A View from Israel: A Fifth column?

Israeli Arabs should fight for equality but, in doing so, refrain from breaking the law.

March 1, 2012 19:42
Israeli Arabs protesting

Israeli Arabs protesting 390. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The status of Israeli Arabs has been a contentious issue since 1948, when they numbered approximately 150,000. Today, with 1.5 million Arabs living in Israel, their loyalty to the state is questionable, if it exists at all, and their leaders are doing little to ensure a practical solution for their future. Instead, they are inciting the masses against Israel.

In a speech in Doha on Sunday before the International Conference for Defending and Protecting Jerusalem, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on Arabs and Muslims to visit Jerusalem, saying this was not a form of “normalization” with Israel, and emphasized the need to bring the issue of Jerusalem before the UN Security Council.

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“Visiting a prisoner is an act of support and does not mean normalization with the warden,” Abbas said, comparing Palestinians to prisoners and Israel to the warden.

The conference in Doha was attended by representatives of some 70 countries, as well as an Israeli Arab delegation headed by United Arab List-Ta’al MK Ahmed Tibi. UAL-Ta’al MKs Taleb a-Sanaa and Ibrahim Sarsour were also in attendance.

“The Judaization of al-Quds is a clear violation of international law that requires the intervention of the UN and international community, as well as massive Arab aid to residents of east Jerusalem that are fighting under settlement rule,” Tibi said at the conference’s opening. According to Tibi, Israel limits Palestinians’ freedom of worship and does not let them pray at the Aksa Mosque.

And on Saturday night, Balad MK Haneen Zoabi, in an interview with Channel 2 news, stated that Israel does not have the right to defend itself. Hadar Bar-On, a 25-year-old student at Sapir College in Sderot, filed a complaint with the police, arguing that Zoabi was inciting violence against Jews.

These are not isolated cases of incitement by Arab Knesset members.

In remarks at PA event in January honoring Palestinian martyrs, Tibi described martyrs as “symbols of the homeland.” Tibi congratulated Palestinian martyrs in the territories and inside Israel, as well as abroad. Referring to Israelis as “those who occupy and murder,” Tibi asserted that for Palestinians, “there is nothing more praiseworthy than those who die for the homeland.”

It was Zoabi who joined Turkish terrorists on the Mavi Marmara and it was former Balad MK Azmi Bishara who allegedly assisted Hezbollah during the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

WHILE EXAMPLES of Jewish-Arab cooperation abound, there is little doubt that discrimination toward Arabs exists in Israeli society. Today, the prevalent attitude toward Israeli Arabs appears to be one of “respect but suspect.”

But what is the reasoning behind the dangerous anti-Israel remarks made by Abbas, Tibi and Zoabi in the past few days alone? Are they pandering to their constituency in an effort to maintain support? The only Knesset party ever to be banned was Kach, led by Meir Kahane. Prior to the 1988 Knesset elections, Kach was banned from running by a Labor-Likud coalition. The ban was based on an amendment added to Israel’s Basic Law that disqualified any candidate whose platform included “incitement to racism.”

Are Tibi’s and Zoabi’s remarks not considered incitement? In 2007, leading public figures and civic organizations in the Arab community adopted a series of documents outlining the future vision of Israel’s Arab minority in what came to be knows as the “Vision documents.”

In Israel’s Palestinians: The Conflict Within, Ilan Peleg and Dov Waxman point out that these documents propose “some far-reaching changes to the Israeli state and political system, most notably calling on Israel to abandon its exclusively Jewish identity and recognize its Palestinian citizens as an indigenous national minority with collective rights.”

Clearly, this is not a solution Israelis would agree to.

Peleg and Waxman write, “As individual citizens, Arabs have formal equality and enjoy the right to vote and be elected to parliament, as well as many other political, social and cultural freedoms; as a minority, however, Arabs do not have any collective political rights.”

ISRAELI ARAB MKs have a responsibility to demonstrate to their constituency that Israel respects their rights, and their fight for equality should not be accompanied by breaking the law.

And at a time when just over the border Arab youth are fighting repressive regimes, some perspective becomes necessary.

Israel is surrounded by Arab countries, some of which do not allow entry to Jews, and it is noteworthy that, as David Shipler writes in Arab and Jew, Israeli Arabs “make their dreams, measure their opportunities, judge their chances, and formulate their dissatisfactions largely in an Israeli context, comparing their lot to the Jews, not to the Arabs outside, and yearning for the original promise of ‘full and equal citizenship and due representation.’” Their need for equality is perfectly legitimate and Israel should make every effort to ensure its fulfillment.

There exist a number of separatist movements around the world, all of whom are fighting for some form of rights and/or recognition.

For example, in Israel and the Family of Nations, Alexander Yacobson and Amnon Rubinstein explain that “when it comes to identity and language, Israeli Arabs are, in principle, in a similar position vis-à-vis the state to the Catalans and the Basques who insist on their distinct ‘nationhood.’” For Catalan and Basque nationalists, the Spanish state embodies a national identity other than their own.

In Ireland, were the Protestants of Ulster to become Irish citizens, they would no more identify with the national anthem than do Israel’s Arab minority with “Hatikva.”

Yet in India, the 150-million-strong Muslim minority do not see themselves as a separate entity. During the 1947 UN debate, the Indian representative tried to compare Arabs and Jews in Palestine to the Hindus and Muslims in India. If in India they were all considered one nation, then why not consider Jews and Arabs as living in one nation? Clearly, his views were out of touch with the reality in Mandate Palestine.

In his speech to Congress last year, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said, “Of the 300 million Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa, only Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy real democratic rights. Now, I want you to stop for a second and think about that. Of those 300 million Arabs, less than one-half of 1 percent are truly free and they’re all citizens of Israel.

This startling fact reveals a basic truth: Israel is not what is wrong with the Middle East; Israel is what is right about the Middle East.”

To create a bi-national state would run counter to both Jewish and Arab national aspirations and is therefore a non-solution.

Israel may not be what its Arab population wishes it would be, and while there is certainly room for improvement, it is far better than any other alternative.

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