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Likud MK pushes measures to legally differentiate Christian and Muslim Arabs
By LAHAV HARKOV AND ARIEL BEN SOLOMON
09/01/2014
According to Yariv Levin, idea came from Christians who asked him to act following similar policies pertaining to Druse.
 
Coalition chairman Yariv Levin is working on a series of measures to legally differentiate Christians and Muslim Arabs.

Levin’s proposals would identify Christians as a minority group separate from Arabs, most of whom are Muslim, and give them their own, unique representation.

“Out of ignorance, the government has been lumping all of the minorities – Druse, Christians and others – under the category of ‘Arab’ since the establishment of the state, even though there are big differences among them. Since there are many more Muslims than members of other groups, the result is that only Muslim concerns were met,” he explained on Thursday.

“This idea came from Christians who asked me to do this following similar activity pertaining to the Druse minority.

It’s not surprising that Christians want to be separated from Muslims. This is the only place in the Middle East where they have security and freedom of worship. Many Christians don’t want to be known as Arabs, but as Maronites or Aramites,” Levin said.

Levin (Likud Beytenu) seeks to “accept those who see this country as their home with open arms,” meaning Christians, as opposed to “those who take advantage of our democracy to destroy us.”

Still, Levin denies that he wants Christians to receive preferential treatment over Muslims, explaining that he only wants to recognize them as a separate group.

The coalition chairman asked the Interior Ministry to allow Christians to have “Christian” written as their nationality on their identity cards, as opposed to other Arabs, who have “Arab” written there.

Levin submitted a bill to have the 160,000 Christians in Israel be represented separately from Muslims on the Advisory Committee for Equal Opportunity in Employment Commission, which already passed a preliminary plenum reading. He plans to propose similar legislation for Christian representation in other government offices.

Additionally, Levin hopes to pass a bill encouraging Christians to enlist in the IDF and receive all the benefits of serving the country.

In his previous Knesset term, he asked the Education Ministry to allow Christians to learn about their communities’ history.

“I’m doing justice to this community by connecting them to the country and preventing Islamist extremists from forcing an identity on them that they don’t want,” he said.

Balad MK Basel Ghattas, a Christian Arab and co-founder of Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, told The Jerusalem Post that Levin is engaged in “a provocative action” that “is part of a divide and conquer policy that was used by the Zionist movement and by all colonial states in the world.”

Asked if Arab Christians feel part of the Arab nation, he said they do and that they have roots in Arab culture that are very strong, and Levin cannot change this.

This move is an attempt to “leverage the situation in the Middle East and the instability where Christians are unsettled,” Ghattas said. He criticized Levin for “cheap propaganda” and using “really marginal groups” within the Israeli Arab Christian community to support him.

Ghattas wrote a strong letter to Levin over the matter, saying that he will fight against the “cynical manipulation” that is fueled by a “racist ideology.”

Arab Christians are strong enough to face attempts to divide them, he said.

Asked about Christian Arabs who may support Levin’s proposal, he responded that they do not represent the community and that a campaign against this “divide and conquer” strategy will take place in the coming months.

Bishara Shlayan, a Christian Arab from Nazareth, is seeking funds to create a Christian Arab political party that supports Israel as a Jewish state and national or army service for Arabs.

“Levin’s idea is excellent,” because there “needs to be a separation,” said Shlayan, noting that it would allow the Christians to become like the Druse community.

The Druse and Beduin have already separated their identity from Arab Muslims, and now there “remains the last separation” – that between Muslims and Christians, Shlayan said.

Such a move would give Christians a chance to achieve positions in the army, police and other governmental bodies, he asserted.

“I am Israeli and then Christian,” and the decision to not identify as Arab should be up to the individual, he said.

Shlayan said the “Arab Muslim” identity should be changed to just “Muslim,” because the moniker “Arab” has lost its meaning.

“Anyone who lives in the region is an Arab,” he said, pointing out that Arabs “are fighting one another throughout the Middle East.”

“Levin first should decide who is a Jew and then decide who is an Arab,” Jafar Farah, director of the Mossawa Center – The Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, told the Post.

“Christians always saw themselves as part of the Arab nation” and Levin is “not going to change things now,” Farah said.

The Abraham Fund panned Levin’s proposals as an attempt to “divide and conquer” Israeli Arabs and took issue with the idea of Christians not being identified also as Arabs.

“These practices are being used in order to weaken the minority’s collective identity,” an Abraham Fund spokeswoman said. “This absurd proposal is yet another effort to discriminate against Israel’s Muslim Arab citizens by fueling internal tensions within the Arab minority.”

The NGO said the proposals are an attempt to condition benefits for citizens on their refraining from calling themselves Arabs.
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