(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
If further proof were needed of how low our government has sunk, Culture Minister Ghaleb Majadele provided it last Tuesday. After first telling the Knesset that Israeli law obviously did not apply on the Temple Mount, because "it is forbidden for us even to think of such a thing," he declared, upon being informed of his error, that nevertheless, "between my religion and the considerations of a minister, the consideration of my religion and my nationality takes precedence."
Since Israeli law has applied on the mount for 40 years already, and the Supreme Court has repeatedly reaffirmed its applicability to the very issue Majadele was addressing (the lax enforcement of Israel's Antiquities Law there), his initial assertion demonstrated appalling ignorance. But since ministerial ignorance is unfortunately all too common, that alone could have been overlooked.
What cannot be overlooked is Majadele's assertion that his "religion and nationality" take precedence over "the considerations of a minister," such as what the law says. While democracy has a place for civil disobedience, meaning putting one's conscience above the law, that place is not around the cabinet table. A minister's first obligation is to uphold the law; if that offends his conscience, his only legitimate recourse is to resign.
The minute Majadele declared himself unwilling to countenance Israeli law on the mount, he forfeited his right to be a minister. And since he did not resign, any self-respecting cabinet should have fired him immediately. Our cabinet, however, did not even consider doing so. And it thereby tacitly approved Majadele's refusal to uphold the law.
IT IS HARD to imagine a greater travesty than an entire government openly demonstrating its contempt for the law in this fashion. Even more disturbing, however, is what Majadele's statements imply about Israeli Arabs' willingness to integrate into a Jewish state.
For an Israeli Arab to declare that his "religion and nationality" - i.e. his Muslim and Palestinian identities - take precedence over the law is, sadly, nothing new. Several Arab Knesset members do so routinely.
Majadele, however, represents the moderate fringe of the Israeli Arab community. While the overwhelming majority of Israeli Arabs vote for sectoral Arab parties, he belongs to Labor, a self-proclaimed Zionist party. Moreover, as Israel's first non-Druse Arab minister, he has become the poster boy for Arab integration - the proof that even the highest offices are open to Arabs willing to accept the Jewish state rather than deny its right to exist.
So if even he puts his Muslim-Palestinian identity ahead of the obligations of Israeli citizenship, what kind of future does Jewish-Arab coexistence in this country have? Furthermore, this occurred in a case where the ostensible conflict was minimal. True, Israeli law technically applies to the Temple Mount, but all Israeli governments since 1967 have allowed the Muslim Wakf to control the mount de facto. At the Wakf's insistence, Jews and Christians are forbidden to pray there, and Israeli police enforce this dictum. At times, Jews have even been barred from setting foot there. Indeed, Israeli law on the mount is often enforced only against Jews: The Antiquities Law, for instance, has been used to ban Jewish archaeological excavations there, but the Wakf has repeatedly been permitted to undertake massive construction projects without conducting the legally required salvage digs. And the courts have consistently upheld this double standard.
YET EVEN with Israel showing such exaggerated deference to Muslim rights that it systematically prevents the exercise of Jewish rights, the very fact of Israeli sovereignty over Judaism's holiest site is unacceptable to Majadele. And if even this most moderate of Israeli Arabs believes that at a site sacred to both, Muslim rights trump Jewish rights absolutely, what chance does coexistence have? Israeli Arabs are outraged by Avigdor Lieberman's proposal to transfer many of them to a Palestinian state under any peace deal. Yet if this community indeed feels that in any conflict between their Muslim-Palestinian identity and the basic obligations of citizenship, like upholding the law, the former wins, it is hard to imagine any other solution being viable over the long term. No state could long tolerate a 20 percent minority whose first loyalty lies elsewhere.
Jewish Israelis, most of whom find Lieberman's proposal appalling, have for years dodged the dilemma by denying that any conflict of loyalties exists. Given that the vast majority of Israeli Arabs consistently vote for MKs who openly support Palestinian terror, denounce any and all Israeli efforts at self-defense, reject Israel's Jewish identity, defend and even promote violent confrontations between their constituents and the police, and assert that Israeli Arabs have only rights, not obligations (and should therefore, for instance, eschew even civilian national service in their own communities), this denial has increasingly looked delusional.
But now that even the community's poster boy for moderation has publicly declared his Muslim-Palestinian identity superior to the obligations of Israeli citizenship, is further proof of the trend really needed? If Arab Israelis do not want Lieberman's plan to become reality, they must start seriously rethinking their attitudes toward citizenship.
Yet Jewish Israelis who wish to forestall the Lieberman solution must rethink their attitudes no less seriously - because it is they who have led Israeli Arabs to believe that placing their Palestinian-Muslim identity above their Israeli one entails no consequences. Indeed, as the government showed last week, it does not even disqualify one from a cabinet post. And neither the opposition nor the broader public seriously protested this decision.
By treating this order of priorities as acceptable and natural, the Jewish majority has encouraged Israeli Arabs to adopt it. Yet the more Israeli Arabs give their Palestinian-Muslim identity precedence over their Israeli one, the more impossible it will become to envision any solution but Lieberman's.
If there is still any hope of reversing the trend, we must begin now. And a good starting point would be the cabinet's dismissal of Majadele.
A minister who openly declares that his Palestinian-Muslim identity supersedes Israeli law has no business in Israel's cabinet. And that this even needs saying is a measure of just how far the situation has deteriorated.
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