Less than 24 hours before the tragic murders of two Druze Israeli policemen at Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount), New York Jewish Life spoke exclusively with Druze leader Josef Nasaradil, who is known with respect and affection as Abu Yoel. To be in his home is to touch history. This gracious host welcomes more than 30,000 people a year to his Daliyat al-Karmel home. He is a deeply knowledgeable patriot and a tough defender of Israel.
“You are in the most Zionist house in Israel,” NYJL had been told. “It is the home of the Druze Zionist Movement—DZM—founded in 1975 in response to the infamous United Nations Resolution 3379 defaming Zionism as a form of racism. Nasaradil, together with the major leaders of the Druze community, founded the Druze Zionist Movement.
“The DZM is connected with Israelis in all fields. Every politician, from the right to the left, has been in this house,” said Nadim Amar, former mayor of Julis, a nearby Druze town.
On the wall of Abu Yoel’s expansive living room, the image of Theodor Herzl has a place of honor close to pictures of Abu Yoel’s father and revered Druze religious leaders.
“We are non-Jews and proud Israelis,” he began. “If you wait for the Messiah, you have to wait many years. There would be no ‘Blue and White’ if you wait for the Mashiach—Messiah. We, the Druze, believe in Israel. We, the Druze, support the connection between the Druze and the Jews.
“It is an ancient bond that has existed since the time of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses. Jethro was the leader of his people and is revered as the prophet of the Druze religion. He welcomed Moses and allowed him to marry his daughter, Zipporah. Jethro advised Moses about managing the Jewish people. Moses learned delegation, how to organize officers and ministers, judges and advisers, and how to manage the people. Because of this history and this connection, we love the Jewish people. The Druze believe that the Jewish people have returned to their homeland in Eretz Yisrael.”
This strong bond between the Druze and the Jews in modern Israel began long before the establishment of the state. Abu Yoel’s father was among the pioneers of the Druze support of the Jewish people in Israel. He helped protect the Yishuv, the Jewish settlements established prior to the 1948 Declaration of Independence, providing food and support and protecting the Jews against their enemies. Druze soldiers participated in the Haganah—the precursor of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
In 1948, when David Ben-Gurion proclaimed independence, the Druze joined the army—but only as volunteers. In 1956, then-Prime Minister David Ben Gurion and then-Defense Minister Shimon Peres declared the Druze to be subject to the draft, the same as Jewish Israelis. Today, the percentage of young Druze serving in the IDF is greater than the percentage of Jews: 85 percent of young Druze men serve, while only 72 percent of Jewish youth do so.
In a nuanced analysis of Israel’s troubled political situation, Abu Yoel said, “The Jewish people must be the light unto the nations. Yet, within the people, there are those who are elements of darkness. The Druze will not allow the Jews to return to the darkness.”
He was clearly referencing the historic defeats and infighting leading to the destruction of the Second Temple, enabled by discord among the Jewish people.
NYJL asked Abu Yoel how the Druze community encourages its young generations to continue the close cooperation.
“The Druze Zionist Movement wants the connection between them and the Jewish people strong, both in ideology as well as personal friendship. We are not cooperators; we are partners. We want to teach this to the young generations of the Druze and of the Jews. The connection is very important for the Druze, the Jews and the state of Israel.”
The Druze “speak against Arab propaganda. Druze are partners and have full participation with the Jewish people.”
In the army and police force, Druze officers are equal and—as so sadly confirmed by the July 14 attack—willing to give their lives to protect the state of Israel.
Currently, Druze young woman do not generally serve in the army but do participate in national service. NYJL asked about the equality of women in the community.
“According to the Druze religion, a woman is equal to a man. She can be the leader of her community; she can marry or divorce; she can own property,” said Abu Yoel.
It must be noted that a greater percentage of Druze young women now attend university than do young men.
“We believe that Israel is the best land for the Druze,” he continued. “We know what is going on [among the Druze people] in Syria and Lebanon. In Israel there is full democracy. Everyone can achieve his or her potential.”
He acknowledged that there are problems “for two reasons: the government of Israel and some of the Druze leaders.”
Abu Yoel expressed special admiration for the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who visited the Nasaradil home on three occasions. Rabin, he said, “had emphasized equality.” As prime minister he created a special budget for improvements to close the infrastructure gap between the Druze communities and the Jewish towns.
“The current prime minister,” he complained, “speaks but doesn’t act. Rabin ‘did’ and did not speak.”
To correct this, Abu Yoel believes the Druze community must put pressure on the government—through democratic activity.
“The Jewish people love the Druze. Although we are small people and do not have the electoral numbers, we are a very important political section.”
He described five or six demonstrations involving about 3,000 people that have taken place and said, “I don’t like it. It makes the enemies of Israel and the Jewish people very happy. They can point to the dissatisfaction. We are the watchmen to protect the alliance between the Jews and the Druze and strengthen it….It is very, very important and necessary for both communities.
“We are concerned in Israel and abroad. The Druze say simply, we, the Druze, are part of Israel. There is no apartheid. This is a free and democratic society…a place of freedom and tolerance. This freedom is a magnificent activity.”
Under the auspices of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Druze spokesmen are visiting university campuses. Josef Nasaradil—Abu Yoel—has been in 24 states speaking in Jewish communities and at Hillel organizations on campuses. He has been challenged about his Zionism; called names; told, “You are a liar…you are a Jew.”
The Israeli Druze community has been directly impacted by the war in Syria. About 50,000 Syrian Druze refugees are scattered in Finland, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, Greece and other countries. Some are speaking with Abu Yoel, requesting support and asking the Israeli government to allow them to come to Israel.
“We will ask the Knesset for…a separate law of return,” he said, “to allow Druze who want to come to be allowed as long as there is no record of any activities against the state of Israel.”