Israeli Arab protesest 311.
(photo credit: Ammar Awad/Reuters)
Ever since the Likud party won the pivotal national election of 1977, its
leaders and rank-and-file adherents have been proclaiming that Israel is “a
Jewish and democratic state.”
The former qualification is arguable if
only because nearly a fifth of the population is not Jewish. And the latter is
difficult to maintain if only because the state does not have a written
constitution which would assure democratic behavior and restrict government
involvement in religious affairs and activities.
Democracies are judged
by the status of their ethnic, religious and racial minorities and by their
efforts to assure them genuine equality – not only in their laws’ official
texts, but also in day-to-day reality.
The status of Israel’s Arab
minority (nearly 20 percent of the population) is a case in point.
are a few examples: Only 2% of Israeli Arabs are employed by the various
government ministries, except in the Interior Ministry, where they constitute 6%
of the staff (presumably because its tasks require more contact with Arabs than
any of its counterparts); the diplomatic corps includes a minuscule number of
Arabs of whom only one ever served as an ambassador; industries whose output is
linked to national defense do not hire Arabs, a policy facilitated by the
requirement that all employees must be former military personnel.
excludes Arabs simply because they are exempt from compulsory conscription;
Until Ariel Sharon’s ascension to the premiership in 2001 few if any boards of
directors of state-owned companies had Arab members. (Sharon ordered that each
of them must include at least one Arab.).
Housing is another sector in
which discrimination if not outright prejudice against Israeli Arabs is a
In one recent case, an Arab couple had to go to court
to be able to live in a house they had bought in one of the (predominantly
Jewish) settlements in the Wadi Ara (also known as Emek Iron) area of central
Israel. They were rejected by their prospective neighbors simply because of
their ethnic and/or religious identity. The fact that the husband was a member
of one of the elite professions did not mollify those who opposed the requisite
A distinguished and nationally known Israeli Arab
journalist told of the problems that confronted his daughter who had married a
“She wanted to come back to Nazareth to be at her ailing
mother’s side,” he said. “The authorities refused to allow her husband to join
Such a restriction would not have been imposed had he been a
citizen of a country outside the Middle East. Jordan’s commitment to a peace
treaty with Israel did not carry any weight in his case.
One of the
consequences of the Israeli Arabs’ problem as citizens of the so-called Jewish
and democratic state is that their younger generation must cope with a much
narrower range of opportunities in the country’s economic sphere. Youthful
ambitions must conform to conform to the Israeli reality.
In the United
States, the belated realization that the long-segregated school system
(“separate, but equal”) that existed until the 1960s caused a psychological
handicap that denied young blacks genuine equality as advocated in the US
Constitution led to fuller democratization of the school system.
ample evidence that the Israeli Arabs want to be and indeed are an asset to the
country in which they live. They play an important role in the national economy,
obey the law and coexist peacefully with their Jewish neighbors.
proposal by right-wing members of the Knesset that some of their towns be
transferred to the projected Palestinian state as part of a territorial exchange
with the Palestinian (National) Authority was rejected in toto and dismissed by
them as a denial of their rights as citizens of Israel (!) One of most
disappointing aspects of this situation is the antithesis of what many Jews
abroad expected 64 years ago (in 1947) when the Jewish state was in its final
They thought it would be an example to the rest of the
world insofar as its treatment of minorities was concerned. After all, they
thought, after nearly 2,000 years of diaspora during which Jews were the victims
of prejudice, discrimination and physical cruelty, they expected the
Israelis-to-be to treat the Arabs and all other minorities in exemplary
Unfortunately, this was not to be.
In today’s Israel
there is far too much callousness in the mine field of inter-communal
It even extends to the ostensibly decent and well-meaning
adoption of the two states for two peoples concept and is epitomized by the
slogan fostered by Ehud Barak when he ran successfully for the premiership: “Us
here; them there.”
Ironically, interest in the Arabic language, Arab
history and culture among the Jewish majority is minimal among Israel’s most
outspoken peace advocates. Relatively few of them know Arabic or wish to know
it. Concurrently, there has been little if any reciprocation for the Israeli
Arabs’ unabashed adoption of Hebrew as their second language – a state of
affairs that did not exist during the first decade of Israel’s
And the fact that graffiti artists are sullying the country’s
cities and towns with tributes to the late Rabbi Meir Kahane’s advocacy of mass
expulsion of Israeli and presumably of Palestinian Arabs (from the West Bank)
with the words, “Kahane Was Right” is a reprehensible expression of this
It is time for a reassessment of the core issues of
Jewish-Arab coexistence in Israel, for a reform of the elementary and secondary
school curricula that would encourage the study of Arabic as the country’s
second official language and stress the positive aspects of Arabic
After all, the “Golden Age of the Jews in Spain” was the outcome
of a flourishing exchange of ideas and values between the two peoples. And since
history can repeat itself, let it do so in this sphere here and now.The
writer is a veteran journalist.