Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu certainly has a multitude of considerations to contend with as he puts together his government to be sworn in at the Knesset tomorrow. One of them, presumably, is the heat he is likely to catch from senior members of his party if they don't receive enough important portfolios in the large government expected to be formed. Yet one consideration is probably not a top priority for Netanyahu - appointing an Arab minister.
One Likud member is a candidate for the distinction: MK Ayoob Kara, a Druze who has returned to the Knesset and is now campaigning to mark his comeback to public life. Even though Kara is not urging the appointment of an "Arab" but a "non-Jewish" minister, these are just semantics. "This is a tradition that Israel needs to preserve," he has been saying to whomever is willing to listen.
He is referring to the tradition of naming two non-Jewish officials, representatives of the Labor Party, to ministerial positions in recent years: Salah Tarif, who served as minister without portfolio in Ariel Sharon's government for a few months; and Science, Culture, and Sports Minister Raleb Majadele, who in the coming days will wrap up his two-year term in the Olmert government.
It's a bit tough to call this a tradition, but no doubt the appointment of an Arab minister has added a new foundation to Israeli politics. What's the harm in having a public discourse on the question of what the national anthem or flag symbolizes for an Arab cabinet member? What's the harm in seating an Arab minister at the table as the cabinet makes decisions on the war in Gaza, while the minister's relatives live on the side of the border being bombed? Despite fierce criticism from the artistic community and his eschewing of standard procedures, Majadele diluted the monolithic Jewish bloc in the government while enriching public discourse with his presence at weekly cabinet meetings.
Majadele should be credited with another good deed. In a glossy pamphlet published by his ministry recapitulating efforts made in the Arab community over the last two years, one remarkable statistic is well hidden: In two years, he implemented a government decision that had not been implemented for years - ensuring adequate representation of Arabs in the civil service. He raised the number of employed Arabs in his ministry from 4.7 percent in 2007 to almost 20 percent today. His ministry boasts the highest proportion of Arab workers. Even in his tiny kingdom, it appears that if there is a will, there is a way.
Ayoob Kara won't present these dilemmas to the Jewish public. Even if he is appointed to a post in the Netanyahu government, he must remain right-wing and "loyal," to the liking of Avigdor Lieberman. Kara, a hawk and reserves officer who declares his complete loyalty to the state and Likud, does not view himself as a Palestinian like most Arab citizens in Israel. Yet despite these differences, he promises that he will faithfully represent the entire Arab public.
Be it Kara or someone else, a Druze or someone else, the massive government to be sworn in this week needs to include an Arab minister. It's true he won't represent a significant political force, but Israel needs him at the cabinet table. Perhaps it will bring us closer to the day when the Jewish majority acknowledges that its immediate neighbors within the state's borders are tax-paying citizens worthy of equal rights - that they, too, deserve a piece of the pie. If they don't have it good, then we all won't have it good.
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