A minority opinion?

Ilan Peleg and Dov Waxman’s study of Israeli Arabs makes some valuable claims, but some of the authors’ solutions are already long-standing government policies.

Beduin take part in protest in Beersheba 521 (photo credit: Reuters)
Beduin take part in protest in Beersheba 521
(photo credit: Reuters)
Israel faces a growing issue in dealing with its Arab minority and its feelings of alienation are mostly the fault of the state. This is the central argument made by Ilan Peleg, a professor of government at Lafayette College in Louisiana, and Dov Waxman, an associate professor of political science at Baruch College in New York. The minority’s “second class status within the country and their troubled relations with the Jewish majority have been ignored by Israeli Jews, Israeli governments, Arab governments, by American governments and by the international community at large for far too long.” In order to solve this problem, Israel “must recognize the Palestinians as a national minority, increase their collective rights (including granting them cultural autonomy), enhance their political representation, raise their socio-economic level, and safeguard their individual rights.” To come to this conclusion, the authors make several important arguments in this well written, if flawed, polemic.
First, the book sets out to show that “despite the heterogeneity of Arab society, Arabs in Israel are a singular minority” that should be defined as “Palestinians in Israel.” They charge that Israeli authorities “sowed and strengthened intra-Arab divisions in order to prevent Arab unity.” This is an unoriginal thesis that has been bandied about by Israeli academics for some time, but it ignores the fact that the Druse, Christians and Beduin here are not a creation of Israel, but a standard division within Arab society in neighboring countries.
Do Peleg and Waxman also believe Israel conspired to create divisions between Christians and Muslims in Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt or between Beduin and Palestinians in Jordan? The authors misuse statistics to make the Arab population seem worse off than it is.
For instance, they claim that “although they now constitute nearly 20 percent of Israel’s population, Arabs own only 3.5% of the state’s land.” This implies that Jews own more than their fair share. In fact, 93% of Israel’s land is owned by the government, so Arabs, ironically, own disproportionately more private land than Jews.
Arabs also have equal access or are equally restricted from the huge state land reserves.
Where they suffer in access to land is primarily vis-à-vis Jewish agricultural communities, which dominate a disproportionate amount of land.
The authors also use contradictory assertions and odd sources to prove their otherwise arguable points. In claiming that “Arab citizens are frequently portrayed in the press and on television as political extremists and even terrorists,” the sole citation is actually a column I wrote in 2010, one whose overall substance actually contradicts the quote.
Peleg and Waxman are adamant that the Arab minority in Israel is not becoming more extreme. “The most obvious problem with the radicalization thesis is that it makes a sweeping generalization about more than a million Palestinian citizens.”
However, the authors claimed in previous chapters that all one million Arabs, including Druse and Circassians, should be lumped into one group called “Palestinian.”
Which is it? Either they are monolithic or they are not The text also makes sweeping generalizations against Jews. “Ethnocentrism… is especially pronounced among Jews in Israel due to the fact that Jewish communities have typically been insular and self-enclosed.”
Israel’s Palestinians’ main argument is that the State of Israel bears most of the responsibility for integrating the Arab minority. In this line of argument it also makes dubious assertions; arguing that “Palestinian citizens were mostly excluded from the rituals of national mourning and remembrance in the wake of [prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin’s assassination.” But according to an article in the Christian Science Monitor from 1995, Arab leaders “put aside politics” and did pay respects at the funeral.
The book quotes numerous surveys that show Jews view Arabs as “violent” and “primitive” and don’t want them living in their neighborhoods, but never bothers to ask what the Arab minority thinks of Jews.
The authors also argue that Israel can learn from the experience of other countries that have incorporated the needs of respecting a national minority into the state’s organs. However, the evidence the book then provides is a series of failed states: the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Czechoslovakia and Belgium, the last of which has been unable to form a government for years because of its linguistic divisions.
The main proposals that this monograph suggests are relatively innocuous. The Arabs should be granted some sort of meaningless “cultural autonomy,” which they already possess, in terms of education and religion. Next, they should receive affirmative action, which they already receive at university and government jobs.
Their economic conditions should be improved, which is already a policy of the government, and an issue that cannot be easily resolved since most of the data about the economy of the Arab sector is inaccurate.
The largest suggestions involve legalizing illegally constructed homes, recognizing unrecognized villages, creating a new government agency to police discrimination, adding an additional stanza to the national anthem and making the definition of the Jewish state include a term such as “a state of all its citizens.”
Whatever the merits of these proposals, this book’s main contribution is enshrining in one volume all of the current arguments sympathetic to the complaints of Arab Israelis, a handy tool for educators and researchers.