Fighting the Poison

The poisonous, simplistic propaganda barrage against Israel encourages many simplistic, self-righteous responses. But the Arab-Israeli conflict's complexity requires bold, nimble actions shaped by enlightened self-interest. Israelis and their supporters should demonstrate zero tolerance for Palestinian terror, the Iranian threat, and the spreading apartheid libel, while seeking peace with the Palestinians, befriending more Arab countries, and ensuring equality for Israeli Arabs. That the right wing usually draws the red lines and the left wing throws the lifelines is perverse. Partisans from both sides of the political spectrum must be more flexible: Those committed to conciliation should be vigilant, repudiating anti-Israel violence and vilification; those with national security "street cred" should be liberal-minded, blazing multiple paths toward reconciliation. The reasonable expectation that Israel's domestic critics will avoid inflaming the biased court of world opinion justified this summer's backlash against Danny Rubinstein, Ha'aretz's Arab affairs editor. Rubinstein branded Israel an "apartheid state" while addressing the U.N.'s one-sided International Conference of Civil Society in Support of Israeli-Palestine Peace in Brussels. This slander ignores Israel's security needs and confuses the national conflict between Israel and the Palestinians with the old South Africa's ideological racism. Unapologetic, unconcerned about maintaining any pretense of journalistic objectivity, Rubinstein proclaimed: "My newspaper increasingly uses that word." If Ha'aretz uses this offensive term "increasingly," pro-Israel subscribers and advertisers can punish the newspaper by boycotting it. But the substantive response to critics at home and abroad should be highlighting Israel's fight to uphold democratic norms despite daunting challenges. As Israel's supporters use financial power to deprive the country's mortal enemies of home-assisted propaganda victories, Israel should boost its moral power by showcasing Zionism's freedom from racism. No matter what happens with the Annapolis conference, progress dealing with the Palestinian problem - the central count in the apartheid indictment - will be painstaking and depend on Palestinians' actions, not just Israel's. But Israel can fast-track toward treating Israeli Arabs more equally, which, ultimately, should be Exhibit A in disproving the apartheid lie. Just as Israel's left could have scored points and acted nobly by mobilizing to help the Gaza evacuees resettle, enlightened self-interest should prompt Israel's right to demand full equality for all Israeli citizens. Both Jewish and Arab Israelis are stuck on this issue. Too many Jews allow legitimate security needs to obscure outrageous inequities in education, housing, and employment. Although Israeli Arabs are freer and richer than their cousins, Israel's neighboring autocracies should never set Israeli behavior standards. The anger brewing among 20 percent of Israel's population demands bold responses. The recent Druse riots in Peki'in revealed the frustrations roiling even Israel's most loyal minorities. At the same time, too, many Israeli Arabs exercise their full rights to condemn Israel without taking democratic responsibility. They elect demagogic leaders who trash Israel, demand special group privileges, then profess shock when mistrust festers. Israel's Arabs and Jews need a renewed covenant. Israel should fulfill the 1948 Declaration of Independence's fair offer of equality for all citizens. As Israel promotes Arab minority socioeconomic development, every Israeli schoolchild should learn Arabic, starting in the first grade. Well-trained Israeli Arabs should foster appreciation for Arab culture while teaching the language. In that spirit of real reciprocity, Israel's Arabs should embrace recent proposals to include them in Israel's national service program. Young Arabs should spend two years working in their towns, or in hospitals and similar venues serving all Israelis. "Mifgash" (Encounter) programs could build trust between Jews and Arabs, allowing Israeli Jews to use their newly acquired Arabic skills. Arabs could leave national service enjoying the same benefits as other Israelis who served. Jews would no longer grumble about Arabs' head start by not serving; Arabs would no longer miss the benefits decommissioned soldiers receive. Unfortunately, many Israeli Arab leaders repudiate anything that smacks of cooperation with the Israeli state. For example, Knesset Member Jamal Zahalka, chairman of the radical Balad faction, deemed Arabs volunteering for national service "leprous" and vowed Arab society would "spew out" any such traitors. Such attacks on national service combine justified anger with destructive demagoguery. Without bold leaps from both sides, the situation will only deteriorate. Israeli Arabs deserve equality not to improve Israel's image but to improve Israel. Equality between Israel's Arabs and Jews will not impress the fanatics who cannot distinguish Israel's legitimate security measures from South African racism. But if Israelis were more convinced of their country's virtue, more might condemn globe-trotting reporters fueling worldwide campaigns demonizing their own country. Maybe some of those jaundiced journalists would be so busy spreading the good news, they would reconsider their role in the unhappy cycle in which harsh domestic self-criticisms justify harsh attacks that quickly escalate to rejection of Israel's right to exist. And maybe then both leftists and rightists would start conflating their positions constructively, seeking joint solutions to problems with enlightened self-interest boldly, nimbly and responsibly.