During the election campaign, the competing political parties are expected to address the major issues facing the country and state how they believe these should be handled. Has anyone noticed that one of the main issues facing Israel has been missing from this campaign? Some might even say that it is the most important issue, which if not dealt with could create insurmountable problems and overshadow everything being so hotly debated.

It is Israel's Arab minority. There are more than a million Arab citizens of Israel - Palestinians, if one is to be politically correct. Many of them are far from integrated into the fabric of Israeli society, and some feel a sense of alienation from the state, a feeling that can easily develop into hostility. This is not just a problem for the Arab minority in our midst - it could become a festering sore concerning all of Israel's citizens, Jews and Arabs alike.

Why has this problem been ignored by those competing for our votes? Is this just a continuation of the neglect that has characterized the attitude of the major parties toward Israel's Arab citizens throughout the years, a vain attempt to sweep this problem under the carpet? Not that efforts are not made every election to gather votes from Arab citizens, with promises that are forgotten the day after the votes are counted. A succession of Israeli governments have shied away from facing this problem.

But there is more than a suspicion that this time, it is not just neglect or a sense of mistaken priorities. Ignoring Israel's Arab citizens, the Palestinians in our midst, seems to mesh too smoothly with all the talk of disengagement and separation from the Palestinians living beyond the 1967 lines. The parties calling for disengagement are obviously playing on and even fostering a distaste for the Palestinians. Do they really expect the average Israeli citizen to differentiate between the Palestinians living on different sides of the green line? Do they care how Israel's Arab citizens react to all this talk of separating from the Palestinians and fencing them out? They surely know that it is not music to their ears.

Recent opinion polls among Jewish citizens seem to indicate that many do not want to have anything to do with the Israeli Palestinians. According to a poll conducted by Kadima, placing an Israeli Arab on its list of candidates would significantly reduce the number of votes the party would receive. Is all this the result of the disengagement syndrome, or is disengagement based on the innate feelings of many Jewish citizens toward Palestinians? In any case, there must be a considerable connection between the two phenomena.

But there may be much worse to come. Avigdor Lieberman has been aiming at the lowest instincts of some Jewish citizens by advocating for an Arab-free Israel - by placing Arab towns and villages outside the national borders and stripping the residents of their citizenship. His program, although clearly somewhere in fantasy land, seems to have been an effective political ploy: His party's popularity has been increasing weekly in the polls. As if that were not crazy enough, other political nuts have tried to draw attention to their hairbrained schemes and fringe parties by provocatively entering Arab neighborhoods and villages, and urging the residents to leave Israel. Hatred of Arabs seems to have become a hot political commodity in this election. All this can only lead to disaster if it is not stopped in time.

Where are the Israeli leaders who will courageously speak out against this xenophobia, even at the risk of losing a few votes? Who will explain to the public that Israel is a western democracy and should not deviate from basic democratic principles? That equality for our Arab citizens and integrating them into the fabric of our society is such a principle? It looks like we will have to wait for the next election before they appear.