Window on Israel: So what's the big deal?

We see less unity than personal and party antagonisms reflected in Arab comments about Majadele's appointment.

window88 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
The writer is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem Yet another action by Amir Peretz in a week where he has been under attack from his own party was to appoint Raleb, or Ghaleb, Majadele as a minister in the government. Majadele is a member of Knesset, but I had never heard of him, and I do not recall seeing his face in the newspaper or on television. His lack of prominence, and the lack of significance of the office at stake appears in some dispute as to how to spell his first name (Raleb or Ghaleb), and whether his appointment is to the Ministry of Science, Culture and Sport, or the Ministry of Science and Technology, What is the big deal? Majadele is the first Arab to head a government ministry. He is not the first Arab minister. That honor went to a Druse appointed to be minister without portfolio some years ago. But this is the first time that an Arab and Muslim has headed a real ministry. To be sure, there is not too much to the Ministry of Science, Culture and Sport or the Ministry of Science and Technology. It had been part of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport, until it was hived off to make possible another appointment with some distinction, and to ease yet another party into the government coalition. It was given to a well-known Jewish member of the Labor Party at the beginning of the Olmert Government, but he resigned in protest over the later expansion of the government to include the right-wing party, Israel our Home (Israel Beitenu). While some heralded the appointment for being the first of an Arab Muslim as minister in an Israeli government, others saw it as a transparent effort of Peretz to do something dramatic in a week that has been especially difficult for him. This action may help him survive the Labor Party primary, scheduled in May. Perhaps 10 percent of Labor members are Arabs, and they may vote for the man who advanced their community. But maybe not. Knesset members of Arab parties are calling Majadele a puppet who is willing to be used by a Jewish politician for his own purposes. They would call him an "Uncle Tom" if American slang was part of their vocabulary. An Arab rival of Majadele within the Labor Party, a former Knesset member and deputy minister of foreign affairs, said that the appointment would lead him to change his mind about supporting Peretz. Now he is inclined to support one of Peretz's rivals. The sharpest criticism came from a Knesset member of Israel Beitenu. She said, "The destruction of the Jewish people will begin with this . . . It will bring down Zionism. . . .Israel is a Jewish state . . .It is supposed to be run as a Jewish state." Those comments brought demands that the Attorney General order a police investigation of racism and racist incitement. If complied with, that could result in the Knesset member losing her position. What is especially interesting is the criticism heard from Arab politicians. Their lack of enthusiasm and unity joins with some other recent developments to suggest that Golda Meir may have been right when she said, "There is no such thing as a Palestinian people." That line became a topic of ridicule among Arabs and the Jewish left, and a symbol for Israeli blindness to Palestinian nationalism. However, we see less unity than personal and party antagonisms reflected in Arab comments about Majadele's appointment. In the West Bank and Gaza, neighborhood gangs, members of rival extended families, as well as political and religious movements are fighting one another in what looks more like chaos than ascendant nationalism. There are numerous Arab politicians in Israel much better known than MK Majadleh. Yet the 10 or so Arab members of most recent Knessets have typically been members of three separate parties, that unite only in shrill and persistent criticism of nearly everything the government does. Unlike the establishment orientation of prominent African-American politicians, the most visible Israeli Arab politicians do not work within the major parties, and they get little for their constituents. They provide evidence for the proposition that, in politics, people get what they vote for. If they vote for parties that compete for real political power, they get resources for their community, as in the case of African-Americans. If they vote mostly for parties that take pride in opposition, like the Arab parties of Israel (or if they boycott elections, as in the case of Arabs in Jerusalem), they get what persistent opposition earns. That ain't much.
Cafe Oleh is the place where you can join in and be published. To send us your comments, article ideas, suggestions and community listings, click here. In the meantime, check out our comprehensive listings and calendar services.