Joint List head Ayman Odeh shouts slogans near the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
Israel’s relations with its Arab minority took one step forward and then another straight back over the last week.
On December 30 the government announced an NIS 15 billion, five-year development plan for the Arab sector and then, two days later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the scene of Friday’s terrorist attack, by an Israeli Arab, in Tel Aviv, made statements that seemed to paint an entire community with the same brush.
“I will not accept two nations within Israel: a lawful nation for all its citizens and a (second) nation within a nation for some of its citizens,” said the prime minister. “Whoever wants to be Israeli must be fully Israeli – both in rights and in obligations. And the first and paramount obligation is to abide by the laws of the state.”
It goes without saying that the rule of law is imperative, and one could ask where has Netanyahu been for the past seven years in office – and for that matter previous governments.
The prime minister’s comments were aimed at an entire section of the public and indeed his appointment of two hard-line ministers, Ze’ev Elkin and Yariv Levin, to oversee the caveats of the government’s development package beg the question of what comes first: the individual and the community’s obligation to the state or the state’s obligation to the individual and the community.
An entire community can not be held hostage to those among it who violate the law, be it violence against the state or illegal construction, a major problem in the Arab sector.
Those who violate the law should be prosecuted, convicted and censured without exception and without fear. Those who do not should have the same rights and opportunities as the rest of us.
On issues of security, the prime minister likes to quote Ze’ev Jabotinsky, founder of the Revisionist movement, Likud’s ideological precursor.
He might want to look to Jabotinsky when it comes to Israel’s Arab minority as well. Jabotinsky believed that the Arabs of the Land of Israel would have the right to full civil and cultural equality and parity in participating in the political system and government and in the allocation of state benefits.
“If things fare badly for the Arabs of Palestine, wrote Jabotinsky, “then things will fare badly for the entire country. The political, economic and cultural welfare of the Arabs will thus always remain one of the main conditions for the well-being of the Land of Israel.”
In other words, full equality and integration of Israel’s Arabs is a supreme Israeli interest.
There have been positive trends among Israel’s Arabs in recent years and the government should do all it can to accentuate those trends.
Opinion polls in recent years have consistently shown that the vast majority of the Arab sector sees itself as part of Israeli society but at the same time a similar majority sees Israel as treating them as second class citizens.
Unemployment and poverty rates remain significantly higher in the Arab sector than among Jews; under representation in the civil service has improved markedly but Arab representation remains low relative to the proportion of Arabs in the population; overcrowding in Arab towns and villages is high – no new Arab town or village has been built since the state of Israel was founded; state funding of education for the Arab sector remains comparatively low; and life expectancy for Israeli Arabs – while partly down to behavioral factors – is over three years shorter on average than for Israeli Jews.
All of these factors represent enormous lost potential to the Israeli economy and while the government’s development plan addresses many of these issues, narrowing these gaps can not be contingent.
In his statement at the site of last Friday’s terrorist attack, Netanyahu called on all Israel’s citizens, “particularly on Israel’s Muslim citizens” to follow a path of integration and coexistence and peace and not a path of incitement, hatred and radicalism.”
It is a path all sides need to walk.