Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Gideon Levy On What Israeli Jews Want of Israeli Arabs

I argued in some of my previous posts that the State of Israel's discrimination of Arabs is dug deep into his historical and legal foundations. I am pleased that both my left and right wing readers, to a person, have agreed with me. The right wing blame the Arabs; the left wing blame the Jews, but all agree that things are not getting better, and that they can't get better until the other side changes, which they know won't happen. Once the mantra of the Israeli Jews, right and left, was that when peace came, things would be different for the Israeli Palestinians. Israel is now more powerful militarily and economically than all the Arabs combined; it has peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan; Syria is weak, and the Arab states have presented a peace plan that recognizes the state.  Were there to be a peace between the Palestinians and Israelis tomorrow, and were Iran and Syria to sign on it, the Israeli Palestinians here would still be viewed as a foreign entity and a potential fifth column. No, not because Israelis are irredeemably racist, but because the Jews in 1948, by forcing a state against the will of the local Arabs, and then declaring them to be outsiders in the structure of the state, entailed feelings of alienation that have only grown as an increasingly sophisticated population realizes what its position in Israeli society is.  Allowing Palestinian Arabs to attend Israeli universities has worsened the situation, not improved it.

The cycle of discrimination and alienation is to get worse, not better, and blame whomever you like, then the question will be: how much are Jews willing to pay in the coinage of systematic discrimination for a Jewish state? For some, the answer will be everything. I know people who would easily exterminate every Arab, man, woman, and child, if that was the only way to preserve a Jewish state. For these people, the existence of a state founded mostly by a group of Eastern European Jews in 1948 is identified with the survival of the Jewish people, and group survival trumps everything. Even were Israel to cease being a liberal democracy for its Jews, they would defend it. I understand where they are coming from.

But for those Jews who become convinced that Jewish survival can be ensured by other and different forms of Jewish self-determination (some looking very similar to the 1948 state), the problem of how much permanent discrimination will be acute. Already liberal Jews are asking this question. And, much to the befuddlement of the Commentary-crowd, vast numbers of Jews are still liberal. There is a lot of Jewish support for Israel as long as Jews consider it to be a liberal democracy. That support declines with age, as recent polls show, and it also declines when Israel acts illiberally.

I hope those Jews read the following column by Gideon Levy, which shows you how Israeli Jews, many of whom will live and die without meeting an Israeli Arab, much less becoming his friend, view a fifth of their state. 

The charge: Arabs

While it may be true that Israeli Arabs enjoy more rights than most of the world's Arabs, they are worse off than most of the world's Jews.

By Gideon Levy

No, this is not (yet ) a defense of Dr. Omar Sayid and Ameer Makhoul, who were arrested in the dead of night. No one knows yet what exactly they are accused of and on what grounds. Perhaps the Shin Bet security mountain will produce a mole hill, perhaps not, but in the context of another ugly and collective wave of mudslinging against the Arabs of Israel, it's time to reveal an indictment of a different sort: What can we possibly want from our Arab citizens?

The truth is, more than anything, we would like them to disappear, though not their hummus restaurants. A second choice would be to have them all crowd into their cities and villages - not to say their ghettos. There they'll soon be standing on top of each other, some unemployed through no fault of their own, outcast and discriminated against. They'll raise the Israeli flag, preferably two, and sing about the Jewish soul yearning from the national anthem - anything less would be considered a transgression.

We would like their MKs, if we still agree to let them have MKs, to visit the Jewish communities of the United States, prostrate themselves on the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav and take part in the March of the Living at Auschwitz. Just as long as they don't visit their brethren in Arab countries. Let them stand at attention during the sirens on memorial day for the soldiers who fought against their people. Let them cheer the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces that eats away at them in the territories. Let their young people say thank you for their extensive and generous employment opportunities (1.3 percent of the Prime Minister's Office staff, 6 out of 469 Knesset employees, 2 percent of the workforce at the transportation and communications ministries, a total of 6 percent in public service ).

Let them take Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's loyalty test. Let them obey the Citizenship Law and not marry members of their people from the occupied territories. Let them obey the so-called Nakba Law and not dare mention the events of 1948, even in a whisper, ever. Let them not dare buy an apartment in Upper Nazareth or Carmiel, which were built on their lands, and let them not try to rent an apartment in Tel Aviv. Let them not even think of enjoying themselves at our clubs, though there's no chance the security guards would let them in. Let them adopt an Israeli accent, preferably Ashkenazi, so security guards at Ben-Gurion International Airport won't stop them. Let them continue to arrive at the airport, and without complaining please, four hours before their flight because they are Arabs.

Let their poets continue to need the Supreme Court to accept Arab literary prizes. Let them have fewer children because they are "multiplying too much" and turning into a "demographic problem." Let them not speak too loudly around Jews because we don't like hearing Arabic. And of course, let them not dare meet with "foreign agents," almost all of whom are citizens of neighboring countries.

If indeed the "minorities" or "Arab Israelis" - we also forced these titles on them, why should we call them Palestinians? - meet all these impossible conditions, maybe we will accept them somehow. Then we will continue to gobble up pita and hummus, coffee and baklava on the house, and let them build our homes - on condition that they don't listen to Arabic radio while working.

The parliamentary inquiry committee headed by MK Ahmed Tibi on hiring more Arabs in the civil service issued its interim report at the beginning of the year. This impressive report should have been an indictment of Israeli society. But the report was met with indifference. It reveals severe state discrimination. But the report is only part of the problem. The other part is political and national: We can't ignore that the debate about the "Jewish state" excludes Israel's Arabs by definition, shunting them into a corner from which there is no way out.

True, they may enjoy more rights than most of the world's Arabs, but that's irrelevant. After all, we're a democracy. In contrast, they are worse off than most of the world's Jews. With the two-state solution rapidly vanishing and the option of one state becoming the only one, the litmus test for the regime to be instituted in a country that is already almost binational will be its treatment of its Arab citizens. Meanwhile, let's admit it: Even if the suspicions against Sayid and Makhoul turn out to be true, Israel's Arabs are still loyal to the state, much more than it is loyal to them.

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