Wanted: A policy on our Arab citizens

Israel must increase the identification of Arab citizens with the state in those spheres relevant to a person who is not Jewish and not a Zionist.

By
June 22, 2011 23:35
3 minute read.
Benjamin Netanyahu

Bibi netanyahu. (photo credit: JPost Staff)

Labor MK Avishay Braverman has initiated a private member’s bill that, if passed, will result in youngsters who do full military/ national service being paid a salary, which will be deposited in their names for academic or professional studies afterward.

The salary, at differential rates depending on the type of service performed, will be paid as of the second year of service, and even at its lowest rate will be enough to pay for a full three years of tuition at one of the universities.

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Those who choose not to use the money for study will be able to withdraw it 14 years after completing their service.

Braverman started working on his bill while he was still minister for minority affairs, and one of his concerns was how to increase the motivation of Arab citizens to volunteer for national service (which he prefers to call civilian service). He apparently concluded that his chances for success would be greater if his proposal offered benefits not only to Arabs, but also to IDF soldiers and officers, as well as national service volunteers of all religions.

Though the implementation of his proposal will almost double payments to soldiers and officers in compulsory service from the current NIS 2.5 billion, Braverman claims the chances of the government supporting his bill are good. Whether or not there is any basis for his optimism, the bill is refreshing.

Unfortunately we have gotten accustomed to a situation in which many of the private members’ bills relating to the country’s Arab population – mostly from right-wing MKs, but also from among members of Kadima – call for various forms of discrimination, allegedly on the basis of loyalty.

Certainly the issue of minorities in Israel is much more complicated than it is in other democratic states, given that Israel’s Arab citizens are an indigenous minority, and are members of a people (the Palestinians) with extensive unresolved issues relating to territory and national rights. However, if Israel wishes to present itself to the world – as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did in his recent speech to Congress – as a truly democratic state, it must distinguish between the right of a minority to hold views that clash with those of the majority without basic civil rights being affected, and acts of treason, which no state can tolerate (and of which we were reminded in the Pollard case).

The case of Balad MK Haneen Zoabi, who was chastised by the Knesset after participating in the flotilla to Gaza in May 2010, is currently being deliberated by the High Court and is precisely about this question – the thin line that separates legitimate dissent from treason. The Knesset House Committee will also be deliberating this issue next month.

UNFORTUNATELY MANY of the bills mentioned above are based on the assumption that a loyal citizen is one who accepts only the Zionist narrative in its most chauvinistic and intolerant form, and only a loyal citizen thus defined may enjoy full civil rights.

Braverman’s bill is based on a totally different premise. As a former minister for minority affairs, he is not oblivious to the complexities of the minority issue in this country.

However, he also realizes that if Israel wishes to minimize the risks facing its society as a result of the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it must do its utmost to increase the identification of its Arab citizens with the state in those spheres relevant to a person who is not Jewish and not a Zionist, while discouraging them from even thinking of disloyalty and treason.

Prof. Moshe Arens – a former Likud MK and minister of defense, who cannot be suspected of leftist leanings – is a staunch supporter of this approach. In an article he wrote in Ha’aretz las year, Arens had the following to say: “The government seems to show little interest in Israel’s Arab citizens...

Should the government seriously consider the subject, it must adopt a two-pronged policy. It needs a long-term program that will benefit Israel’s Arab citizens, one that would include improving Arab schools, affirmative action for the Arab community in employment, incentives for doing military and national service, and an emergency program to deal with the Negev Beduin, the most disadvantaged sector of Israeli society.

At the same time, legal measures need to be taken against seditious and subversive organizations preaching violence and support for Israel’s enemies.”

Hopefully the position of Braverman and Arens will be the one to shape Israel’s future policy toward its Arab citizens.

The writer is a former Knesset employee.


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