A Celebration for Jews Only

It is enough to look at their low voting percentage in order to understand how profound the crisis, and how idiotic the attempt to get the country?s Arabs to participate in Israel?s 60th anniversary celebrations.

As things look at the moment, the festivities marking the 60th anniversary of Israel's independence will be held for the country's Jewish citizens only. The Arab community leaders have informed Ruhama Avraham, the minister in charge of the celebrations, that they are planning to boycott the events planned for the Arab sector.

If the boycott is implemented, it will be a personal slap in the face for Avraham after all her enticements to the Arab leaders, but that's nothing compared to the public slap in the face for Israeli democracy - on the very day it had planned to celebrate the unity of all sectors.

The problem is that the state has only itself to blame. For 59 years it has discriminated against the Arab population (about half of which lives below the poverty line), treating it as a "strategic threat" and attacking its leaders. Now, as it enters its 60th year, it is trying to convince the Arab populace to join the Independence Day party.

It is even willing to exchange the stick for the carrot - the leaders of the Arab communities were promised that the "festive activities" would include large investments in their towns' infrastructure. What they were supposed to receive by right suddenly has turned into a holiday gift, on condition that they help the state display a facade of equality and democracy.

Aside from the financial bait, Avraham also offered a statesmanlike reason - the common denominator chosen for the 60th anniversary festivities is "Children of Israel," a general motif with which everyone can identify. The problem is that when Avraham says "Children of Israel," she means Jewish Israel.

Take, for example, one of the climactic events of the festivities - the installation of a "national corner" in every school, where the Israeli flag will be displayed and pupils will symbolically sign Israel's Declaration of Independence. The program's declared purpose is "to help all the young people - Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze and others - shape a vision for the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state."

The unavoidable question is: Why should Muslim, Christian and Druze youth join in shaping a vision for a Jewish state, one that considers them second-class citizens to boot? Why should they agree to sign the declaration that establishes the return of the Jewish people to its land when they are not a part of it?

Ruhama Avraham will come and say, because Israel is a democratic country. It is a fact that the Declaration of Independence declares "complete equality of social and political rights for all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex," and even calls on its Arab citizens to "participate in the building of the state on the basis of full and equal citizenship." What's the problem with signing that? Even Meir Wilner, a member of Maki, the Israel Communist Party (and later the secretary-general of Rakah and the chair of Hadash), signed.

The Arabs have two replies to that. The more separatist of them, from the Balad party, say that with all due respect to Wilner, the Declaration of Independence marks the establishment of a Jewish state on the ruins of the original inhabitants, the Palestinian Arabs. For them, this is a nakba (catastrophe).

Things would have been different had the state recognized its historical responsibility and their identity crisis, and had it integrated the alternative narrative into the school system, for instance. But there is no possibility of that, so why should Arabs participate in the independence celebration?

The more moderate Arabs, the majority that seeks to integrate into Israeli society, point to the two fictional terms "equality of rights" and "full and equal citizenship" and ask: Where are they? As far as they are concerned, Arab citizens would have had good reason to participate in the events had the state only bothered to implement these slogans. Until then, any participation will be coerced and artificial.

It is hard to argue against these claims considering the alienation and discrimination the Arabs face. Hostile declarations by senior politicians and security-oriented officials consistently undermine their legitimacy, ignore their views and make moderates doubt whether they are part of the state.

It is enough to look at their low voting percentage, 53 percent in the last election, in order to understand how profound the crisis, and how idiotic the attempt to get them to participate in the 60th anniversary celebrations. Instead we should change our modus operandi, and begin treating Arabs as equal citizens.

Perhaps then we will be able to celebrate the 70th anniversary together, inshallah.