Overlapping events in Jerusalem and Ferguson, Missouri make it timely to consider one of the most sensitive of policy issues in both Israel and the United States, with emerging similarities in European countries that are no longer homogeneous ethnically.
Even the label "managing minorities" will be viewed by some as disparaging, arrogant, or racist. It may be more politically correct to discuss the rights of minorities, and the responses of authorities to their condition, demands, and (whispering to avoid upsetting the sensitive) their violence.
The simple summary is that Israel has better social indicators than the US, even while it has had less time to deal with its minority problem, and is subject to more overt anti-regime sentiment of its minority, supported by considerable aid and incitement from neighboring Palestinians as well as powerful countries in Israel's region.
Just taking the most recent episodes, Ferguson is more out of control than was Jerusalem at the height of the most recent period of Palestinian violence.
A recent article in the St Louis Post-Dispatch provides a decent portrayal of Arab-Jewish tensions focused on Jerusalem's Light Rail, which travels through Jewish and Arab neighborhoods.
I'm a frequent rider of Jerusalem's Light Rail. I have more often noticed comity than antagonism among the mixture of Arabs and Jews always on the train. I'll avoid making a comparative analysis by passing through an African American area of St. Louis.
While the United States has been dealing with its prominent minority since Emancipation in the mid-1860s, or since the onset of slavery centuries earlier, Israel has had much less time to accommodate itself to a restive Arab minority.
While both minorities score lower than the majorities on economic and social indicators, there are profound differences stemming from the histories and cultures of each country and each minority, as well as the nature of government in each country.
The antagonisms of Israel's minority reflect both nationalism and religion. The American problem is the dismal condition of African Americans on a host of social indicators, despite the progress achieved since the end of state enforced segregation, the onset of Affirmative Action, and the family currently resident in the White House.
A great deal of the difference stems from the contrasting cultures and family structure.
While two-thirds or more of African American teenagers have no father, the incidence among Israeli Arabs and Palestinians is close to zero. The reason is problematic, but serves to minimize rampant criminality and violence. Young Arab girls who even look the wrong way at a young man not approved by their father may be killed by a brother. The chance of becoming an unwed teenage mother is small.
Israel's official data show 4 percent of Jewish births are to unmarried mothers. They do not report the equivalent data for non-Jews, but the percentage is most likely smaller. US official data show that 36 percent of White births are to unmarried mothers, and 72 percent of Black births to unmarried mothers.
No doubt there is animosity toward the minorities in both countries. However, Israel has nothing like the history of segregation experienced by the United States up to the mid-1960s, or the continued segregation in what purport to be unified school systems. Israeli Arabs, for the most part, attend Arabic language schools, and most (outside of Jerusalem) learn Hebrew. Israeli Jews attend Hebrew language schools,and some of them learn Arabic. Putting them all in the same schools would meet strong resistance from Arabs wanting their children to be taught by Arab teachers, in Arabic, with an appropriate emphasis on Arabic culture.
Relevant government structures and practices differ greatly in the two countries.
While Americans pride themselves on trial by jury, local self-government, and popularly elected prosecutors as well as judges, those traits have contributed no little to the unrest in Ferguson. A much greater emphasis on professionalism helped Israel in its recent problem with Jerusalem Arabs.
Using a jury system not only to establish guilt or innocence in a trial, but also whether to indict an individual and commence with a trial opens the American system to judgement by amateurs and allows the feelings of different populations to enter the judicial process. The local control of police limits the quality of recruitment and training.
Israel's police and judiciary are not perfect. As in much of Europe, however, the recruitment and training of police are done centrally, by experienced professionals. Personnel are assigned to locales according to need, especially in a time of tension when sizable contingents are moved around the country to trouble spots. Decisions to investigate and indict are done by professionals. The Justice Ministry has a unit independent of police that does the initial inquiry of complaints against the police. If a case passes through a professional cadre of prosecutors and gets to court, the decision of guilt or innocence is done by an experienced judge or a panel of judges, depending on the offense.
One of the signs of American weakness is the need to call on the National Guard to help the local police in a time of high tension. It was the National Guard, not any better trained in non-lethal crowd control than the local police, that caused the iconic problem at Kent State.
In Israel, in contrast, the police resisted the call of some politicians to send the IDF into Jerusalem. Their posture emphasized the extensive training in non-lethal crowd control provided to the regular police and the Border Police. The IDF trains its soldiers for battle with deadly weapons.
"African American," "Israeli Arab," and "Palestinian" resonate with both national and international repercussions, but the United States is largely impervious to outside criticism. It has a veto in the UN Security Council rather than being a frequent subject of Security Council deliberations. Moreover, it has the world's largest economy, and is far removed from the concern for sanctions that affect Israeli policymakers.
In both countries, the many policies employed to respond to and manage its minority flow from a variety of political and professional sources. The issues are sensitive, and provoke a great deal of popular commentary, academic research, and political activity. Minority activists have their fund raisers, publicists, and skeptics about a minority campaign or outright opponents have their fund raisers and publicists. Educators and other social service personnel as well as police and other personnel concerned with security make their contributions. Politicians are seldom quiet about the problems of minorities, or the problems caused by minorities.
Anything approaching equality, is not apparent on the horizon of either country. Management may have the smell of being pretentious, but it also a reasonable way of describing how Americans and Israelis cope with minorities who assert their needs, with a potential for violence always close to the surface.