Members of the Joint Arab List gesture during a news conference in Nazareth, January 23.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Dear members of the Joint List, I understand that it isn’t easy being an Arab in a Jewish state whose symbols are Jewish, whose national holidays are Jewish, and whose national anthem describes 2,000 years of Jews yearning for this land.
But you are citizens of Israel and serve in its parliament, as full-fledged members of the Knesset. So the question I have for you today, dear members of the Joint List, is, why did you decide not to attend the funeral of Shimon Peres? I cannot understand it.
Whose funeral are we talking about? Shimon Peres, the Israeli leader who more than anyone pushed for coexistence. There are programs throughout Israel in which Jewish and Arab children come together as partners and teammates to make art, play music and compete in sports. Many of these projects happen under the auspices of the Peres Center for Peace, established by Shimon Peres. This is a man to whom you cannot give respect? Why didn’t you attend? I listened to your attempted explanations on Israeli radio in which you described the situation as “complex.” You referenced a “difficult history.” Yes, there is a difficult past between Jews and Arabs in Israel. But as I entered the funeral, I found myself walking alongside two Arab Knesset members who are not in your party – Esawi Frej (Meretz) and Zouheir Bahloul (Labor).
Their message was clear: past issues and struggles impacting the Israeli-Arab community can be overcome to attend the funeral of a peace-seeker like Shimon Peres.
MKs Frej and Bahloul are an example of how much Israeli Arabs have accomplished here – a Supreme Court justice, deputy speaker of the Knesset, news anchor, doctors, lawyers, bankers, professors, entertainers – in every field of endeavor. Israeli Arabs play on Israel’s national teams. Just this past week I met with players on the Israel National Soccer team for girls under the age of 19, Jewish and Arab girls who play together, who are friends.
This is Israel, a country in the Middle East – the only country! – in which Arab women can live freely, can drive, can vote, and can pursue higher education. And it warms my heart when I hear Israeli Arabs, from political leaders to children on a soccer field, tell me that they would rather live in Israel than in any other country in the Middle East.
So why didn’t you attend? It cannot be because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian leaders, as well as delegations from 75 countries around the world, were welcomed at the funeral.
This leads to only one conclusion for me and the majority of Israelis who seek coexistence: You could not bring yourselves to attend the funeral of one of Israel’s founding fathers because you are against the very existence of the State of Israel.
You are still stuck in 1947, when the Arab refusal of United Nations Partition Plan led to the combined Arab armies attacking the Jews in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973, alongside non-stop terrorist attacks which continue today. Attending the funeral would be showing respect for the state which you reject – but in whose parliament you serve representing its Arab citizens.
I HOPE that this conclusion is wrong. If we are wrong, then please provide a clear explanation regarding why you did not attend.
If we are right, then I would ask you to stop serving in the parliament and drawing a salary plus benefits from a state whose existence you reject. Please keep in mind that you are rejecting the existence of a state which has become established as an international reality, and which isn’t going anywhere. Perhaps the time has come to accept the reality called the Jewish State of Israel, which provides equal rights and opportunities for all minorities.
All of Israel looks forward to your explanation, your resignation, or your apology for a very poor decision. We hope for a fresh start in which you will begin working on behalf of the people whom you represent and their interests – in the parliament to which you were democratically elected – and begin representing the Israeli-Arab voters who need leaders to actually represent them in making their lives better.
Sincerely, Dov Lipman