Former News Anchor to Become First Druze Woman in Knesset

DALIYAT AL-KARMEL (Reuters) -

With Israel’s election just over a month away, a Druze former news anchor is poised to become the first woman from her Arabic-speaking minority to serve in the Knesset.

Gadeer Mreeh, who is running for the Blue and White Party led by former armed forces chief Benny Gantz, is all but guaranteed a seat in the Knesset in an election system in which voters choose from a list of candidates. Gantz is the main opponent of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Mreeh, a former anchor with Israel’s public broadcaster, said her life has been a series of firsts for minority women in the country.

“I was the first non-Jewish woman to anchor a Hebrew-language news broadcast,” Mreeh, 34, said from her village of Daliyat al-Karmel, a major population center for the Druze, who practice an offshoot of Islam and are one of Israel’s most integrated minorities.

Rising through the ranks of Israeli media wasn’t easy, Mreeh said, citing among other factors criticism from some in her traditional community who see journalistic work as unsuitable for women.

More than 140,000 Druze live in Israel, making up just under two percent of the population. Syria and Lebanon are also home to Druze communities.

In Israel, Druze men are drafted into the military, unlike members of the country’s 20-percent Arab minority, many of whom identify as Palestinian. In the outgoing parliament, 16 of its 120 members were Arab, including two non-Druze women.

Minority communities were dismayed last year by Israel’s approval of a “nation-state” law, which declares that only Jews have the right of self-determination in the country and downgrades Arabic as an official language on par with Hebrew.

The law’s supporters said it was largely symbolic and Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud party said it was needed to fend off Palestinian challenges to Jewish self-determination.

Mreeh said she hoped to overturn the “nation-state” law and “find a solution in legislation that will enshrine equality for all our citizens, for all Israeli citizens.”