Dear Prime Minister, I would like to congratulate you on your decision to
mention the Arab citizens of Israel in your speech to the US Congress last
month. Clearly, one of the most significant indicators of the quality of a
democracy is the status of its minorities. Like you, I too believe it is
important to look at Israeli society and ask: Does the Arab minority in Israel
enjoy equal rights?
I do not wish to entirely discount your positive
description. It is true that Arab citizens enjoy freedom of expression, and
benefit from a growing economy and a civil court system. Moreover, the Israeli
government has adopted several constructive resolutions intended to improve the
socio-economic situation of Israel’s Arab citizens. In the field of education,
experimental programs to teach Arabic and Arab culture have been introduced, and
have been adopted and expanded by the Ministry of Education. Such actions can
promote the integration of Israel’s Arab citizens in wider Israeli
But Mr. Netanyahu, this is not enough. In your speech you
repeatedly compared the Arab minority in Israel with that of Arabs living in
Obviously, I cannot accept such a comparison.
We are an indigenous minority who live in a democratic country, and as such
demand our rights according to the standards of democratic states. Since you
spoke of the liberties, peace, and prosperity of the US, I would like to point
to several differences between Israel and America in terms of minority
The Rabbi of Safed (and member of the Chief Rabbinate), Rabbi
Shmuel Eliyahu, triggered a wave of violence against Arab students in that city.
He stated that Arab students have declared a “silent war [to conquer] the sacred
He proceeded to instruct people to refrain from renting or selling
apartments to Arabs. Needless to say, the rabbi is a civil servant; his salary
comes from state funds.
In contrast, reporter Helen Thomas was forced to
retire from her position as White House Press Corps dean following her racist
comments about Jews. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs condemned her, and
President Barack Obama stated that her comments were inappropriate and that her
resignation was “the right decision.”
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I also support her resignation, and
in the same breath expect you to take similar action against racists and
provocateurs who, unfortunately, feature frequently in the Israeli public
AT THE same time, the current Knesset has passed laws designed to
discriminate against Israel’s Arab citizens.
One example is the
Admissions Committee Law. One of its proponents was MK David Rotem, Chairman of
the Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee, who explained that the
purpose of the law is to prevent Arabs from living in communal towns. I have no
Netanyahu, that admission committees exclude minorities,
especially when the law is applied in the Galilee and Negev. In contrast, in the
US, laws that exclude certain groups, either expressly or implicitly, have been
amended to promote the integration of marginalized populations.
US states, the right to vote was granted only to citizens who paid their taxes
or successfully pass a grammar test. This law was amended in 1965, causing an
increase in the voting rates of minorities. Before the amendment, there were
only five African-American members of Congress; Today there are 44, and many
fill executive positions in the administration.
Mr. prime minister, the
Nakba Law passed in the current Knesset is designed to erase our history and
strip the Israeli-Palestinian minority’s narrative of its legitimacy.
law constitutes a violation of the right to freedom of thought and
I find it difficult to believe that your government would
impose economic sanctions on organizations that “dare” to speak of our pain,
even in the context of the establishment of the State of Israel. I trust that
sanity will prevail, but that the law has been passed is sufficient for us to
feel as if we are being silenced, and our cultural and national identity is
Please compare this law to the apology extended by the
US, and signed by President Barack Obama, to the Native American people, for the
violence, cruelty and neglect committed against them by US citizens.
Netanyahu, is Israel able to be equally honest in discussing displaced Arab
citizens, or Land Day and land expropriated for the purpose of placing new
Jewish residents in certain areas? Or the matter of the military administration?
The discrimination in resource allocations by the Ministry of Interior and the
Ministry of National Infrastructure, and other matters? Does your government
have the courage? Even while you were in Washington, touting the character of
Israel’s democracy, Yisrael Beiteinu was promoting yet another law designed to
discriminate against Israel’s Arab citizens. This bill, known as the Affirmative
Action Law (or Civil Service Bill), determines that priority be given to
candidates who served in the IDF when hiring for civil-service positions. You
must know that the Arab public already suffers from a very low representation in
the civil service, and that the Knesset passed a law in 2006 requiring that the
proportion of Arabs be brought up to 10 percent. Once again we are “Present
In the US, on the other hand, president Kennedy issued an
Executive Order in 1961 requiring government contractors to guarantee fair
representation of minorities. I believe that such affirmative action is
necessary under the circumstances.
Mr. prime minister, Arab citizens wish
to become an integral part of Israeli society and play an essential role in it.
I am confident that together, we have the potential to develop a strong
democratic society that is prosperous and thriving. We Arab citizens have an
obligation to play a role in its development, and Mr.
Netanyahu, you have
an obligation to create a space that will make this possible; a space that will
require daring leadership to block anti-democratic legislation, promote fair and
equal laws, devote the necessary resources to enhance social cohesion and
replace the current discord with dialogue.
Mr. prime minister, accept the
proud Arab citizen and his identity as your partner for the future, instead of
embracing only the submissive Arab. Recognize us as your legitimate ally, and
not as aliens. It is our country, too.The writer is co-executive
director of The Abraham Fund Initiatives, a non-profit organization that works
to promote equality of Jews and Arabs in Israel.
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