Can Arabs, who make up one-fifth of Israel’s population, be loyal citizens of the Jewish state?
With this question in mind, I recently visited several Arab-inhabited regions of Israel (Jaffa, Baqa al-Gharbiya, Umm al-Fahm, Haifa, Acre, Nazareth, the Golan Heights, Jerusalem) and held discussions with mainstream Arab and Jewish Israelis.
I found most Arabic-speaking citizens to be intensely conflicted about living in a Jewish polity. On the one hand, they resent Judaism’s status as the country’s privileged religion: the Law of Return that permits only Jews to immigrate at will, Hebrew as the primary language of state, the Star of David on the flag, and the mention of the “Jewish soul” in the anthem. On the other hand, they appreciate the country’s economic success, standard of health care, rule of law, and functioning democracy.
These conflicts find many expressions. The small, uneducated, and defeated Israeli Arab population of 1949 has grown tenfold, acquired modern skills, and recovered its confidence. Some from this community have acquired positions of prestige and responsibility, including Supreme Court justice Salim Joubran, former ambassador Ali Yahya, former government minister Raleb Majadele, and journalist Khaled Abu Toameh.
But these assimilated few pale beside the discontented masses who identify with Land Day, Nakba Day, and the Future Vision report. Revealingly, most Israeli Arab parliamentarians, such as Ahmed Tibi and Haneen Zuabi, are hotheads spewing rank anti-Zionism. Israeli Arabs have increasingly resorted to violence against their Jewish co-nationals.
Indeed, Israeli Arabs live two paradoxes. Although they suffer discrimination within Israel, they enjoy more rights and greater stability than any Arab populace living in a sovereign Arab country (e.g. Egypt or Syria). Second, they hold citizenship in a country that their fellow Arabs malign and threaten with annihilation.
My conversations in Israel led me to conclude that these complexities impede robust discussion, by Jews and Arabs alike, of the full implications of Israeli Arabs’ anomalous existence. Extremist parliamentarians and violent youth get dismissed as a fringe, unrepresentative of the Arab population. Instead, one hears that if only Israeli Arabs received more respect and more municipal aid from the central government, current discontents would be eased; that one must distinguish between (the good) Arabs of Israel and (the bad) Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza; and that Israeli Arabs will metastasize into Palestinians unless Israel treats them better.