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The Jewish State and Its Arab Citizens

In anticipation of the general election in Israel tomorrow, Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Leader of the Opposition Benny Gantz were interviewed this morning on Israel’s main radio station. I listened to both. My initial reaction was to respond by yielding to the temptation to vote for the Joint Arab List, Israel’s third party in size and not for those led by Netanyahu and Gantz.

I hope, however, that by tomorrow I will have contained my disappointment with the two leaders and vote for the party I usually vote for, even though it has by now been greatly diminished both in size and in ideological clarity.

That, however, should in no way be viewed as disrespect for the Arab party and those who vote for it. A book called, Israelophobia and the West, just published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, includes an essay by Khaled Abu-Toameh, a respected Arab-Israeli journalist about the Arabs in Israel. The author draws readers’ attention to “two contradictory Palestinian discourses.” One is driven by radical Palestinian academics and activists, often teaching in universities abroad, who advocate radical measures against Israel. The other wants “a far more pragmatic, cooperative Israeli Arab and West Bank Palestinian dialogue with Israel.”

Abu-Toameh writes: “The external, extremist anti-Israel discourse does not reflect the aspirations or represent the interests of Israeli Arabs. Instead, Arabs in Israel are demanding greater enforcement of their legally guaranteed democratic rights, fewer building zoning laws, better jobs, and more law enforcement in their communities.”

He argues that “Israeli Arabs are not seeking separation from Israel, rather they seek greater inclusion as Israelis.” That’s why most of them were scandalized by Trump’s “deal of the century” that seeks to detach a part of Israel where many Arabs live and make them part of a Palestinian state. By all accounts, that’s the last thing Israeli Arabs want. They’re Israeli citizens and wish to remain so.

Though the Joint Arab List is said to include some radical elements, by all accounts its general direction is of the kind described by Abu-Toameh. If Benny Gantz will be able to form a government after tomorrow’s election, he’ll need the support of the Joint List. Its Members of Knesset (perhaps as many as 15 out of the 120) may not sit in the cabinet, but the cabinet won’t be able to function without their support.

One of the several scare tactics that Netanyahu and the Likud party he leads employ is to paint a picture suggesting that the Arab minority will come to rule over the Jewish majority in the Jewish State of Israel. If you want to believe him, you’ll have to ignore Abu-Toameh’s above-cited distinction between disaffected Palestinians abroad Arabs who are Israeli citizens.

The Joint List represents the latter. Though some of those who vote for it are said to be Jews, in the end, I won’t be among them. But I take Abu-Toameh’s distinction seriously and hope that the party I vote for will join a Gantz government committed to further integration of Israel’s Arab citizens. In time, this may also come to influence Arabs living in the Palestinian Territory to seek cooperation with Israel, not confrontation that’s doing infinitely more harm to them than it does to Israel. A change in that direction would promote peace and assure Arabs on both sides of the fence a very much better life.

Jerusalem 1.3.20                                                                                                                               Dow Marmur

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