The relationship between Israel's Jewish and Arab segments is far more nuanced, more political and more complex than you might guess from reading the foreign tabloids or Miss Raslan's speech. Depending on where you choose to buy your political analysis, you can find Israel's Arab communities compared (unfavourably) with blacks in Apartheid South Africa, and Israel being blamed for everything that's wrong in the Arab world and beyond. Or you can ponder the implications of data like these.
In the Arab
- Life expectancy for Arab males 74.7 (2002); lower than for Israeli male Jews (77.9), higher than for American number (74.6 years).
- Infant mortality is 2.7 per 10,000 births (the American figure is 6.8).
A little over a week ago, we wrote here about the impact of the Hezbullah War on relations between Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis. At about the same time, an academic study from a peace research centre at Tel Aviv University found that 68 percent of Arab citizens of Israel defined Israel's war in Lebanon as unjustified. Almost 80 percent said they believed Israel's air attacks on Lebanon were unjustified. 56 percent believed Hassan Nasrallah's declarations, and 53 percent said they regarded Israel Defence Force reports as not credible.
Reflecting on this, Prof. Elie Reches who has been among Israel's most thoughtful observers of relations between the Arab and Jewish segments of Israeli society, wrote an important article that appears in yesterday's Haaretz. Reches runs the Adenauer Program for Jewish-Arab Cooperation at the Dayan Center of Tel Aviv University. In an article tellingly entitled "One might have expected solidarity", he says "the dilemma of the national identity of Israeli Arabs grew sharper during the war. The stark contrast between their Palestinian and Arab identity and their Israeli citizenship was intensified, and was reflected by the setback in relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel."
"At first glance, one might have expected to see expressions of solidarity and a deepening of internal unity between Jews and Arabs, given the sense of shared faith and partnership. But the bereavement did not draw hearts closer. It only deepened the rifts. The statement that missiles do not discriminate between Jewish communities and Arab communities remains an empty slogan... The Jewish public expected the Arab minority to identify with the state and condemn Hezbollah, but such a response never came. Instead, there was an increase in Arab criticism of government policies, which were seen as overly aggressive and warmongering, and as carrying out the imperialist policies of the United States. Israel's losses and inability to defeat Hezbollah enhanced the image of Hassan Nasrallah in the eyes of many Israeli Arabs. The lack of bomb shelters and warning sirens in Arab towns, and the overall sense of having being deserted, contributed to the feelings of frustration. Spokesmen for the Arab sector insisted on their right to criticize government policies without this being interpreted as an expression of dissociation from the state. But the majority of the Jewish public rejected this approach. Given the conduct of the Arab Knesset members, who did not miss an opportunity to express their opinions and stir up a storm of emotions, there was an increase in expressions of repulsion, dissociation and hostility by the Jewish public toward Arabs.Also in yesterday's Haaretz, the results of a new poll that highlights the very divergent views of the Jewish and Arab communities:
A majority of the Jewish Israeli public believes Israeli Arabs supported Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah during the war in Lebanon... Some 18% of Israeli Arabs polled said they supported Hezbollah during the month-long war in the north. Some 15% of Jewish Israelis polled said all Israeli Arabs supported Nasrallah, while 40% claimed that most Israeli Arabs supported him... When asked whom they supported in the second Lebanon war, 27% of the Israeli Arabs polled said they backed Israel, 18% said they supported Hezbollah and 36% said they did not support either side. When asked to what extent Arab MKs represent the views of the Arab public, 44% of Israeli Arabs polled said the MKs do not represent them at all, 28% said they represent them to some degree, and 20% said they were well-represented by the Arab MKs.Not a very promising scenario. Most Israeli Jews are left feeling that their Israeli Arab neighbours supported the enemy in overwhelming numbers. And via their elected parliamentary representatives, Israeli Arabs reinforce this view by fiery and aggressive speeches filled with hatred of Israel and its institutions. On the other hand, the Arab voters who put them there seem to say they don't regard those members of parliament as representing them.
Trying to make sense of the view of Israel's Arab minority was never going to be easy, and isn't. The former head of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University Yossi Alpher summed this up a week ago this way:
The readiness of a sizable majority of Israeli Arabs, who are predominantly Sunni Muslims, to identify with a Lebanese Shi'ite movement that rejects Israel's right to exist and is indiscriminately bombarding the Israeli north, which is about 50 percent Arab, must give us pause... The only time we heard serious and vocal Israeli Arab objections to Nasrallah was when he advised Arab residents of Haifa to leave their homes temporarily to avoid harm, implicitly admitting that he had little control over where his rockets fell. In fact, despite 17 deaths (as of August 10) and dozens of injured in Arab communities from Haifa to Nazareth and Mrar, few Israeli Arabs left their homes (unlike Jewish residents of the north, most of whom moved south if they could afford to), thereby attesting to their determination not to be displaced again as Palestinians were in 1948. None of this behavior stopped Israeli Arab communities hit by the rockets from complaining that the government had not provided them with adequate early warning facilities and shelters.It's also worth reminding readers (borrowing some comments made by Prof. Amon Rubenstein) of the way Israeli Arabs enjoy collective group rights that ethnic and linguistic minorities unsuccessfully fight for in other countries. Arabic is a second official language. Arab schools, totally financed by the state, teach in Arabic - including Islamic studies. Islam is a recognized religion. The Sharia courts have jurisdiction in all family law matters; an Israeli stamp celebrated one of Islam's holiest mosques; a room in the Knesset has been designated a mosque; an Islamic theological college is recognized by the state; Islamic holidays are official days of rest for the Arab population. The Israeli Supreme Court has recently decided the rule of equality should govern budgetary allocations.
None of this changes the nature of the Israel-Arab conflict. But the fact that Israel's basic decency in these matters is routinely ignored by our enemies and critics is an endless aggravation.
This might also be an appropriate time to remind readers that the Malki Foundation, which the writers of this blog established nearly five years ago, provides practical help to all parts of Israeli society. Almost a third of the families we help happen to be Arab. Given the democratic and nature of Israel, the only thing remarkable about this is the general lack of understanding outside of Israel that this is how things are in our country.
Now if we could get those Arab members of the Knesset to understand how it works, we might all be ahead of the game.