Time to integrate

Politicians from the Center-Left and Center-Right sent their warm wishes to the Muslim worshipers in Israel over Twitter and Facebook.

Jpost editorial logo  (photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Jpost editorial logo
(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
This week, the Muslim world celebrated Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.
Politicians from the Center-Left and Center-Right sent their warm wishes to the Muslim worshipers in Israel over Twitter and Facebook.
“In honor of the joyful Eid al-Fitr, we turn to all the Arab citizens of Israel with our warmest wishes and blessings,” Blue and White leader Benny Gantz tweeted in Arabic. “May God repay you with good [deeds], love and peace.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blessed “the Muslims citizens of Israel and the Muslims of the region.”
Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay also tweeted in Arabic: “Dear friends, the Muslims – the Arab society in Israel. In honor of the joyful Eid al-Fitr, I present you with sincere blessings. I wish that our relationship will be of love, equality, tolerance, brotherhood and peace.”
Gabbay ended the tweet by saying that “the Arab citizens of Israel are an inseparable part of the state, of our society, our economy and our culture.”
Yet despite the warm wishes and sense of unity that these blessings spread, the political map of the 21st Knesset shows that no Arab MKs were elected within the Center-Left and Center-Right parties.
Blue and White, Labor and the Likud have zero Arabs. In fact, besides the 10 seats of the “Arab parties” (Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am-Balad) and one seat in Meretz, there are no Arab legislators in the current Knesset.
Gabbay, whose quote seems like the cornerstone of Israeli-Arab coexistence, is remembered as the party leader who in the last Knesset term, for all intents and purposes, showed the door to Zouheir Bahloul, the only Arab MK in his party.
The decision to hold new elections allows all the parties – both Left and Right – to make up for their mistakes and wrongdoing and to open their doors to the Arab population.
Not only would such a move attract more voters to these parties, it would also be a step toward closing the large gaps between the country’s Jews and Arabs.
The large parties tried to distance themselves from the Arab population in the last election campaign; and in the days running up to the anticorruption rally in Tel Aviv two weeks ago, there was a debate whether an Arab should be invited to speak. 
This fiasco showed that Blue and White – the party that should present an opposition to the Likud – does not want to be associated with Arabs.
But history shows that even the Right wasn’t always like this.
“In every cabinet where the prime minister is a Jew, the vice-premiership shall be offered to an Arab, and vice versa,” Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the ideological father of the Israeli Right and the Likud Party, wrote in an article in 1940, shortly before he died.
Moreover, he believed that “the Hebrew and the Arabic languages shall enjoy equal rights and equal legal validity.” He also wrote: “Both Hebrew and Arabic shall be used with equal legal effect in Parliament, in the courts, in the schools and in general before any office or organ of the state, as well as in any school of whatever degree.”
While writing his essays, Jabotinsky probably saw a different Middle East: a small Jewish minority in an Arab ocean.
But did the area change? Yes, Israel is an independent state now. It is strong and has confidence in itself. But it is still a small Jewish island in an Arab ocean.
A poll conducted by the nonprofit Abraham Initiatives before the recent elections found that 64% of Arab citizens support the idea of Arab parties joining the coalition. However, the Arab parties stick to their policy of shunning the coalition.
That might explain the significant drop in Arab turnout in the last election, which was probably caused by the voters’ deep dissatisfaction with their elected representatives.
This gap should be filled by the Israeli political Center. Cracking down on illegal weapons that terrorize Arab villages from the Galilee to the Negev would not turn away Jewish voters from either the Likud or Blue and White. Neither would combating violence against women and investing in proper infrastructure in Arab villages.
And who knows? Maybe attracting Arabs to the Israeli political mainstream would lead the country – once and for all – to open up lines of communication with its neighbors.

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