Dismantle Israel's tyranny of the majority

Palestinian citizens of Israel seek self-determination, including the right to manage our own educational, cultural and religious affairs

checkpoint 298 (photo credit: AP)
checkpoint 298
(photo credit: AP)
I believe publication of the "Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel" can be defined as an historic event in the annals of the Palestinians in Israel and of their relationship with the Jewish majority and establishment. This is the first time a representative national body of Palestinians in Israel has prepared and published a basic paper that describes both the existing situation and the changes that are needed across a broad spectrum of Arab life: relations with the Jewish majority, the legal situation, land, social and economic issues, the status of civil and political institutions, etc. The document was written by activists from all political tendencies among the Palestinians in Israel (including some who later opposed the positions adopted), and delineates the achievements necessary for defining the future relationship between the majority and the minority in the state of Israel. In my view, the document is based on three theoretical principles that constitute the foundations of human social, political and cultural development for at least the past two centuries. • First is the principle of human rights: the document addresses the fundamental rights of the Palestinians in Israel as human beings - to economic and social development, women's and children's rights, to live without violence, etc. - and demands their realization. • The second principle invokes civil equality: the basic democratic right to equality before the law and the demand to annul laws, structures and symbols that alienate the Palestinian citizens of Israel and ensure Jewish superiority. • And the third principle is that of the right of communities to self-determination, including the autonomous right to manage specific areas of life such as their own education and cultural and religious affairs. IN ORDER to realize these foundations, the document's writers demand the implementation in Israel of a consociational system. This would replace the existing liberal system that is exploited automatically by the Jewish majority and that, indeed, constitutes a "tyranny of the majority" in which, in the name of liberal democracy, that majority takes draconian steps against the Palestinian minority and its fundamental rights. Thus far, reactions to the document have not included a reasonable alternative proposal for involving the Palestinians in Israel as equals within the state. Most of the responses from the Jewish majority have accused the Palestinians in Israel of undermining Israel's foundations as a "Jewish and democratic" state. In fact, they completely ignore the present system's rampant abuse of the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel. Jewish reaction representing the Zionist consensus was expressed to a significant extent by journalist Tommy Lapid, professor of law Amnon Rubinstein ("The silence of the Left," Post, January 9) and historian Alex Jacobson. They display the well-known nationalist readiness to recognize the right to self-determination of a single group in a pluralist reality, a demand anchored in the extreme nationalism that in the 20th century was represented by Franco in Spain, Mussolini in Italy, Saddam Hussein in Iraq and many additional countries and that ultimately led to disasters of historic dimensions. This model ignores the compromises reached in Spain after Franco, in Belgium, in Canada since the Quiet Revolution and in several other instances in which a pluralist reality facilitated solutions based on mutual recognition and the right of self-determination and self-rule for more than one national or ethnic group within a single political framework. At the other end of the spectrum, among the Palestinians of Israel themselves, there is a group that proposes a different platform for agreement among the Arabs without accepting the need for a compromise that can be accepted by a majority of Palestinian citizens, as the vision document does. The Islamic movement led by Sheikh Raad Salah, part of the Sons of the Village movement and some intellectuals who were not involved in preparing the document are now demanding its cancellation or insisting it be deemed "unrepresentative"- as if "representative" means that every single party must accept it rather than, as actually happened, the document being signed and supported by a leadership body while protecting the right of those who disagree with aspects of it to express their criticism. The vision document responds to both of these extremes with a centrist platform. It offers an alternative to the Israeli Right, most prominently represented today by Minister of Strategic Issues Avigdor Lieberman, and to the nationalism that he represents. I believe that, in making possible an egalitarian existence within a democratic state, this is the only alternative to the extreme right. Only movement in this direction on the part of Israeli Jewish circles can save us all from the fate of those countries that were determined to employ every means at their disposal in order to establish the ethnic superiority of one community over others. The writer heads the Government Political Philosophy Department at the School of Political Sciences, University of Haifa and is chair of the executive committee of the Ibn-Khaldun Association. He was an active participant in the preparation of the document described here. - bitterlemons.org