Israelis aren't 'racist' - they're worried
Israel's Arab citizens are being drawn toward radicalism by their leadership.
Photo: Ariel Jerozolimski
When Defense Minister Amir Peretz designated MK Ghaleb Majadle for a ministerial post, in order to garner Arab support for his position in Labor, Israel Beiteinu faction chairwoman Estherina Tartman branded the appointment "shameful and pitiful," "a huge ax poised over the neck of Zionism," and damaging to "Israel's character as a Jewish state."
Granted Tartman's outburst was contemptible. But that does not detract from the reality that increasingly hostile, even treasonable outbursts by Israeli Arabs against the state have created enormous resentment among Jewish Israelis. Some are beginning to regard their Arab neighbors as fifth columnists.
In large measure it is the radical Israeli-Arab politicians who compete against each other to undermine the legitimacy of the Jewish state who must shoulder the blame for this.
For example, it was treason, pure and simple, when MK Azmi Bishara and two other Balad MKs last year traveled illegally to Beirut and Damascus and proclaimed their solidarity with Hizbullah. "Hizbullah won, and for the first time since 1967, we tasted the taste of victory," Bishara stated, adding that demonstrating "solidarity with these heroes is the least we can do." Bishara also supported Syria's struggle to free "occupied Arab land" and praised Syrian support for "resistance."
Balad MK Wasal Taha described the abduction of IDF soldiers as legitimate and said that "resistance is not terror but a moral value." MK Taleb a-Sanaa was forced to resign from the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee after conducting illegal meetings with Hamas leaders.
During the Lebanon war an Arab survey found that 78% of Israeli Arabs believed that Israeli leaders should be tried for war crimes. At funerals of Arab children killed by Hizbullah missiles, some parents went so far as to blame Israel, praise Hizbullah, and refer to Hassan Nasrallah as their "brother." At a rally of his followers, Sheikh Raed Salah, an Islamic Movement leader, urged Hizbullah and Hamas not to release kidnapped Israeli soldiers.
More recently, in greetings extended to Fatah supporters in Gaza, MK Ahmed Tibi praised them for having nurtured "the first martyrs who fell and the first prisoners arrested." He urged them to "continue the struggle" until a Palestinian state is established.
In the religious arena, the mufti of Jerusalem and other Islamic leaders openly support Hamas, and call for the establishment of a caliphate on Israeli territory. MK Ibrahim Sarsour warned that any attempt to build a synagogue on the Temple Mount would plunge Israel into a bloodbath. "Muslims and Arabs would not stand by idly while representatives of Satan on earth try to launch their insane plots." Arab schoolchildren are taught about the Nakba, the "catastrophe" of Israel's creation and encouraged to despise the Jewish state.
ANOTHER DISCONCERTING development was a report from the National Committee of the Heads of Arab Local Councils titled "The Future Vision of Palestinian Arabs in Israel." Backed by Arab leaders and intellectuals, the report effectively calls for the dismantling of the Jewish state and its replacement by a binational entity. It demands the abrogation of the Law of Return unless a Law of Return for Arabs is promulgated, replacement of the current Israeli flag and national anthem, and total autonomy in Arab education. It also requires that Israel acknowledge responsibility for the 1948 Nakba and take steps to "rectify the damage inflicted on the Palestinians."
Clearly the radicalization of Israeli Arabs already poses a genuine threat to the security of the nation. In fact, some Arab citizens of Israel have been arrested for spying on behalf of Hizbullah and the Iranians, and others for direct involvement in suicide bombings and terrorist attacks. As of now such incidents are not widespread, but with Israeli Arab MKs calling on their followers to identify with shaheeds, it is inevitable that more youngsters will move in this direction.
To offset these trends the government must introduce a twin-track approach. Israeli Arabs enjoy a higher standard of living than Arabs in any Arab country. One merely has to enter hospitals or universities in Jerusalem or Haifa to appreciate this. But despite this, they are among the lowest-income earners in the country, and still experience discrimination at various levels. The government must commit itself to granting Israeli Arab citizens genuine social and economic equality. Decent Israelis must publicly support this goal.
But in turn, Arab-Israelis must accept the fact that Israel will remain a Jewish state. Those unwilling or unable to do so should join their Muslim kinsmen a few kilometers across the border and live in a future Palestinian state. Of course most would undoubtedly choose to remain in a Jewish state rather than become citizens of Hamasland.
The government is now belatedly reviewing the situation and the Knesset has even begun drafting legislation which will invariably impose limits on freedom of expression.
But we are a nation at war and must defend ourselves. The Knesset was able to outlaw Meir Kahane's party, which posed no threat to the security of the state but was allegedly promoting racism. It should therefore not be difficult to take similar steps against actions which undermine our security.
As a nation surrounded by enemies pledged to our destruction, we must become far more vigilant. This is not a lapse into McCarthyism. It is common sense and self-defense. If British-born Muslims can be transformed into suicide bombers in London mosques and schools, similar situations will inevitably ensue here unless we take firm action in advance.
This should in no way detract from our determination to ensure that Israel remain a Jewish democratic state. Most of us always dreamt of having an Arab minority that would live with us in peace and friendship and possibly even act as a bridge for reconciliation with the Arab world. Alas, at least in the short term that is not on the horizon. But this dream becomes even more distant if we continue burying our heads in the sand and fail to take determined action to bring a halt to the ongoing encouragement of substantial numbers of our citizens into undermining the state in which they live and hating their Jewish neighbors.
The writer chairs the Diaspora-Israel relations committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and is a veteran international Jewish leader. email@example.com