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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Pan-Arabism versus Pan-Islam – Where Do the Druze Fit?

Filed under: Radical Islam

Eventually Israel may have no choice but to intervene in Syria to help the distressed Druze community if it finds itself facing a real emergency.

That does not mean Israel will get involved militarily – which is thoroughly undesirable, even by the Druze themselves. There are many ways, though, through which Israel can give assistance.

Druze of Israel (source: Matanya, Flickr)
Druze of Israel (source: Matanya, Flickr)

Israel has very wisely deferred its involvement as much as possible. Yet Israel is concerned over the problem in Syria, and not just because it is on the Golan Heights. It is because the struggle over Syria by its very nature touches upon Israel’s own domestic reality and stands to affect its internal equilibrium.

The struggle in Syria is between two main forces: the pan-Arabism of the Baath Party, which is losing, and pan-Islam, which is winning. The two have a common goal: the negation of the other. Neither of them can tolerate variety and multiculturalism; instead they both demand that all the components of the society define themselves in an absolute fashion – either you are Arab or you are Muslim-Sunni. If you reject this total self-definition – your fate is death. To use ISIS’ threat, “submit or die.”

Pan-Arabism as applied in Syria nullified Kurdish self-identification, Christian self-identification, Druze self-identification (in old Syria the Mountain of the Druze was called the Mountain of the Arabs), and even the Alawite self-definition; one could only be Arab. The calamity of the minorities is that the victory of pan-Islam does not allow them to remain alive if they define themselves as Arab, since they cannot then be included in the Islamic-Sunni definition; hence, their fate is death.

Unlike old Syria, Lebanon is a country based on a constitutional confessionalism system that balances the powers of the ethnic communities.  Unlike Syria’s pan-Arabism that didn’t permit any community to express itself as a separate ethnic group, Lebanon recognized each one. This gave Lebanon a degree of stability despite the ethnic tensions.

The 1975 civil war erupted in Lebanon because of the large Palestinian presence which upset the constitutional balance in Lebanon.  After Hizbullah took the place of the PLO, some stability was restored to the country. This stability is now threatened by forces beyond the constitution – al Nusra and ISIS, pan-Islamists who seek to totally erase the state of Lebanon.

In Israel, the Druze Are Part of a Diverse Mosaic

Assad’s Syria allowed the minorities to stay alive if they defined themselves as Arabs.

Israel is also a country of minorities, and as a true democratic state, it grants the minorities the right to preserve their identity and be proud of it.

Thus, the Druze, the Christians, and the Circassians are part of the diverse Israeli mosaic, along with those Sunnis who want to be part of it. Some Israeli Christians’ process of identification with the state goes hand-in-hand with a process of withdrawal from Arabism and a new self-definition granted in Israel, “Aramaic.”

It is here that the real reason behind the campaign to delegitimize Israel is found: very much like the Kurds, the Druze, or the other communities, Israel is regarded by pan-Arabists, of which the PLO is part, as a state that can gain legitimacy only if it identifies itself as an Arab or Muslim state, and since it cannot meet that condition, it has no legitimacy.

The Israeli mosaic resembles the multicultural and multi-ethnic mosaic of old Syria. To promote the integration of its non-Jewish groups and prevent the unraveling of its internal fabric, Israel must define its role as a Jewish state that extends its hand to the diverse groups in Syria and in the Middle East as a whole, groups of which Israel is itself an integral part. Its self-definition as a Jewish state is part of the self-definition of the Kurds, the Christians, the Druze, and others within the region as a whole.