Universal national service for Israeli Arabs has become a major political issue.
Unfortunately, widely circulated stories have been very one-sided, emphasizing
fierce opposition from community leaders.
A Reuters story suggested that
alternative-service requirements will be actively opposed by the vast majority of
Israeli Arabs. An Associated Press story interviewed only a member of the High
Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens, an unelected body that rejects any
integration into Israeli society. Most troubling was the biased way New York
Times reporter Jodi Rudoren shaped her story: “Service to Israel Tugs at
Identity of Arab Citizens.”
To demonstrate this, I will compare her story
to one published by David Rosenberg.
Rosenberg begins his article with a
summary of recent polling done by Haifa University sociologist, Sammy
The poll of Israeli Arabs released this week found that only 39.7
percent of the country’s 18-22-year-old Arabs – the target demographic for the
program – are willing to sign up for the national service program, down 53% in
2009. Among all Israeli Arabs, support for national service has also become more
tepid, with 62.2% backing the idea, down from as much as 78% in
Rosenberg added, “Based on his survey, Smooha said that most
Israeli Arabs look positively on national service as a voluntary contribution to
their communities and the state.”
Rudoren also reported these results,
but never included Smooha’s overall assessment, instead quoting him on the
attitude of the Israeli-Arab leaders: “You have to compare it with blacks in the
US during World War II,” Smooha said.
“Why did they want to serve?
Because they identified themselves with the state and they saw this as a vehicle
to change their status. The Arab leaders do not see it this way. They see it as
a means of repression of Arabs in Israel.”
RUDOREN USED this statement as
a lead-in to Hanin Zoabi, who called the proposal to expand service “a trap.”
Zoabi continued, “They are talking about dividing the burden.
country’s burdens are on my back. Six million Jews are living on my land. We ask
Israel to withdraw the definition of a Jewish state, and maybe then it will turn
into a democratic country.”
Rudoren chose not to mention Zoabi’s
participation in the Gaza Flotilla, or her rejection of any form of national
service, whereas she neglects to mention that the Council of Arab Mayors had
just conditionally embraced alternative service.
Even more telling,
Rosenberg reported, Smooha stressed the level of support is “still high,”
especially given the controversy within the Israeli-Arab community on
participating in the program. Organizations like the Haifa-based youth
organization Baladna run campaigns in high schools and community centers
discouraging national services.
“Anyone who volunteers for national
service will be treated like a leper and will be vomited out of Arab society,”
Jamal Zahalka, a lawmaker with Balad, an Israeli-Arab political party, told a
rally as the program was getting underway in 2008.
said the hostility many Israeli-Arab leaders express toward national service
isn’t shared by ordinary people, which explains why the recruitment drive has
been largely successful.
By contrast, Rudoren never mentioned this
intimidation by the very political party that Zoabi belongs to. Instead, after
presenting Zoabi’s views, Rudoren immediately gave voice to the Baladna groups
that Rosenberg highlighted.
She wrote that in Wadi Nisnas, a Haifa
neighborhood, four teenagers training a makeshift summer camp marching band on
Wednesday pronounced themselves “against, against, against and against” national
service for Arabs.
“It’s against our people,” said Rozeen Kanboura, 18,
who works at a McDonald’s. “We are betraying our homeland, our origins, our
Ayan Abunasra, articulate beyond her 13 years, said, “I don’t
feel part of this country.”
“Put yourself in our place,” she
continued. “You’re going to serve a country that occupied your land and
your great-grandparents died because of it?” By not presenting Smooha’s overall
evaluation, by highlighting the Balad leadership opposition without noting its
intimidation efforts, and by presenting the Baladna student group as a
representative youth voice, Rudoren incorrectly presented these extremist views
as the dominant position in the Israeli-Arab community.
A more balanced
story might have provided examples of the very significant economic gains
Israeli Arabs have experienced in the last few years: employment gains from new
industrial parks, entrance into the hi-tech sector, expanded teaching positions
in Jewish schools, and increased government employment.
have interviewed the Arab mayors who together with leading Arab academicians and
businessmen have formed a committee under the direction of Aiman Saif, housed in
the Prime Minister’s Office. This committee will meet with representatives of
all the government ministries so that Arab economic development initiatives will
be fully coordinated among the many government agencies.
might have led Rudoren to conclude that there is now a critical mass of young
Israeli-Arab professionals, academicians and business leaders who want to move
away from oppositional politics to one of constructive engagement.
seems, however, that an uncontrolled hostility to the Netanyahu government
continues to shape New York Times
’ reporting.The writer is the
Broeklundian Professor at Brooklyn College.