Our Arab minority

The dangers of an increasingly alienated group.

On Saturday, many Arab Israelis marked the 62nd anniversary of the creation of the Jewish state as the “Nakba” – or “catastrophe day” – taking to the streets in towns and cities inside the Green Line to protest Israeli injustices. This year’s incarnation of the Nakba commemorations was fairly standard, and as such underlined unfortunately standard concerns about the integration, or lack thereof, of the community. Recent developments suggest that the passage of six decades has not healed differences and that, if anything, some Arab Israelis’ intransigence has escalated.
Two prominent Arab Israelis – Balad activist Omar Abdo and director of Ittijah, the Union of Arab Community-Based Associations, Ameer Mahoul – were recently arrested on suspicion of spying for Hizbullah. Leading Arab Israeli organizations have called to join a boycott launched by the PA against about 1,000 Jewish-owned companies in Judea and Samaria. There is now rioting of some degree or other on or near the Temple Mount before and during nearly every major Jewish holiday.
Looking a little further back, Yom Kippur 2008 saw clashes in Acre between Arabs and Jews; 2006 saw pro-Hizbullah declarations by several Arab Israeli leaders during the Second Lebanon War... and the list goes on.
The danger posed by an increasingly alienated, angry, and rapidly growing Arab minority living within the Green Line has been largely eclipsed by the prolonged conflict with the Palestinians in the territories. But it most certainly constitutes a similar, albeit less acute, demographic threat to the future of a democratic Jewish state.
Even if we were to assume that the Arab fertility rate, presently at 3.8%, will gradually fall to the Jewish rate of 2.9%, the Central Bureau of Statistics forecasts an Arab minority of 24% by 2030. Some 30% of children 4 or younger will be Arab by then, which means that in the ensuing decades the Arab-Jewish ratio in Israel could reach 30-70.
Exacerbating the situation is the fact that many Israeli Arabs do not see themselves as a minority striving to integrate into a dominant Jewish culture, but rather as part of the overwhelmingly Arab Middle East majority. This view was expressed last week by MK Masud Gnaim (UAL-Ta’al) who told the Arab-language Israeli newspaper Kul Al-Arab that Israel should be incorporated into an Islamic caliphate.
Recommendations put forward in recent years by organizations such as Adallah Legal Center for the Rights of the Arab Minority in Israel, the National Committee of Arab Mayors, and Mada al-Karmel Center for Applied Social Research, call to dispose of such Jewish aspects of the state as the national anthem “Hatikva,” the national flag with its Star of David, the Law of Return, the Jewish Agency and the Israel Lands Administration, Hebrew as the official language and even the very name of the state – to be replaced by something less Jewish-sounding. They also demand the return of Arabs to villages their families left in 1948.
These add up to demands for the dismantling of the Zionist enterprise, pressed by Israeli Arab advocates who apparently lack any appreciation for the uniqueness of the world’s only Jewish sovereign entity, achieved after nearly 2,000 years of exile.
IMPROVING ARAB-Jewish relations in Israel is a shared necessity. But the State of Israel can be both Jewish and democratic. Further steps should be taken to stamp out discrimination against Arabs, who also need reasonable job opportunities, decent housing, better schools, better infrastructure in their towns and cities, more self-owned businesses, a more equitable share of the state budget and genuine opportunities for fuller integration.
Some of this is happening. In 2008-2009 there were 1,050 Arab volunteers for national service, compared to just 240 in 2004-2005. This is despite wide, vocal opposition among local Arab leaders to national service.
The government has also recently allocated $40 million to boost investment in private Arab business – in the kind of approach that carries so much more positive potential than Yisrael Beitenu’s “no loyalty, no citizenship” effort, which proposes to make certain benefits conditional upon acts of loyalty such as national service.
Speaking recently to The Jerusalem Post, Vice Premier and Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom said that Arab political parties consistently receive much less than the 20% of Knesset votes they might expect, because many Israeli Arabs are alienated by their radical positions.
Responsibilities work both ways. Israel’s Arabs should indeed steer clear of radical, extremist representation. And they must be made to feel that, while the State of Israel is Jewish and will remain that way, it is also a democracy that will do its best to protect the rights of all its citizens.