Acculturate minorities

Israel can learn from the Paris riots, but will it?

November 10, 2005 08:19

The Paris riots have evoked a special interest in Israel because of the Islamic factor, which confronts Israel too, and because of the fear that the Muslim attacks might spread to the vulnerable Jewish minority there. Some local commentators with a long memory have made another comparison with the Wadi Salib riots in Haifa in 1957 and with the Black Panthers in the early 1970s, both involving frustrated second-generation Jewish immigrants from Morocco. There are also similarities between what is happening in France and our own Israeli Arab rioters and arsonists in the events of October 2000. But I would suggest that the most trenchant lesson Israel should learn from the dramatic events in France relates to multiculturalism, though Israel's Arab minority stands at about 19 percent of the population, much greater than the Muslim percentage in the French population. As much as it may be difficult for European critics of Israel to swallow, statistics show that it is better to be an Arab villager in Israel than a North African Muslim in the ring of slums surrounding Paris. In making such comparisons it is essential to remember that many if not most Israeli Arabs, due to historical circumstances and their own choice in recent years, are emotionally identified with Israel's Palestinian enemies, a situation for which there is no parallel in France. Israel can be fairly accused of neglecting its Arab minority as a group while providing, even if belatedly, many life-chance opportunities to Arabs as individuals. Many of Israel's policies relating to minorities are guided by our founding fathers' experience with being part of a Jewish minority in Poland (10 percent) and other east European countries. Prior to World War II, Jews in Poland organized to fight for cultural autonomy, and for a state-funded school system. One of our early mistakes in Israel was setting up exclusively Arabic-language schools in Arab areas. Given an Arab population that was at the time 90% illiterate, it would have been possible to insist that all schools in Arab areas be Hebrew-language institutions. Taking a leaf out of America's minorities schooling policies, it would not have been discriminatory to make all Israeli schooling in Hebrew. Today, of course, all of this is crying over spilled milk. Jewish political parties were represented in the Polish sejm but there was nary a whisper of the idea of Jewish political autonomy in different parts of Poland. IN RECENT years it has become fashionable in some liberal Jewish circles to speak of the ideal of Arab territorial autonomy. Some Arab politicians have taken up this ideal as their own. I would suggest that these people (the Jews, not the Arab politicians) apparently do not have the foggiest idea of Israel's size and geography. Israel is already one of the tiniest countries in the world (somewhere between New Jersey and Massachusetts). Offering Israel's Arabs territorial autonomy would be the end of a viable Israel because such autonomy could express itself in Galilee and the northern Negev, which wouldn't leave much for the area under Jewish self-rule. So much for what not to do. Practical opposition to the faintest whisper of territorial autonomy for Israel's Arabs should at the moment express itself in opposing any official contact with informal Arab autonomous bodies, such as the "Coordinating Committee." What not, however, raises the question of what yes? Policy in this area should express itself in numerous examples of affirmative action for Arabs as individuals and encouraging a broad range of institutions to include Arabs in their governing bodies. There is no legitimate reason, for example, why we should not assign a larger number of Arab teachers to Jewish schools. Such a policy would also fit in with the need to infuse many more male teachers into schools that are today dominated by female teachers. What is needed is not only providing better paying jobs for Arabs in many professions, but doing it on a basis of ethnic integration rather than separation. But primarily what is needed are changes in the mind-set of Jews. For example: if it is in the interest of a Jewish Israel to reduce the concentration of Arabs in Galilee and the Negev - which it is - this should mean encouraging a growing number of Arab young couples to move to Jewish cities and neighborhoods rather than continue living in Arab villages. Many young Arabs would welcome the concomitant reduction in parental pressures. I have previously written in a similar vein at the time of the 2000 riots and the subsequent naming of the Or Commission of Inquiry into those events. The trouble is that the near-exclusive fixation of our political leaders on the question of who will exercise political power results in ignoring the question of what those political leaders will do with the power they have been given. I used the term "spilled milk" in regard to decisions taken in Israel's first decade. We might well use that term in another few decades in regard to policies we have failed to pursue today.

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