It seems as if there was not a single spokesperson, interviewee or representative, Jewish or Arab, who took the microphone following the arrest of 15 Islamic Movement activists this week who did not use the phrase "Israeli democracy." Not any democracy, but Israeli democracy. And rightly so - because Israeli democracy has a peculiar double twist when it comes to Israel's Arabs.
This is evident first and foremost in the term Jews use to define this community. They are not "the Arabs of Israel," because this would connote Israeli mastery; they are not "Israeli Palestinians," because this would indicate a national identity that could, heaven forbid, conflict with their loyalty to the state; nor are they just plain "Arabs," because "Arab" also presumably constitutes some form of identity. Sometimes they are referred to as a "minority" - a fairly neutral term, lacking any national connotations and difficult to diagnose. These are not mere semantic definitions; they mark the boundaries of "Israeli democracy" - which explains the commotion over the arrest of the Islamic Movement activists.
What did these activists do that necessitated their arrest at this particular moment and in this particular fashion? Did they really just distribute food packages and money to widows and orphans, or did they in fact send contributions to terrorist organizations in the territories? Their innocence or guilt will be determined by an authorized court, as it would be in any ordinary democracy.
The problem is that Israel's Arabs - all of them - have come to be viewed as "suspicious objects" with respect to their relationship with the state. Try to ask someone who is not an expert what the difference is between the northern and southern branches of the Islamic Movement, or how Ra'ad Salah's beliefs differ from those of Sheikh Abdallah Nimr Darwish. There is no difference, the layman will answer: They are all Arabs; they all hate the state.
Yet it is precisely these differences that determine the nature of relations between Jews and Arabs in this country - because it is the Jews' inability to draw the line and say that it is specifically the movement's northern branch that opposes Israel's existence as a sovereign state, aspires to establish an Islamic theocracy, incites against the state and "understands" suicide terrorists that causes those Jews to regard all Arabs with the same deep suspicion.
Similarly, not every Israeli Arab who is arrested is a political martyr, even if his name is Ra'ad Salah, and not every assault on an Islamic organization is an assault on Islam. The response of Israel's Arabs to action against an extremist Islamic organization ought, it would seem, to be no different from the response of Arabs in Egypt or Jordan to action against similar organizations in their countries. In Egypt, the arrest of members of the Muslim Brotherhood is not viewed as persecution of Islam, but as an assault on a political ideology that the state views as dangerous.
In Israel, however, Arabs cannot adopt the Egyptian or Jordanian view of Islamic movements - because here, they are compelled to cope with a society and a regime that do not know how to distinguish between Islam and Arab identity, between citizenship and religion, between Judaism and Israeli identity. A society in which Israeli identity and Arab identity are an internal contradiction - and Israeli identity and Islam all the more so.
In Israel, an assault on an Islamic organization - any Islamic organization, even if its goal is not democracy and it acts to undermine the state's sovereignty (which has not yet been proven of the Islamic Movement) - is necessarily interpreted as an act directed against all Arabs and against the Islamic religion as a whole.
The Islamic Movement in Israel is not an ephemeral movement. It has many supporters and adherents, and it has contributed greatly to the social and educational advancement of the Arab sector in those places where the government of Israel has become an "absent presence." The problem is that the Islamic Movement has, in the eyes of many Arabs, become a kind of resistance movement, and it has even cultivated this image. This is a border that no organization can be allowed to cross - and if it does, it should not be surprised if it then takes it on the chin.
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