The changing state of Israel’s Arab population – opinion

Two weeks ago, Channel 12 TV aired a series of five reports, titled “Being an Arab in Israel,” produced by its reporter on Palestinian affairs, Ohad Hemo, on its daily news broadcasts from Sunday to Thursday.

What Hemo did in his documentary was to feature five Israeli Arab families with different backgrounds and approaches to their lives in Israel, setting aside extreme Islamists, troublemakers, and lawbreakers, and focusing on the people with whom he is least. the average Israeli is likely to have contact. in their daily life, despite the fact that they constitute the relatively silent majority within the Arab population.

What he wanted to hear from his Arab interviewees, whom he also accompanied on their daily rounds, was how they see their connection to the State of Israel and how they deal in their daily lives with the dilemmas this connection poses, both in context. the attitude of the Israeli authorities and the Jewish population towards them, and in the context that they are Palestinians.

Unlike most Israeli interviewers, Hemo did not approach his Arab interviewees as if they were guilty of some irregularity or hidden agendas, or from a critical point of view, but simply as someone who wanted to hear his point of view on the living reality. en, which is not simple by any means.

Beside his documentary footage, Hemo stood before a group of Israeli Jews, whom he confronted with basic facts about the daily lives of Arab citizens of Israel. It is not clear how the members of the group were chosen, but from their recorded reactions to the events that Hemo presented, most of them appeared to be quite ignorant about what should be common knowledge about the lives of 20% of their fellow citizens. . For example, the large differences in average income between Jews and Arabs, or the fact that in the Jewish town of Safed there are 26 bus lines and that in an Arab town of similar size there are only two. It is also unclear whether any effort was made to include representatives of the range of views of Israeli Jews on Arabs and their rightful place in Israeli society in the group.

A protester holds up a placard that reads “Your pain is the responsibility of all of us” as Israeli Jews and Arabs protest in Tel Aviv against police inaction, increased crime and violence in Arab communities on March 13, 2021 (credit: FLASH90)

For example, a woman in the group stated that it bothers her that the Knesset seats are occupied by Arab deputies (there are two Arab deputy spokespersons in the 24th Knesset). This woman might believe that the fact that there are Arabs in Israel is a historical mistake, as the Chairman of the Religious Zionist Party, Bezalel Smotrich, recently stated, who explained that the “mistake” was the result of the “fact” that in 1948 / 49, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion did not have enough time to expel all the Arabs. Alternatively, you might believe that Arabs have the right to stay in Israel, but that Israel’s democracy applies only to its Jewish residents. There are also Israeli Jews, who maintain that only “loyal” Arabs, who accept that Israel is the exclusive national home of the Jewish people, can be citizens. Others believe that since Israel is a democracy, its Arab citizens, like everyone else, can have the opinions and beliefs they choose, as long as they do not endanger the security of the State of Israel and the lives of the Jews.

In other words, there are Israeli Jews who believe that all Israeli Arabs pose a threat to the State of Israel and that, at best, they should be tolerated. For these, what Hemo portrays in his series does not interest them. There are those who believe that the majority of Arabs do not pose an existential threat to Israel, and what Hemo portrays is vitally important, because it is in Israel’s interest to ensure that this majority does not diminish, and this can only be achieved. if the majority of Israeli Jews understand that there is a correlation between the rights and living conditions enjoyed by Arab citizens of Israel and the chances that they will not turn against the state.

This complicated reality is undoubtedly reflected in the new political constellation created by Israel’s 36th government and in the way the Jewish opposition speaks and relates to Arab MPs. The new reality is that for the first time in the history of the State of Israel an Arab party is a member of the coalition, although not of the government (Mansour Abbas, head of Ra’am, was not interested in joining the government for the same reason that for many years the haredi parties preferred not to unite, so as not to share responsibility for all government actions).

Once before, we were close to this situation when a minority government made up of the Labor Party and Meretz (after Shas left Rabin’s second government in September 1993) relied on the five MPs from the two Arab parties represented in the Knesset at the time: Hadash and the Arab Democratic Party, for their votes on many issues, without joining the government or the coalition. This external support to the coalition was paid for by improvements in the situation of Arabs in Israel in numerous fields, including, for example, the number of Arab officials.

The active participation of Abbas’s Ra’am Islamist Party in the coalition is certainly a game changer, because for the first time an Arab party is an influential player in the coalition, and a sum of NIS 30 billion for the development of the Arab sector. in Israel, and solving its most burning problems in the next five years, is an integral part of the budget that is expected to be approved by the Knesset imminently.

Most (if not all) members of the Likud, haredi parties and the Religious Zionist Party claim this is illegitimate, although it is unclear if what bothers them is the fact that without Ra’am the “Government of Change “It would never have been formed, the fact that the status of Israeli Arabs is being improved, or both. Of course, the Joint List, which is also opposed, welcomes the change, although it resents the fact that it is Ra’am, the one moving and waving on the Arab side.

MK Mansour Abbas (Ra'am), October 4, 2021 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM / THE JERUSALEM POST)MK Mansour Abbas (Ra’am), October 4, 2021 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM / THE JERUSALEM POST)

The unrest in the Jewish opposition manifests itself mainly in personal attacks against Abbas. He mocks him as the acting prime minister of this government, although he is not a member of the government, and having received NIS 30 billion (spread over five years) as a personal bribe, even though the sum is earmarked for the state. budget to address specific areas and problems in the Arab sector (including unbearable internal violence), and Abbas cannot use it as petty cash.

The habit of the Jewish opposition to refer to Arab deputies in general as a fifth column, who are more concerned with Palestinian political ambitions and supporting Palestinian terror than with the daily problems of the Arab population within Israel, is a manifestation more than the fact that a large part of the Jewish population of Israel finds it difficult to accept the new reality of an Arab party as a member of the coalition, and the consequences of this new reality.

Whether the new reality will continue to unfold, or whether the return of a right-wing religious government will reverse the trend, only the future will tell.

The writer was a researcher at the Knesset Research and Information Center until her retirement and recently published a book in Hebrew. ‘The Knesset member’s job: an indefinite job’ It will soon be published in English by Routledge.

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