Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Israel’s Foundational Discrimination against Its Arab Minority

Haaretz ran here a news item about the low percentage of Arabs in the governmental and public sector (around 6%) despite the government decision six years ago to raise it to match the percentage of Palestinian Arabs in the Israeli population (20%). It is not for lack of qualified candidates. The article sums up in a nutshell the complex of attitudes of Israeli Jews toward Israeli Palestinians. On the one hand they are citizens; on the other hand they are foundationally discriminated against. What do I mean by "foundational discrimination"? I mean the sort of discrimination that follows from foundational assumptions, in this case, the assumptions of the Jewish ethnic state established in 1948 against the will of the native Arab population.

You see, it is one thing to be discriminated against because you are a member of a minority, and no doubt ethnic minorities often suffer discrimination in states formed by ethnic nationalism. Israel's case is different, and in some respects unique – for in statist Zionism you have an ethnic nationalism that recognizes the importance of equal rights of ethnic minorities by virtue of citizenship – but is unable, for ethnic nationalist reasons, to put that principle into practice. This is the fundamental difference between, say, the discrimination against African-Americans in the United States and against Arabs in Israel. Statist Zionism inevitably casts Palestinian Arabs as enemies, for what normal people will not resist attempts to conquer its land? They *should* be a fifth column, thinks the Israeli, even if facts are to the contrary. So Palestinian Arabs are axiomatically viewed as one (or as a "potential" fifth column) by virtue of their being Arab. Of course, when they have harmless successes (as in football), or modest gains (as in education) they are to be boasted about. But when they assert their rights or when call for cultural autonomy, the fifth column business crops us. Foundational discrimination against Palestinians entails that despite official Israel's recognition of the principle of equal rights and genuine desire to improve their lot, official Israel must accord them inferior status. And, of course, the foundational assumption ensures that the Palestinians themselves will be excluded and will feel excluded from the Jewish state.

But it is not just Jewish suspicion of the Arabs that ensures their inferior status. It is also the tribal mentality of members helping each other. This mentality is fostered both by centuries of Jewish experience, and the smallness of the country, where who-you-know is often more important than what-you-know. Of course, this is true, to some extent, everywhere. But in other countries there is at least an assumption that if you are a citizen, you share values and a common identity. But in Israel, as I and others have said, there is a willing and conscious denial of a common Israeli identity that includes Israeli Arabs. So unless there is massive affirmative action, which would go against the ethos of the Jewish state, nothing can change.

Even if there were peace with the Palestinians, or if Israeli Palestinian were to serve in the army, this foundational assumption would not be altered. To put this point another way – the inevitable price to pay for a Jewish state along the lines founded in 1948 is foundational discrimination against its Arab minority. This foundational discrimination can only begin to be rectified by transforming Israel from an ethnic Jewish state to a state of all its citizens -- to transform it into a liberal democracy.

Every so often, usually following a crisis, there are well-intentioned attempts to improve the lot of Arabs. Intelligent Israelis realize that such an improvement would be good for the country as a whole. And so a sympathetic minister takes an initiative, or the government makes a decision. All these well-intentioned efforts are doomed to fail, because other priorities and needs will inevitably trump them

The Haaretz article tells an all-too-familiar story that brings together the standard elements: the good intentions to increase the percentage of Arab employees in government agencies and ministries, the failure to realize these intentions; the good guys bemoaning the failure; the bad guys justifying it.

Perhaps the most poignant position here is the one taken by Reuven Rivlin, long-time Likud politician, and about as decent a human being as an ultra-nationalist can be. I have no doubt that Rivlin genuinely believes that it is vital for Israel's national interest to reduce the gaps between Israeli Palestinians and Israeli Jews. This belief underlies the good intentions of all the various initiatives and decisions over the year. But what Rivlin doesn't get is not just that the gap won't be significantly reduced but that it cannot be, as long as he and others champion the values of the ethnic state. Like the obese man who perpetually intends to go a diet, but whose ingrained eating habits and cultural mores prevent him from reducing weight, Israel must discriminate against 20% of its population -- if it wants to remain Israel.

11 comments:

Shmuel said...

As Meir Margalit once put it: "This is how a unique term which does not exist in the professional literature was born in our country: 'grey racism'. This is not a racism stemming from hatred of the 'other', but a 'lite racism' rooted in a Zionist ideology which strove to be democratic but, in giving priority to Jewish interests, inevitably deprived others of their rights. When there is no equality, there is bound to be discrimination, and when all those discriminated against are of the same nationality, there is no alternative but to call it what it is - 'national discrimination' - which belongs to the same family as the infamous racial discrimination."

emanuel appel said...

6% too many

Eric said...

Without the tens of thousands of Emanuel Appels in Israel your case would to weak. With them it is hard not to despair. With regard to Arabs Israel seems more and more like the US with regards to African Americans in the 1950's-- one part of the population ignores/tolerates the bigots , another is the bigots , and a much smaller percentage fights the bigots.

fiddler said...

Erik, Jerry outlined the fundamental difference between Israel and the US, post the legal emancipation of blacks. In the US, institutional racism was more or less incidental to the large number of bigots, including, of course, in govt institutions. In Israel, anti-Arab (not wanting to enter the "technically racist or not" debate - that's a red herring) discrimination is, implicitly or not, one of the pillars of the state.
The US could easily give up racial discrimination without losing its identity, or essence. On the contrary, it was strengthened by this.
Israel can't do the same and become a state of all its citizens without ceasing to be "the Jewish State" in any but a descriptive way.

Anonymous said...

My god, the souffle you've concocted!

Just the other day, Arab Israeli leaders announced that henceforth they would be part of the Palestinian boycott against products made by "Israeli settlers."

Sure, sure, you can blame Israeli discrimination of Arabs, but that's not what is happening here. What is happening here is that a portion of Israel's population wants everything the state gives them - democracy, freedom of speech, relative prosperity, Western environment without impinging on their right to worship as they like, tax moneys for large families (at least in the past) - but does not wish the state to be the one it is, even though it is precisely that uniqueness which provides them with the quality of life they refuse to relinquish in all the polls that ask them whether they would seek to join a new Palestinian state.

They don't do national service. They elect jokers who constantly attack the state and do not participate in a functional way that benefits their constituents in the political process (just see what Shas can do with 11 seats!), they give Israel gifts like Land Day and Adalah's program for an Israeli constitution that denies Israel's history, etc.

Yes, there's segregation and yes, many jobs, especially in the public sphere, go to friends of friends and not to "others," and yes, it's reprehensible that only one ministry has a percentage of Arab employees equivalent to their percentage of the population. However, has somebody bothered to conduct a similar survey of ultra-Orthodox in government? I'll bet the percentages aren't much better.

And you know what? It's isn't this natural bigotry that you concocted, but an acknowledgment that there's a problem. After all, would you want a Geulah bochur in your Foreign Ministry going around the world undermining Israel, or for that matter would you want someone who cheered for Hizbullah in 2006 in the Defense Ministry?

I read what you write and shake my head, because surely you know better. Surely you know that while there are racist Israelis, most are good people. You must know that Israelis have wanted and want to be good neighbors to the Arabs if the opportunity would only avail itself. You know that Israel is not only at war but in a perceived state of war with the brothers of this minority inside the state that leads to a natural sense of paranoia and fear which is made worse by the public pronouncements of the Arabs' public personalities.

Really, stop hating Israel so much that you now malign its Jewish citizens with this ugly charge, just as you do regularly regarding Israel's inability to separate from the Palestinians who keep refusing peace deals. Sometimes, we don't need these insidious theories, like racism and ethnic supremacy, to explain what is going on, which is a war that has lasted a century and which has on one side Jews and on the other, Arab non-Jews. Are they citizens? Sure. But the war over this land continues to rage and until the war ends, there are going to be challenges and IT'S NOT FAIR to apply our wonderful American society's norms to a country embroiled in this sort of war for 60 years of its existence and 30 years preceding its formation.

Eric said...

@Anonymous (whoever he/she may be) "Surely you know that while there are racist Israelis, most are good people."

Surely you know that while there are racist Afrikaners, most are good people.

Surely you know that while there are racist Germans, most are good people.

etc.etc. It's the most who are good people who acquiesce to the few who aren't

Anonymous said...

THE PALESTNIAN CONTINUE THEY EFFORT TO DESTROY ISRAEL . THE

TALKING ABOUT PEACE. BUT ACTUALLY THE WENT WAR . WE WILL GIVE

THEM THAT . THIS ARAB COMING EVERY DAY TO WORK IN ISRAEL

GETTING BENFIT FRO US . IN ISRAEL LIVING 800.000 ARAB


WE ISRAELI HAS THE RIGHT TO LIVE THERE. IN WEST BANK . THE ARAB

REJECT . OUR RIGHT TO LIVE . USA TRY TO BROKER PEACE SIDED WITH

ARAB .

THIS ARAB DON’T WENT PEACE . THE LIKE TO STEAL FROM US WORK IN

ISRAEL GET FREE ELECTRICITY . AND OTHER SERVICE . THEY CONTINUE

WITH THEY IDEA HOW TO DESTROY ISRAEL . THE SAME TIME THAT WE

RESPECT THEY BEING .

THE ARAB ARE SMART KNOW HOW TO LIE AND USE USA . THE GROWTH OF THE POPULATION IS RAPID . AND UNBALANCE .

THERE WILL BE NO PEACE WITH THIS PEOPLE NEVER . WE REJECT THE

ABSURD IDEA THAT WE CANNOT SETTLE IN WEST BANK . THE ARAB LOST

ALL THE WAR . CONTINUING THE EFFORT TO DESTROY ISRAEL WITH HELP OF

USA .

NO TALK WITH THIS CONDITION . OR OTHER HAND THIS PEOPLE NOT

ALLOWED TO ENTER ISRAEL . THE WENT TO EAT THE CAKE AND ALSO

HAVE THE CAKE. ITS SAD AFFAIR THAT ARAB CONTINUE WITH WAR

PLAN ONE WAY OR OTHER .

YES WE ISRAELI SUFFER 2000 YEARS . BUT NOW THE COLONIZING BY USA AND EUROPE FROM FAR AWAY .

LETS SEE WHAT NEW IDEA THIS PEOPLE HAS TO MURDER KILL AND DESTROY US NEXT WEEK

ITS VERY LIKELY THAT ISRAEL GOING TO BE DESTROY OUR LEADER AS SIMON PERSS AND OTHER . DESTROY AND BROUGHT TO US HOLOCAUST BEFORE . THE IGNORING THE SET OF MIND THAT ARAB HAS . THEY IGNORING THAT THEY AREA IS SMALL . THAT ARAB CANNOT TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES . IN SOUTH AFRICA USA BROUGHT PEACE WHICH IS MORE CRIME AND MURDER

Usa sooner or later will destroy Israel . with the peace the try to bring . and the Israeli government will help them

Usa destroy many country and nation. the going to destroy Israel together with the Israeli .

Sooner or later .

MEIR GREENFELD

Anonymous said...

Eric, with all due respect, you should read the rest of what I wrote. The so-called racism that is the premise of this blog, is actually driven by many other factors such as who represents the Arabs in Israel politically, the century of war against Arabs and Muslims, etc.

Also, permit me to say with absolute DISRESPECT, that equating Israel with South Africa or the Nazis is not just untrue and facile, but intentionally unrepresentative of history. This shorthand for equating Israel with apartheid and Nazi genocide is nothing more than propaganda. Just because it's said a lot, that doesn't mean it's true. It's just effective propaganda.

Eric said...

@anonymous The linkage to Nazi Germany and Apartheid was not intentional I could have phrased the same remark with respect to any number of situations -Aboriginals in Australia, Tutsi in Rwanda, Christians in Palestine, etc.etc. The point is "the majority are not bigots" is NO excuse.

If you are a bystander, you are not innocent

Anonymous said...

"The linkage to Nazi Germany and Apartheid was not intentional"

Of course not. You just happened to pick the two regimes that Palestinian propaganda uses endlessly to pillory Israel.

As for your comment about there being "no excuses," I beg to differ. This is a century old war and you can't look at these complex subjects with a simplistic equation.

Sheldon Richman said...

Can you provide examples of discrimination against Israeli Arabs in the provision of public services or in other ways? I am very curious about this. Thank you.