Do Israeli Jews imbibe anti-Arab sentiment with their mothers’ milk? This is the perception of many Jewish leftists and Arab citizens of Israel. They point to the widespread anti-Arab rhetoric leading to the brutal death of Muhammad Abu Khdeir. While there was fairly widespread sympathy for his family, this anti-Arab sentiment was rekindled by the anti-IDF behavior of some Arab citizens of Israel (demonstrations and postings). Some firings have occurred based on Facebook posts and Arab businesses have suffered, particularly after Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman proposed that businesses that closed for a one-day anti-IDF protest should be boycotted. This behavior seems to verify polls that find anti-Arab sentiment among young Jews has increased in recent years.
This anti-Arab behavior has been documented in a number of articles in Haaretz which was then referenced in a recent New York Times op-ed. It has led Haaretz contributor, award-winning novelist and TV script writer Sayed Kashua to announce that he is not simply leaving west Jerusalem for an already planned one-year visit to the United States, but is considering never returning. Furthermore, he perceives this anti-Arab upsurge as one with the severe structural inequality that Arab citizens of Israel must endure.
Exacerbating the problem has been the ongoing attitude of Balad party leaders and other Palestinian nationalists. They have long been impediments to the integration of Arabs into Israeli society. They have been hostile to working with Israeli ministries on economic development projects in Arab villages; have attacked those who considering participating in alternative service; and condemned east Jerusalem Arabs who seek admission to the Israeli university system.
In particular, Knesset Member Haneen Zoabi has been exceedingly provocative with her participation in the Gaza flotilla and recent pro-Hamas statements. Indeed, she and Liberman feed off each other, promoting an atmosphere that builds separatist attitudes in both populations.
These anti-IDF actions have not always reflected individual Arab communities.
Activists “came here from Nazareth to make protest with Palestinian flags,” said Old City shopkeeper Isam Ahmed. “We kicked them out.” Another shopkeeper claimed that outsiders tried to engineer an anti-war protest in the mixed city of Acre. “They want to raise the Palestinian flag here. But who suffers? Us, the residents.”
Getting back to the main issue – anti-Arab behavior by the Jewish population – Sikkuy co-director Ron Gerlitz has argued that an important reason has been a pushback against the increasingly successful integration of many Arabs in Israeli society. The growing inequality within the Jewish community has led to much anger and displacement: the cottage cheese protests and the emigration of many younger Jews.
Inevitably, some Jewish youth will take out their frustrations on Arabs, especially as they see their growing presence in the universities and professional occupations. The stresses of the war, along with the anti-Israeli stance of many of Arab misleaders, only heightens anti-Arab behaviors.
What can we expect in the future after the current military conflict ends? The situation faced by Muslim Americans after 9/11 may be instructive. In the six months after 9/11, hate crimes against Muslims rose dramatically, from 33 anti-Muslim incidents in 2000 to 546 a year later. However, once the US returned to normal, the excesses fueled by the emotions of the 9/11 murders were eliminated. By 2002 anti-Muslim hate crimes had fallen dramatically and by the end of the decade were only around 100 annually, much lower than anti-Semitic incidents and miniscule compared to antigay incidents.
One can hope that the same trend will occur in Israel: those who have lost employment will be rehired and Arab businesses will regain their Jewish clientele.
We should also hope that any continued anti-Arab behavior will be dealt with harshly.
It would be a shame if these unfortunate dynamics set back Arab integration into Israeli society. Only by rejecting both the Libermans and Zoabis can Israel be a welcoming society for both its Jewish and Arab citizens.
The author is a professor of economics at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center- CUNY.