University of Haifa Prof. Dan Schueftan’s timing could hardly be better.
Only a few months after the beginning of the Arab Spring, weeks before this year’s Nakba Day – when hundreds of Palestinians from Syria and Lebanon charged Israel’s northern border, bringing the right-ofreturn issue to the forefront of the conflict – and with the Palestinians set to declare statehood unilaterally at the UN in September, Schueftan released Palestinians in Israel – The Arab Minority’s Struggle Against the Jewish State. The 844-page tome, he asserts, is the most authoritative and well-researched book on the subject of Arab citizens of Israel to date.
“Actually, these are three different books that became one book, because I wanted to get a comprehensive picture of what is happening in Israel with the Arab citizens of Israel,” he says. “First of all, it’s a historic book that discusses the relationship between Jews and Arabs in Israel in the broad global and regional context and in the context of domestic developments within Israeli society and Arab society [in the country]. The second is a political book that focuses on the political positions of the Arab political leaders and Arab elites and Arab public opinion [here]. The third part is a social economic analysis that tries to determine the extent of the Arab economic and social problems and what is the major origin of it.”
Schueftan spoke to The Jerusalem Post
at his multi-level apartment in Givatayim last week, in an office packed wall-to-wall with crates of documents, source materials and office supplies. On one wall, he pointed out a well-preserved rifle from the US Civil War that he picked up in Czechoslovakia shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. While he did have some trouble getting it back to Israel, he joked that it should come in handy “for the Israeli civil war.”
The head of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa and a lecturer at its school of political sciences, Schueftan has been no stranger to controversy during his decades-long career, in which he has worked as a top academic and advised former prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon. His 1999 book Disengagement: Israel and the Palestinian Entity
is largely credited with inspiring the 2005 Gaza pullout, and he has been outspoken about what he sees as the Arab world’s failures as a society.
In Israel, Schueftan draws a line between Muslim Arab and Christian Arab society, and argues that the main divide here is not between Jews and Arabs, but between those who have embraced modernity and those who have not.
“The socioeconomic divide isn’t between Jews and Arabs, [but] between haredi Jews and Muslim Arabs on the one hand, and nonharedi Jews and Christian Arabs on the other. The reason that is more meaningful than any other elements combined is the unwillingness of the Muslim Arabs to do what the Christian Arabs have done and what most of the non-haredi Jews have done, namely to adjust themselves to the modern world, primarily by having smaller families and both spouses working.”
Schueftan argues that racism or discrimination play little if any role in the socioeconomic position of Israeli Arabs and that “when it comes to socioeconomic issues, what most people assume about the Arabs proves to be untrue. For one, they are by far not as poor as they pretend to be, and second, this is almost exclusively a product of their own cultural and political decisions rather than discrimination by the Jews.
“It’s not that I claim that,” he adds, “I prove it in a way that is indisputable.”
Beyond the socioeconomic issue, Schueftan states that the book will shed light on what he says is a widespread radical agenda of delegitimization and extremism directed at Israel by the elite of its own Arab citizens.
“If you speak of the hostility of the Arab political leadership [in Israel], I think most Jews in Israel and most observers would agree that they are very radical. But if you look at the Arab elites... you would find that the depth of hostility and the inability to reach any kind of compromise because they insist on the destruction of everything the Jews have constructed as a collective, is much stronger than most people would assume.”
He says the younger generation of Arabs in Israel has become more radical than their forefathers, “who knew that radical actions have frightening consequences,” and that today, “for the Arabs in Israel, demolishing the Jewish national project and establishing their own entity on the ruins of the Jewish state is not just a position – it became part of their identity.”
Schueftan makes a distinction between the average Israeli Arab on the street and the political and cultural elite who he says are responsible for driving the engine of radicalization, even though the difference between those elites and the public that elects and supports them is at times murky.
“These [Arab Israeli] elites, with the support of public opinion, basically say that the existence of Israel was born in sin. In other words, that the act of the establishing Israel was an act of colonialism that had no justification whatsoever, and Israel continues to live in sin because the basic tenets of Israel and the way that Israel treats its environment is colonial. Essentially the Jewish state is profoundly illegitimate. It was born illegally, exists illegally and its essence is illegal. A Jewish state by definition is illegal because Arabs don’t recognize the existence of a Jewish people.”
Schueftan doesn’t mince words and appears to have little if any tolerance for what is often termed “political correctness.” He sees Arab Muslim society as a largely failed creation that is hostile to the modern world (including Cairo, which he calls “a sewer”), professes disdain for “kneejerk” liberals in Europe, the US and elsewhere who delegitimize Israel, and speaks in terms of absolute havoc and heartbreak about a reality in which demographic changes make Israel a majority-Arab state.
When asked what future Jews could expect in such a reality, he says, “I’m not even willing to discuss it – if anybody is willing to believe that the Jews should live in an Arab state, I don’t want to discuss why it will be impossible. It’s an insulting question... It’s too obvious for anyone who isn’t sick and distorted.”
Schueftan sees no chance for a solution between Jews and Arabs as long as they continue to believe in the principles and national desires that they hold dear. So what’s to be done? Schueftan describes his solution for the lack of a solution as “damage control.”
“I’m saying, under the prevailing circumstances, there is no solution to the problem that Arabs and Jews have with each other as an Arab minority in a Jewish state. There is no solution unless one of the parties dramatically changes structural parts of its attitude. The real question is not what is the solution, but how do you live as long as possible without a solution.”
For a solution to be reached, he continues, “what the Jews consider vital for their existence must be demolished. And unless the Arabs change in a radical way, there is no solution, and I don’t see the Jews changing in a radical way and deciding to commit mass suicide.”
Schueftan’s damage control strategy is based on a combination of increasing equality for all the country’s citizens, and at the same time increasing Israel’s “Jewishness.”
“The first thing is to continue what we were doing, which is deepening the civil equality in Israel, not only between Arabs and Jews, but also between the periphery and the center. When it comes to Arabs, I’m sure it will not help because the more educated they are, they won’t be less radical – if anything, more radical. But for my own needs, I want to live in a state that doesn’t have unjustified discrimination, so I want to obliterate what little is left of it. Not because it will improve relations between Jews and Arabs, but because having a strong, equal society is something that will strengthen my own society,” he says.
“At the same time I want to strengthen the Jewish side of Israel. We must, for instance, legislate that Hebrew will be the official language. Because everything that will strengthen the Jewish and democratic nature of Israel is the best form of damage control vis-à-vis what we can do with the Arab minority in Israel.”
Schueftan maintains that his most critical audience is in Israel, but that the book’s Hebrew run is most important because he believes that, as with Disengagement
, it could potentially have a watershed effect on Israeli society.
“What we did in Gaza was a tremendous success. My objective was not to have a friendly Palestinian neighbor. I never thought this was a possibility. My objective was to have a stronger Israeli society, and Israel without Gaza is a stronger Israeli society than when we are sitting in Gaza. Not because it will bring peace or the Palestinians deserve it, but because I want a stronger Israeli society because I know there won’t be peace,” he states.
“The settlements in Gaza were never viable to begin with, and good riddance. This is also true of the settlements in the populated heartland of the West Bank. If this book has an effect similar to my previous book, I’ll be delighted.”