A democratically dangerous direction

The recent report findings that around 50 percent of Israeli youth think Arabs should not be given equal rights is deeply worrying.

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March 14, 2010 21:22
4 minute read.
A democratically dangerous direction

jeff barak 88. (photo credit: )

 
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The recent findings that around 50 percent of Israeli youth do not think Israeli Arabs should be given equal rights or that 56% of them think that they should not have the right to be elected to the Knesset are deeply worrying, if not surprising.

The country’s youth are influenced by their elders and Israel Beiteinu’s frightening success in the last elections, thanks in no small part to a campaign based on sowing hatred and fear of the country’s Arab minority, already pointed to the democratically dangerous direction a large number of Jews are following.

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The declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel might well affirm the right of the country’s Arab citizens to full equality (in fact it does so twice, at one point even appealing to the country’s Arabs “to participate in the upbuilding of the state on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions”) but, somehow, the country’s civics teachers aren’t getting the message through.

Asked whether Israeli Arabs should receive the same rights as Israeli Jews, 49.5% said no, according to the study conducted by the Ma’agar Mochot institute. Diving deeper into the research, one finds that among religious youth, the number of those who would deny full civic rights to Israeli Arabs reaches a startling 82%, more than double the percentage of secular youths (39%) who think that way. The predominantly negative view of Arab rights among religious youth was also reflected in another question where again 82% said Israeli Arabs should not have the right to be elected to the Knesset, a view shared by 47% of secular Jewish youth.

THIS LACK of tolerance for the other not only goes against basic Jewish values (“You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt,” Exodus 23:9) but also threatens the well-being of the country’s future. Israeli Arabs constitute around 20% of the population; it is simply the height of national irresponsibility to consign them to a life of alienation.

Scandar Copti, the codirector of the Oscar-nominated Ajami, kicked off a predictable storm last week when he said he wasn’t representing Israel at the Hollywood awards ceremony – “I cannot represent a country that does not represent me” – but his words should have touched a nerve among Jewish Israelis, forcing them to ask themselves why somebody born in Jaffa, not so many kilometers from the spot where David Ben-Gurion issued the Declaration of Independence, feels so distanced from mainstream society.

One reason, of course, is the lack of equal opportunities for Israeli Arabs, particularly in terms of employment. Dov Lautman, the founder of the Delta Galil textile company and an outstanding personality reflecting all that is good in the country, two years ago established Kav Mashveh, a nonprofit organization that aims to integrate Arab graduates into the Jewish jobs market.



As an experiment, he sent off the resumes of 14 graduates from the same university departments to companies in the center of the country. Seven received replies, seven didn’t. All those who received replies were Jewish. All those who didn’t were Arab. In the two years of Kav Mashveh’s existence, 3,000 Arab graduates have sent their resumes to potential Jewish employers via the organization. Only 500 were invited for an interview and only 170 have found jobs utilizing their training.

IN ITS recent report on the economy, discussing Israel’s request to join the prestigious Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the OECD pointed out that one in five Israelis live in poverty, a far too high proportion for a modern society, and noted that most of the poor can be found in two groups: haredim and Arabs.

For haredim, poverty seems to be a lifestyle choice following their refusal to leave the yeshiva halls and enter the job market via the IDF. For Arabs there is certainly an element of lifestyle choice too, due to the tendency of some Arab women not to work outside the home, but for the vast majority, even if they do have the same educational accomplishments as their Jewish peers, well-paying jobs in growth sectors such as hi-tech, appear beyond their reach, simply due to prejudice.

And yet, there is some good news to be found in the survey of the attitudes of youth. The researchers also questioned Arabs to gauge their sense of identity. Around 50% see themselves as Palestinians, the remaining half define themselves as Israeli Arabs but, perhaps more importantly, just under three-quarters (72%) feel part of the country.

With 75% of Arab youth saying they recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic country and 64% agreeing that Israel is a democratic country, it us up to us, the Jewish majority, to extend our hand to this sizable minority and bring them into the mainstream, not alienate them.

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.

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