials, politicians, and military officers. This rally had something special. Looking back, it might be the moment that ignites the Israeli opposition.
When the rally began, the square was just a little more than half full, mostly with Druze Israelis who had arrived on organized buses from villages in the north, but as the demonstration progressed, tens of thousands of more flocked to the square.
“We have given our hearts and souls to the country,” Sabeek Kawaz, a local leader from the Druze Village of Kfar-Julis, near Haifa, told me. “I served for over 30 years in the navy, and all for nothing and what this government did really hurt. My entire village is here tonight. We want this law changed.”
The rally was unique; it didn’t feel like a left versus right rally. Druze leaders led chants of “Israel, Israel, Israel.” The rally felt authentically Israeli. The speeches weren’t flashy; they felt raw and passionate. They did not criticize Israel as a state, but rather praised it as the homeland of the Jewish people. “We are proud of this country, and we never contested its Jewish identity, we believed that part of Israel’s Jewish identity is full equality for its non-Jewish citizens,” Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Mowafaq Tarif declared as the rally began.
Former Labor MK Sachiv Shnaan, the father of the late Kamil Shnaan, who was killed last summer by Palestinian terrorists in the Temple Mount shooting, gave a moving speech. “At the Temple Mount in holy Jerusalem, my beloved son Kamil gave back his soul to the creator of the world, and I began a new life filled with mountains of pain and rivers of tears. When the law was approved, I understood that I have become a second-class citizen and my son has become a second-class fallen soldier.”
When Brig. Gen. (res.) Amal Assad, revered by Israeli military leaders and the Druze community, quoted from Israel’s Declaration of Independence, the audience was utterly captivated: “The State of Israel… will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.”
Tel-Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai called on the government to “remove this ugly stain from the face of our state of Israel” while former head of the Shin Bet Yuval Diskin called the law an “abomination”, opening his remarks in Arabic “my brothers and sisters, we are here for equality, equality, equality.”
Also in attendance was former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, who told Israeli TV, “I’m here to tell the Druze community that I’m with them, I’ve known them for decades, we have fought alongside each other, and have died together.”
Earlier in the day, the far right-wing activist known as the “The Shadow” shared fabricated screenshots of a supposed conversation between Labor Party activists in a group chat. They suggested that the Labor leadership was intent on “using” the Druze community, and manipulated them into organizing the rally. The sheer scale of the event, the sincerity of its participants, and the intense emotions on display prove that whatever political calculations may have been considered, the outrage in many quarters of the Druze community is very, very real.
The rally in Tel Aviv may not be enough to force the Netanyahu government to change the nation-state law, but it has already ignited a new broad Israeli opposition. For a prime minister whose political success can mainly be attributed to his ability to divide, incite, and scare this may be seen as an accomplishment as Israelis seem as divided as ever. But last Saturday night, the opposition tent grew a little bit, and gained a lot of new momentum.