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November 3, 2015 9:59 am

Israeli-Druze Delegation Defends Israel Against Apartheid Accusations: ‘We Are a Living Example of How Empty These Claims Are’

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Members of the Israeli-Druze delegation visiting New York this week. Photo: World Jewish Congress.

Members of the Israeli-Druze delegation visiting New York this week. Photo: World Jewish Congress.

Members of Israel’s Druze community on Monday firmly rejected those who accuse Israel of being an “apartheid state” that discriminates against its minorities.

The defense of the Jewish state was made by a delegation of Israeli Druze visiting New York this week for a conference hosted by the World Jewish Congress.

“We are a living example of how empty such claims [as apartheid] are,” said one member of the group, who pointed out how well the Druze community is integrated into Israeli society.

Tahani Sheikh, who recently finished her medical studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is pursuing a career as a neurologist, said a look at Israel’s academic institutions — where Arabs make up a large percentage of the student body — is enough to grasp how false the accusations are. She cited figures showing that 50 percent of the students at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and more than 80 percent of Tel Aviv University’s dental school are Arabs.

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These facts, she said, prove wrong those who say that “Israel is against minorities or not giving them equal rights.”

Another Israeli-Druze, Shuki Hasson, who formerly headed the foreign affairs office of the IDF Personnel Directorate, expressed a similar sentiment. He urged Israel’s detractors to “define apartheid and then take that definition and try to apply it to what’s going on in Israel.” He said none of the definitions of apartheid jibe with the current living situation for minorities in the Jewish state.

Hasson asserted that “every human being, regardless of religion or background,” can move freely in Israel. He said the same applies to Palestinians, explaining that though they are subject to certain restrictions — due to the current security situation — they can still move inside and out of the Jewish state as they please.

Another member of the community, Amir Halabi — who served in the IDF Paratroopers Brigade and is now a doctor — said that Palestinians who accuse Israel of apartheid need to understand why their current living situation is the way it is. He said it’s important to compare the condition of minorities inside Israel with that of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“When you describe to people who think that the checkpoints and the [security] wall were built because Israel wanted to become an apartheid state — and that without these checkpoints and without this wall, buses and restaurants will explode in Tel Aviv — immediately they start to think about it differently.”

The Israeli Druze delegation is on a US speaking tour to raise awareness about their community’s role in Israel, and their contributions to the country, the IDF and the stability of the region. The advocacy tour in New York was arranged by the Zionist Organization of America, pro-Israel group StandWithUs and the Israeli Consulate in New York.

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