Non-Jews are no strangers to Israel’s policy of inclusivity in its government. What is strange is finding a non-Jewish Knesset member who is more Zionistic than most of his fellow parliamentarians. Ayoub Kara, a Druze Likud Knesset minister, is proud to consider himself one of the most “right wing” members of the Knesset.
Kara, who was appointed deputy minister of the development of the Negev and Galilee by Prime Minister Netanyahu, was first elected to the Knesset in 1999. He was appointed Speaker of the Knesset, served as chairman of the Committee on Foreign Workers and later as chairman of the Anti-Drug Committee.
In a unique position to reach out to others, Kara spoke with the mufti of Turkey following the flotilla crisis in an effort to mend bridges. He defended Israel as “the most humanitarian country in the Middle East” and urged the mufti to preach brotherhood “because there are no winners in war, and the way of peace and dialogue is preferable to the miseries of war.”
Kara lives in the Druze town of Daliyat al-Karmel near Haifa with his wife and five children
The Jewish Press: Can you explain the history and attitudes of the Druze people?
Kara: The Druze descend from Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses. Both Jethro and Moses are prophets of the Druze, and we share the same book of religion as the Jews. The Druze believe, through the prophet Jethro, that the land of Israel is for the Jews and should be defended for the Jews.
Around a hundred years ago, when the Jews wanted to make a state of their own, the Druze helped them. They defended Jewish kibbutzim and gave the Jews in the North guns. They even cooperated with the Druze in Syria to support the Jews. There are around two million Druze in Israel living in the North, in the Galilee, the Carmel, the Golan Heights, and we serve in the Israeli army. Unlike the Palestinians, we have no aspirations for our own state.
Do Druze in other countries share the same beliefs regarding Israel?
This is the philosophy of most Druze, but they’re scared to speak out about it. The Druze are afraid of the Muslims. Privately they say they share a historical religion with the Jews, but out loud most of the Druze don’t speak like that. There is no democracy and free speech in Arab countries and many of the Druze are pressured to convert to Islam. In Israel it’s different because we have freedom to say we’re Druze, and we even have a Druze flag next to the Israeli flag. We can’t do this in Arab countries. I was in Lebanon and Syria, and I know how the Druze there feel. They feel like outsiders and are scared of the Muslims.
To what extent has your family been involved in Israel’s struggle for survival?
Before 1948 my grandfather helped the Jews and paid a big price. His son, my uncle, was the first Druze to be killed by the Arabs in 1939. He was an officer on the side of Chaim Weizmann, the first president of Israel, and he was killed by Arabs in Acco [Acre] because they said that he supported the Jews. My father fought with Tzahal in 1948 in the Galilee. Another uncle of mine was killed by Arabs at that time. And my two brothers were killed in the Lebanon War in 1982 near Beirut.
I was also severely injured in the Lebanon War, and my parents died soon after from heartbreak. I returned to my village near Haifa and started my own family after that. I need peace. I don’t like war, but I speak about my tragedy because it’s important to hear how my family paid such a price to defend Israel. I believe the ultimate importance for me, more than anything, is that I live in a democratic state with human rights. In all the surrounding Arab countries there are no human rights, no courts, no justice.
You serve as deputy minister of the Galilee and Negev. What do you consider the most significant challenges you face in these areas?
The big problem in the Galilee and Negev is the migration of people from these areas to the center of Israel. They move there to study and work because we don’t have companies and business in the north and south to provide work for the young people. And when they move to the center, that means the Arabs gain in these areas. President Peres keeps talking about demographics as the reason to give the Palestinians another state. In the future a new Peres could come and say we have to give the Arabs in the north and south another state. I am afraid of that because there will be more Arabs than Jews.
What efforts are you making to combat this problem?
I am trying to introduce new initiatives in the government. One is in the area of education. We now offer soldiers who finish the army the opportunity to study for free in the Galilee and Negev, and we’re also building a big college for medicine in the Galilee. We are trying to build new big roads for people to commute more quickly from the center [of Israel]. We support companies who come to these areas and provide incentives for them. We allowed Intel to open a big factory in the Negev with many rights from the government. This is our opportunity to change the demographics. If we don’t pursue this we will find ourselves with more Arabs than Jews in these areas. In 1948 there were 20,000 Beduin in the Negev. Now, with no immigration, there are 200,000 Beduin.
You spoke out very strongly against the Gaza Disengagement. Do you think the Israeli public has learned anything from the results of that withdrawal?
I think the Jewish people are very na?ve. I was against the withdrawal from Lebanon and was alone in my opposition. I said that Hizbullah will be motivated from this. In 1982 most of the public in Lebanon were more liberal – Christian, Druze and secular Muslims – and we were mostly at peace with them. I told [then-prime minister Ehud] Barak that it was important for us to support this group. But we withdrew quickly, and Hizbullah gained power in this area as a result of the withdrawal.
The same thing happened when Sharon withdrew from Gaza. I led the opposition to this plan in the government, but when I spoke out I was accused of opposing peace and supporting war. I tried to stop the Disengagement through the finance committee in the Knesset, but I was told if I don’t agree with them they will throw me out of the parliament. Now it’s different. More than 90 percent now understand that what happened in Gush Katif and South Lebanon was a mistake. They know that if there are any withdrawals in Yehudah and Shomron, the same thing would happen and there would be an Iranian ascendancy in those areas.
But we have the Supreme Court and other liberals in Israel who think we are negotiating with people who have the same mentality as Jews, Europeans or Americans. But in the Middle East, the Arabs tell you what you want to hear and not what you have to hear. The Jews did not understand this until now.
I don’t want Israel to make another mistake. This is my state. For me the religion is not important – Druze, Jewish, or Christian. I am an Israeli patriot.
Yet you serve as a deputy minister in a Likud coalition whose prime minister endorsed the two-state solution and is pressing for direct talks with the Palestinians. Do you see this as a contradiction?I support Netanyahu and am one of his close friends. I don’t think Netanyahu would give up any land, but he’s realistic and knows he would look bad to the world if he opposes Obama. Obama has an agenda to give a state to the Palestinians. But he doesn’t live here. We do. When they pushed us on Gush Katif we gave them land, and when we were attacked afterward I didn’t see the U.S. come to defend us.