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Druze Community in Israel

The Druze community in Israel consists of Arabic-speaking believers from an 11th Century off-shoot of Ismaili Shiite theology. The religion is considered heretical by orthodox Islam. Members of the sect reside predominantly in mountainous areas in Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. At the end of 2008, the Druze population in Israel (121,900 inhabitants) constituted 8.2% of the Arab population, or 1.7 percent of the total population in Israel. The Druze reside in 14 localities located in the Northern District (81% of the Druze population, excluding the Golan Heights) and Haifa District (19%).

The Druze in Israel were officially recognized in 1957 by the government as a distinct ethnic group and an autonomous religious community, independent of Muslim religious courts. They have their own religious courts, with jurisdiction in matters of personal status, and spiritual leadership, headed by Sheikh Muwaffaq Tarif. Druze are Arabic speakers and their culture is, to a large extent, Arab.

However, most community members consider themselves to be not only religiously but also ethnically and nationally distinct from the Arab nation. On the other hand, many Druze leaders and individuals consider themselves first and foremost to be Arab, and reject the notion of a separate "Israeli Druze" identity.

Unlike Muslim and Christians, who are exempt from military service, since 1956 Druze have had to do compulsory military service from the age of 18, like their Jewish counterparts. Druze officers have attained high ranks in the Israeli security forces, particularly within the IDF. Druze political figures have been traditionally active in Zionist parties and have been elected to the Knesset on the left wing Labor and right wing Likud party lists. The Likud has been particularly popular among the Druze. In recent years the Druze have also been affiliated with newly established Zionist centrist and right-wing parties such as Kadima and Yisrael Beitenu. Nevertheless, about one fifth of the Druze electorate has been traditionally affiliated with Arab and Jewish-Arab parties, particularly the National Democratic Alliance (also referred to as "Balad"), which represents the national-secular trend in Arab politics in Israel and espouses an anti-Zionist program.

In recent years, members of the Druze Community have increasingly protested against official discrimination and government neglect of their interests. The growing frustration and discontent is rooted in a feeling that Jews enjoy a higher socioeconomic status. In March 2008, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert acknowledged the growing unrest within the Druze community and called for "a meaningful improvement of the relations between the State and the Druze." In March 2009, following warnings from Druze community leaders of possible disturbances in the Druze sector, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his intention of appointing a Druze minister- Ayoub Kara of the Likud Party served as Deputy Minister of the Development of the Negev and the Galilee until the 2013 elections, when he lost his seat in the Knesset.

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