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Raising the election threshold?
By BERYL RATZER
07/16/2014
A response to Nachman Shai's June 10 op-ed.
 
Nachman Shai’s June 10 op-ed (“Everything will not be okay”) was not the eye-opener I expected from an veteran Labor MK and knowledgeable politician. His description of the situation of Israel’s Arab population included a number of half-truths, and the nature of polemics is such that it is more difficult to combat generalizations and half-truths than it is to counter outright falsifications.

Allow me to attempt to fill the missing parts of some of the half-truths in his article, in the approximate order in which they appear there.

Plummeting education levels and overcrowded classrooms are not unique to the Arab sector but are worrisome also in the Jewish sector. Surprisingly, the best scholastic achievements seem to be among Christian Arabs.

One of the tools used to gauge the differences between the Jewish and Arab sectors is a comparison of matriculation test scores in English language studies. This is misleading, however, as English is studied as a second language – and therefore for longer – in the Jewish sector, whereas in the Arab Hebrew is the second language, with English being third.

Arab students also have the added advantage of starting university at age 18, whereas Jewish students are able to start only after military or national service.

Is it possible that “violence has increased and illegal construction has expanded” because of physical attacks on police attempting to carry out their duties, leading to police being less and less willing to put their lives on the line, whether in Arab villages or at the cemetery on the Mount of Olives? This is already the case with Magen David Adom ambulances and repair teams sent by the Israel Electric Company and Bezeq.

Whether healthcare in Israel is basic is or not is a moot point. But one thing’s for sure: it is equal for all Israelis. There is not a single hospital in Israel which does not have its share of Arab patients, whether from Israel, the West Bank (including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s wife), the Gaza Strip, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon or elsewhere in the Arab world.

The reason that virtually all the volunteers working in the hospitals are Jewish Israelis doing national service, with nary an Arab volunteer to be seen, is that the leadership of the Arab sector, including MKs and imams, exhort young Arabs finishing school not to volunteer. There is not a single hospital or Health Fund in Israel which does not have Arab doctors, nurses and pharmacists on staff. But they, too, have nary an Arab volunteer.

To claim that the desire to raise the electoral threshold for Knesset representation is intended to discriminate against the Arab population is deliberately misleading. Apart from the fact that it would bring us in line with other democracies which have proportional representation, and would remove the unfair advantage which small lists have at present, raising the threshold will also affect the smaller Jewish religious parties.

To claim that the desire to offer financial assistance, including VAT exemptions on home purchases, to those who have served in the IDF or done national service is directed against the Arab sector is almost libelous. For one thing, here, too, members of those Jewish religious groups which do not serve in the army are also affected. But more than that, there is in fact nothing preventing anyone in the Arab sector from volunteering in the IDF or participating in national service programs in their own communities, and thus being able to enjoy the same privileges. Unfortunately, those who have done so are maligned and even victimized by their communities, and so others fear to volunteer.

No matter how I try, I am unable to understand how the legitimate discussion among people from all walks of life about the legitimacy of force-feeding hunger striking Palestinian prisoners makes “Israeli Arabs feel discriminated against,” so I can only seek elucidation from Shai on this point.

The fact that we have Israeli Arab MKs who publicly align themselves with the Palestinians and even with Hamas, and applaud Palestinian acts of terrorism against Israelis, including the kidnapping of teenagers, is sufficient proof that there are no limitations to their political aspirations.

In the Arab sector mayors and municipal councils are less inclined to enforce local tax collections than their Jewish counterparts.

I believe that the rate is often less than 50 percent in the Arab sector, compared to an average of over 80% in the Jewish sector.

This results not only in less money for those tasks relegated to local councils but also to a lower contribution from the Interior Ministry, which is supposed to match shekel for shekel and not provide ex parte transfers and additional funding.

Clean streets and well-kept parks are the result of town planning and the arnona (property tax) collected from the residents, and not discrimination. In many Arab villages there is no town planning and the arnona collected barely covers the basic requirements such as refuse collection.

Despite the “brewing storm” we “continue to drive to Arab villages... to eat good food” because we want to have amicable relations and to trust our fellow Arab citizens.

But when we see the outburst of fury, the uncontrolled rioting egged on by Arab MKs and imams, the wanton destruction of property, the attacks on Jewish travelers on main roads, we cannot but ask ourselves, where are the moderate Arab voices? Where is the Arab “Peace Now”? Where is the 600-strong Israeli-Arab contingent reaching out to mourn with the families of Jewish victims of terrorism? Like it or not, this is a slightly more accurate picture of the reality we face.

The writer is a veteran Israeli guide and author of A Historical Tour of the Holy Land.
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