Don't Let War Tear Israel's Jews, Arabs Further Apart

The recent outbreak of violence and racism against Arabs exposes the regrettable fact that the platform underlying shared life in Israel is not solid enough yet.

Israelis and Arabs rally for co-existence. Sign reads: Neighbors of peace. July 7, 2014.Gil Eliahu

One of the harsh consequences of Operation Protective Edge is the damage this war is causing to relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

Now more than at any other time, we are witnessing concrete attempts to hurt Arab citizens and give them a feeling they don’t belong here. A ranting, racist discourse, whose seeds are sown in the social networks and whose poisonous fruit stain the entire public space, turns every Arab into a suspect and every show of support for positions outside the Jewish-nationalist consensus – into betrayal.

The incitement and mud-slinging campaigns, culminating in Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s call to boycott business places that closed down in protest of the operation in Gaza, do not end with words. Extremist rightists want to physically hurt those who protest against the fighting, while Arab workers in the public sector are suspended because of Facebook statuses. The sympathy expressed by Israeli Arabs for their brethren in Gaza is seen by many Jews in Israel as assisting the enemy in war time.

In October 2000, 13 Israeli Arabs were killed in a wave of riots that erupted close to the beginning of the second intifada. These events exacted a heavy price from Israeli society. Arab citizens’ confidence in state institutions was seriously undermined, while many Jewish citizens treated them as traitors. But the 14 years that have passed since then have been marked by the establishment’s attempt to improve the situation of Arabs in Israel. Among other things it set an ambitious goal for integrating Arabs in the public sector (12 percent), funneled a lot of money to local Arab authorities, opened new schools, added study hours and improved the public transportation system. The gaps remained large, but the movement was in the right direction.

Precisely because of this welcome trend, it is troubling to see the current outbreak of violence and racism against Arabs. It exposes the regrettable fact that the platform underlying shared life in Israel is not solid enough yet. This outbreak can also weaken Arab citizens’ sense of security regarding their place in society.

When the fighting ends Jews and Arabs will have to live together again. We mustn’t let the dark forces deepen the rift and tear apart his important partnership, which is the basis of life in Israel.