Israeli Arabs overwhelmingly deny support for Islamic State

Israeli Arabs that went to fight with Syrian opposition are for the most part fighting with other groups, says community leader.

An Islamic State terrorist holds a flag with the group's insignia. (photo credit: REUTERS)
An Islamic State terrorist holds a flag with the group's insignia.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel officially outlawed the Islamic State earlier this month and in numerous conversations with The Jerusalem Post, Israeli Arabs rejected the notion that any more than a few individuals support the terrorist group.
Over the last few weeks, the Israeli media has reported about Israeli-Arab individuals who have left to fight for Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and about the appearance of the group’s flag in public, but there appears to be no phenomenon within Arab society supporting the al-Qaida offshoot.
Jafar Farah, the director of the Mossawa Center – The Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, told the Post in an interview on Monday that “Israeli Arabs are against the Islamic State” and that Sheikh Raed Salah, the leader of the Islamic Movement’s Northern Branch in Israel, spoke out against the group.
“The Israeli media is looking for an enemy where there isn’t one,” and is “telling lies” on this issue, he said, adding that all Israeli-Arab parties oppose the group.
“We know Arab society more than the Israeli media,” he said.
Israeli Arabs that went to fight with the Syrian opposition against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad are for the most part fighting with other groups, not Islamic State, asserted Farah.
Furthermore, noted Farah, “Not everyone who waves the flag is an Islamic State supporter,” saying that the flag contains a verse from the Koran that “anyone can use without meaning that they belong to Islamic State.”
The Islamic State flag contains the words “La ilaha illailah,” which are the first part of the Shahada, the Muslim declaration of faith – “there is no God but God.”
In fact, said Farah, the Islamic Movement uses this phrase as well.
There are a few isolated incidents, but “there is not a story here,” he argued.
Asked about how Arab society views the civil war in Syria, Farah responded that it is divided between supporters of Assad and the rebels.
“The Islamic Movement is against Assad” and believes that the Islamic State does not represent Islam, he said.
Edwar Makhoul, a Christian Arab from the Galilee who studies Middle Eastern history at Tel Aviv University, told the Post that there are few Israeli Arab Islamic State supporters.
People are not worried about the group because of Israel’s strong army and police, he said.
Christians in Israel think the group is devil-like and anti-Christian, added Makhoul.
“Islamic State is dangerous for Christians in the Middle East.”
“Israeli-Arab Christians support Assad because there is no alternative for them,” he added.
Mendi Safadi, an Israeli Druse who served as former Likud deputy minister Ayoub Kara’s chief of staff, has traveled in the region, met with activists, and relayed messages from them to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Safadi told the Post last month that Israel believes there are between 20 and 25 Israeli Arabs fighting with Islamic State, mostly coming from the Triangle region, east of Kfar Saba and near Umm el-Fahm.
Prof. Rassem Khamaisi of the Geography and Environmental Studies Department at the University of Haifa and the head of the Jewish Arab Center, also told the Post that there is no support for the terrorist group among Israeli Arabs.
“The group distorts Islam, and uses the idea, but it is actually anti-Islamic,” he said, noting that Islam prohibits murder.
Sami Miaari, an Israeli-Arab lecturer at Tel Aviv University’s Labor Studies Department and a research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, said that there may be a few exceptions, but for the most part “there is no phenomenon in Arab society in support of Islamic State.”
“Has a poll been carried out? No, there is no data and if one would be done, it would show the group to be unpopular,” said Miaari.
“The government should spend its time on issues like the equality of Arabs in Israeli society,” he concluded.