Have the Israeli Arabs remained silent on Syria?

Israeli media has been posing the question of why we are not hearing any condemnations from Israeli Arabs.

Israelis demonstrate against Assad 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israelis demonstrate against Assad 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In recent weeks, the Israeli media has been posing the challenging question of why we are not hearing any condemnations from the leadership of the Israeli Arabs in general, and the Arab MKs in particular, of the massacre that is being carried out by Syrian President Bashar Assad against his own people.
The question is usually accompanied by the statement that while Israeli Arabs protested vehemently about the killing of 13 Israeli Arabs by Israeli security forces during the “Land Day” demonstration of October 2000, they apparently have nothing to say about over 6,000 Syrians killed in Syria – most of them civilians killed by forces loyal to Assad.
This whole issue is not as straightforward as it might seem at first sight. In the first place, it is not fair to compare someone’s reaction to his own sons being killed by the security forces of the state of which they are citizens – “the only democracy in the Middle East” – to the killing of hundred and even thousands of citizens in neighboring states, none of which are democracies.
Secondly, the Arab-language media in Israel have been dealing with the issue extensively ever since the demonstrations in Syria began, and most of the Israeli Arab leaders have expressed – in Arabic – support for the uprising of the Syrian people, and have condemned what they refer to openly as a massacre, for which they blame Assad, who they say must go. Most of the Arab leadership has strongly condemned Russia for supporting Assad, supports the position of the Arab League, and is opposed to any direct foreign military intervention in Syria.
This does not mean that the whole Israeli Arab community has condemned Assad, or supports the opposition. One Arab MK very candidly told me last week that especially among the older generation of Israeli Arabs, there are many who are not committed to human rights as a basic value, and prefer stability to the unknown, which leads them to sympathize with Assad.
Part of the blame for the Israeli media not being informed about the positions of the Arab MKs on the issue is that the latter have generally declined to participate in talk shows, or to be interviewed live on what is going on in Syria. The reason for this is that they are sick and tired of being placed in these shows and interviews in the position of defendants, and not being given an honest chance to express their positions.
In general, the Arab MKs have distanced themselves in recent years from the Hebrew media to the extent of issuing most of their press releases in Arabic. They have reached this decision on the basis of their perception that the Israeli media is simply not interested in reporting objectively on what is going on within the Arab sector, and prefer to concentrate on their Arab-speaking constituents – those who vote for them.
Their feeling is not unsubstantiated. It has been noted that the Hebrew media has gradually limited the scope of reporting on Israeli Arab affairs (including Druse affairs), and that many reporters in this field have simply moved on elsewhere. The media in general is mostly interested in negative stories on the Arab sector, such as increasing violence and growing number of murders in Arab towns and villages.
All this should be seen within the context of the growing radicalization of large sections of the Israeli Arab population and leadership in the past two decades. The origin of this radicalization is not only the result of continued discrimination in almost all walks of life (education, housing, employment etc.), and deliberate exclusion from the Israeli mainstream, but also a reaction to their changing national self-perceptions following the first intifada and Israel’s increasingly oppressive policy against the Palestinians in the West Bank, and to social and political trends within Jewish society.
It is quite amazing that the situation hasn’t exploded, though this does not exclude a future explosion. What can be done about the situation, given the fact that a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appears to be more distant than ever, and an ever-growing number of Israeli Jews do not believe that Israel’s Arabs should have equal rights or should be integrated into the Israeli society (unless they turn into Zionists), is a question that has no clear answer.
The least realistic solution is to offer every Palestinian family west of the River Jordan (there are around one million of them) $250,000 or $350,000 to leave the country. But that is already another issue altogether.
The writer teaches at the Max Stern Jezreel Valley College and was a Knesset employee for many years.