One-dimensional thinking will generally lead to getting your priorities wrong, and getting your priorities wrong is likely to lead to doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. The interior minister's blustering attempt to unify municipalities across the land is a case in point.
There are obvious advantages to redrawing some of the municipal boundaries. In these times of severe budget constraints, the resulting saving in the number of municipal employees should be welcome to the local payers of municipal taxes, as well as to the Finance Ministry, required to subsidize most municipalities. One would expect the municipal administration to become more efficient, resulting in improved services to local residents. Besides, many of the existing municipal boundaries, some created in the days before the State of Israel was established, have by now become anachronistic. So why not?
But there are other dimensions. First of all, bigger is not always better. But more important, a town's residents sometimes tend to identify and take pride in their town and may be emotionally averse to abandoning the municipal identity they have become used to. That should also be taken into consideration. So in some cases, when all is considered, this "efficiency measure" may not be justified. But, as is well known, the cancellation of most of the original municipal unification project, announced with much fanfare a year ago, came to naught not because of such considerations, but rather because of the pressure of political party lobbyists who insisted on protecting the jobs of deputy mayors and vice-mayors who were about to be sacked as part of the unification scheme. The best laid plans of mice and men ...
But one segment of Israel's population was not spared the unification's "efficiency ax" - the Druze population. Their lobbying leverage was at first not sufficient to reverse a move that most of them considered to be insulting and injurious to their best interests. Druze towns and villages in the Galilee had, after all, been existing for hundreds of years; traditions had been established, local identities and loyalties forged. Nothing had changed that would justify a sudden redrawing of their municipal boundaries. Only demonstrations by Druze citizens over many months, and the recent stillborn elections in some Druze municipalities, have at last brought about second thoughts on this matter among Knesset members.
That the feelings of Israel's Druze citizens were disregarded when the municipal unification scheme was launched is an indication of a lack of understanding and a complete absence of sensitivity by Israel's government ministers and bureaucrats for this segment of Israel's minority population. That the desires of the citizens of this minority community, who have succeeded in making substantial progress in the process of integration into Israeli society, were ignored is scandalous. They did not deserve this blow.
The integration of Israel's non-Jewish citizens into Israeli society continues to be one of the most important challenges facing Israel - a challenge that has been largely ignored and neglected by successive Israeli governments over the years.
The subject has never been given priority by Israeli governments. The Druze population is one of the few groups to have made significant progress in this direction. The partial success of the Druze population in integrating into Israel's society is the direct result of Ben-Gurion's decision, in the early years of Israeli statehood, to apply compulsory military service to this community, and the decisions taken in the Defense Ministry in later years establishing complete equality of opportunity for Druze soldiers and officers in the Israel Defense Forces. If any proof was needed, here it was: Serving in the IDF, side by side with Jewish youngsters, gives integration a tremendous boost - it makes for fellowship with Israel's Jewish youngsters, and it promotes patriotism. And not least important, it creates empathy and understanding among Israel's Jewish citizens for their Druze countrymen. That's what integration is all about.
Hopefully, the interior minister's faux pas will now be corrected, and the damage caused will be contained. And maybe, just maybe, the importance of taking steps toward integration of the entire Arab minority population into Israeli society will finally be appreciated, and it will be recognized that military service is an essential element in this all-important process.
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