Carrying the five-color flag of the Druze people, the four Israel Defense Force veterans worked the hotel ballroom, sharing their story and impressing upon anyone who would listen the need for investment in the Israeli-Druze community.
Esti Winter, an Israeli Jew, accompanied the members of the Druze Veterans Association to the Israeli American Council conference in Washington last month. Winter acted as their advocate and English-language spokesperson.
The veterans’ organization is seeking development in their communities, she explained. Though Israeli Druze serve with distinction in the Israel Defense Forces — Winter, in fact, became involved after her son served under a Druze commander in the Golani brigade — when they return home, there are not as many opportunities available to them as there are for their Jewish counterparts.
The Druze veterans believe that the main barriers to their full integration into the workforce are due to the low quality of education available in Druze communities; lack of opportunities for Druze women, who are traditionally more conservative; and lack of technical training necessary to compete in the “start-up nation.” According to statistics provided by the association, the participation rate for Druze men in the general workforce is 58 percent compared to 72 percent for Jewish men. The gulf between Druze women and Jewish women is wider: 27 percent of Druze women work, compared to 69 percent of Jewish women.
To overcome these barriers to success, the veterans organization, which was founded in 2009, is looking to develop educational programs for women in their community, open technical training centers in Druze population centers and build ties with major corporations. They also seek leadership opportunities in the IDF.
“Jewish groups should help,” said Winter, though she emphasized that the Druze veterans are not looking for handouts, but rather for opportunities.
“They are very warm people, very proud Israelis,” added Winter. “They are fine young men, entrepreneurs and very commendable.”
Druze have a distinct culture and monotheistic religion that reveres Jethro, the Biblical father-in-law of Moses, as a spiritual founder. Druze is a closed religion; a person must be born into the faith, there is no conversion process. Approximately 1.5 million Druze live in the Levant, with more than 140,000 in Israel. Druze are known for being fiercely loyal to their home countries and have been honored for their loyalty and service to the Jewish state. In the 2014 Har Nof attacks, Israeli-Druze policeman Zidan Saif, who died from wounds sustained during the attack was mourned by the nation. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Sheikh Moafaq Tarif, spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel, were among the dignitaries present for Saif’s funeral.
Rivlin said at the funeral: “He acted according to the values he was raised with — courage, heroism and self-sacrifice.”