Israeli Arabs – rights, obligations and loyalties (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By ISI LEIBLER 03/21/12)
JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-Top
An incident during the recent retirement ceremony for Israel’s chief
justice, Dorit Beinisch, highlighted the complexities Israeli Arabs
face in relation to their identity.
Justice Salim Joubran, a respected Arab Supreme Court judge, a member
of the panel passing sentence on former president Moshe Katzav, was
televised standing in silence during the singing of the national
Israel Beiteinu MK David Rotem immediately accused him of
having “spat in the face of the State of Israel” and suggested that
if he objects to singing the national anthem, he should “find a state
with a more appropriate anthem and move there.” His provocative
outburst provided impetus for post-Zionists and those seeking to de-
Judaize the Jewish state to renew efforts to replace Hatikva with a
new anthem, an act most Israelis would bitterly oppose.
Yet it is surely absurd to expect non-Jews to empathize with Naphtali
Herz Imber’s lyrics, which relate to the “yearning of the Jewish
soul” to live as “a free nation in our land, the land of Zion and
Fortunately, the debate was nipped in the bud by the response of
Joubran’s colleague, Judge Elyakim Rubinstein, a religious Zionist
and former cabinet secretary whom nobody could accuse of compromising
Rubinstein, who emphasized that he was strongly opposed to the
replacement of the lyrics of “Hatikva,” condemned the “ill directed”
criticism, stating that Joubran was “a loyal citizen of the State of
Israel who dutifully represents us.”
He pointed out that “we cannot demand that Arab citizens should be
obliged to sing lyrics of an anthem to which they cannot relate and
does not reflect their roots. We must make allowances for common
sense,” adding that “non-Jewish citizens must respect the national
anthem and stand while it is being sung and non-Jewish army, police
and prison service officers must salute while it is being sung.”
His views were fully endorsed by other prominent politicians,
including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Strategic Affairs
Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
Haaretz, frustrated that the debate had been closed, published an
editorial calling for a new anthem.
There are today 1,500,000 Israeli-Arab citizens, compared to 150,000
when the state was created. Although during recent years the social
gap has narrowed considerably, this sector is proportionately less
affluent and less influential than the Jewish majority and could be
likened to Hispanics and African-Americans in the US social structure.
There is also a highly disquieting growing antipathy and prejudice
against Arab citizens among those Israelis who increasingly perceive
them as a fifth column identifying with terrorists and allied with
those seeking to destroy the Jewish state.
This trend is primarily attributable to the Arab MKs who, instead of
seeking to integrate into Israeli society, compete with one another
to display contempt for their country and identify with its
adversaries in actions which most Israelis deem treasonable.
There are numerous examples. There was the recent attendance of
leading Israeli-Arab MKs at the signing of a Hamas-Fatah
reconciliation in Cairo; Dr. Azmi Bishara, a former Balad MK who has
now fled the country, allegedly collaborated with Hezbollah and Syria
during the Second Lebanon War; another Balad MK, Haneen Zoabi,
notorious for making outrageous remarks defending terrorists and
accusing the IDF of war crimes, joined Turkish terrorists on the Mavi
Marmara Flotilla; MK Ahmed Tibi, Yasser Arafat’s former adviser,
recently enraged Israelis when he paid tribute and sanctified
Palestinian “martyrs... who died for the homeland” and “resist
Israelis who occupy and murder.” During the latest rocket attacks
against Israel, Tibi exhorted, “Be strong, oh Gaza. Stay steadfast,
The northern branch of the Israeli Islamic Movement headed by Sheikh
Raed Salah engages in an ongoing Kulturkampf against Jews, repeatedly
fanning hysteria by promoting jihad and repeatedly accusing Israel of
seeking to destroy Al-Aksa Mosque. Salah also played a prominent role
in the Turkish flotilla.
Israeli-Arab leaders set aside an annual date to mourn the creation
of Israel as a “nakba” – a catastrophe, and commemorate it with three
days of marches, conferences and rallies during which they rail
against the Jewish state. There are even densely Arab populated areas
in the Galilee such as Umm el- Fahm and sections of east Jerusalem
which law enforcement officers have become loath to service.
In such an environment, Israel as a besieged state is entitled to
commendation for its level of tolerance toward a minority that is so
widely perceived as supporting its mortal enemies.
In his speech to Congress last year, Prime Minister Netanyahu
noted: “Of the 300 million Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa,
only Israeli Arab citizens enjoy real democratic rights. Now, I want
you to stop for a second and think about that. Of the 300 million
Arabs, less than one half of a percent are truly free, and... they
are all citizens of Israel.”
Arab Israelis enjoy complete freedom of speech, freedom of assembly
and the right to educate their children in their tradition. They
receive identical social welfare benefits as other Israelis. One need
only visit an Israeli hospital, especially in Jerusalem, to witness
how they benefit from Israel’s remarkable health system.
Not surprisingly, none of them display a desire to leave Israel and
join their kinsmen in Arab countries.
Indeed, opinion polls demonstrate that should a division of Jerusalem
eventuate, many Arabs in the city would unhesitatingly change their
place of residence to ensure that they remain under Israeli
According to a 2011 poll by the Israel Democracy Institute, 52.8% of
Arab citizens responded positively to the question as to whether they
were proud to be Israelis. Amazingly, 45% even agreed that it
is “important or very important” to strengthen Israel’s military
might. While one can also identify contradictory and hostile
indicators, this does suggest that the jury is still out and that the
anti-Israeli Arab politicians are not necessarily representative of
all Israeli Arabs, with many still opting to be loyal, law-abiding
Sadly, the government has failed to chart an overall long-term
strategy on how to deal with its Arab minority.
Such a plan is now long overdue. It should be based on efforts to
improve the socio-economic status of Israeli Arabs and bring them
into line with the rest of the population. Arabs who seek to
contribute positively to the state should be encouraged and rewarded.
Provisions should be made for Arabs to engage in a form of national
However, there is also a need to strengthen the laws against treason
and incitement, thus enabling the enforcement agencies to deal much
more severely with those who indulge in such activities or support
those seeking to destroy us.
Concurrently, with negative perceptions of Israeli Arabs beginning to
enrage even the most tolerant sections of the nation, an intensive
campaign to educate against prejudice is also required. Who knows –
were this to succeed and if in future more progressive Arab regional
leaders emerged, Israeli Arabs could make a major contribution toward
achieving peace. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 03/21/12)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY