'National Service is colonialist plot to weaken Arabs'

Balad MK Zahalka says "the more a person opposes Arabs’ rights, the more he supports National Civilian Service."

Jamal Zahalka (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Jamal Zahalka
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A Knesset Education Committee on Arab National Civilian Service heated up on Monday, when MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) called the program a colonialist attempt to weaken the Arabs’ “national identity.”
“The more a person opposes Arabs’ rights, the more he supports National Civilian Service,” Zahalka said, accusing Education Committee chair MK Alex Miller’s party, Israel Beiteinu, of being “racists, fascists and anti- Arabs” for their support of National Service for Arabs, as well as the Nakba Law, which since 2003 has allowed the Minister of Finance to withhold or reduce budgets from government- funded bodies who deny the existence of Israel.
“This plan is against the Arab public. Every occupier or colonialist has people who collaborate with it – you haven’t reinvented the wheel,” Zahalka said. “Most of the Arab public is against National Civilian Service, and will continue to oppose it.”
The Balad MK said the program’s declared purpose is to “raise citizens’ identification with the state,” an aim that he said would “blur and weaken the national identity of Arab youth.”
MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) said “there is nothing more legitimate than a government’s effort to raise identification with the state.”
“The cat is out of the bag – We have an MK here that is calling for rebellion against the State of Israel,” Orlev said.
“This isn’t a civilian debate, this is a national debate on the place of Arabs in Israel.”
Representatives of the National Civilian Service Administration presented the committee with figures about Arabs who serve: The 1,552 volunteers in 2010-2011 make up 11 percent of those doing National Civilian Service. More than half (59%) of the Arab volunteers serve in educational institutions and 75% do their national service in Arab communities.
The National Civilian Service Administration provides Hebrew lessons for those who need it, so that language need not be an impediment to their service.
Abby Khazar, an Arab National Civilian Service volunteer at a school in Sakhnin, said she has gained a tremendous amount from her experience in the National Civilian Service.
“I learned to communicate with people who are different from me, I have more self-confidence and I feel fulfilled, like I’m doing something of value.”
However, she lamented that her family tried to convince her to quit. “I had a major dilemma about whether I was doing the right thing,” Khazar said. “In the end, I knew I had to do what I believe in, but it hurts when my relatives call me a traitor.”
Other officials from the National Civilian Service Administration and Arab Civilian Service advocates cited the stigma service has in Arab communities, describing threats and sometimes violence against young women who choose to volunteer.
Miller turned to Zahalka, a vocal opponent of National Civilian Service for Israeli Arabs, and said, “We heard about the great contribution this program has made to young people and to the community.
Maybe you should change your mind and help out?” “I’m proud of my opposition to this program,” Zahalka said.
“The vast majority of the Arab public opposes National Civilian Service, as does most of the Arab youth.”
Zahalka called the two Arab National Civilian Service volunteers present at the committee meeting “a failure of the Arab leadership who did not succeed in explaining to them why they’re wrong.”
“It’s a good thing to help a child in school or volunteer in a hospital,” Zahalka responded, “but the problem is with the framework, which blurs [volunteers’] identity.”
Zahalka said many countries exempt minorities, including Jews, from national obligations.

“It’s essential to spread the word about the importance of National Service for Arab communities, and show Zahalka’s true face,” Ataf Karinad, director of the National Civilian Service Administration for Arabs, told The Jerusalem Post. “What he said is absurd.”
During the meeting, Karinad interrupted Zahalka after the Balad MK called him an embarrassment.
“You who support National Service and are working against the Arab public are an embarrassment,” Zahalka said.
“I wish you total failure.”
“The only failure here is you,” Miller said. “Your methods of intimidation and incitement will come to an end.”