If Azmi Bishara had never existed, the right would have had to invent him.
There is the irresistible juxtaposition of the nice suits and the revolutionary rhetoric, the erudite professor of philosophy seated alongside Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah at a memorial in Syria for Hafez Assad, the Christian from Nazareth praising Hezbollah as a heroic example of Islamic resistance, which has "lifted the spirit of the Arab people."
The right can't afford to lose Bishara. He is subversive beyond its wildest dreams. As the first Arab to run for prime minister of the Jewish state, Bishara possesses a brilliance, flamboyance, a refusal to compromise, that have allowed the right to milk the word "treason" for all it's worth.
Bishara always made too good a target. For people like Avigdor Lieberman, Bishara is an electoral secret weapon - fuel for the fire of any campaign that trades on fear of Arabs, hatred of Arabs, suspicion of Arabs, revulsion at the fact that they live here among us, well over a million of them. One of them for every four of us.
Bishara, however, is not our real problem. We are our problem. There is something deep down in many of us, which causes us to takes a quiet satisfaction in the notion that if push came to shove, the Arab citizens of Israel would prove themselves disloyal.
Too many of us want our Arabs to be traitors. Too many of us see Israeli Arabs, as a group, as hypocrites, parasites, their dual loyalty a thin disguise for support of terror in the service of Palestine. There is a quiet sense, among many of us, that Israeli Arabs are fleecing the state, even as they grouse about inequality and nurse plans to de-Judaize the national home of the Jewish People. It is, in many ways, a form of classical anti-Semitism, in which the Semites in question happen to be Israeli Arabs.
We complain that they live off the rest of us, that they flaunt our zoning laws and evade the taxes we pay, that they are happy to take our welfare while spurning the notion of defending the country. It makes us feel somehow more secure in our own identity as Jews in a Jewish state. It makes our dislike of them, our educational, economic and social discrimination against them, seem more of a reasoned response than what it actually is: institutional racism.
Consider an article currently making its viral rounds on the e-mail circuit among Israeli Jews. "They're so 'downtrodden' that tax collection in the Arab sector is a joke, and statistics on this are known to all those who care to know them," the article states. "Not only national levies like income and value-added taxes, but they can't really be bothered to pay their own municipal taxes, all the while expecting the government to cover the deficits they themselves created."
A fascinating condemnation, proving, perhaps more than anything, that Israeli Arabs have learned remarkably well to become as Israeli as the next guy.
The article goes on to paint a picture of the Israeli Arab as posing as a victim of crushing racism and poverty, while actually living a life of luxury far beyond the means of the average Israeli Jew. "They're so 'discriminated against,' that this entire [Arab] sector lives in single-family houses, that is to say, villas, which are, in fact, huge castles." Furthermore, according to the anonymous author: "Every one of them lives on a jabel [hillock] of his own, as though land were an unlimited resource in this land.
"Residents of [the Israeli Arab village of] Sakhnin complain of 'confiscation of lands.' But they forget that in Sakhnin, 20,000 residents live on 8,000 dunams [2,000 acres], while in Ramat Gan, for example, upwards of 150,000 people live on a total area of 12,000 dunams [3,000 acres], a quarter of which is taken up by parks."
The real relish, however, is reserved for the blend of treachery and hypocrisy, which the author finds endemic among Israeli Arabs: "They're so 'oppressed,' that that they can openly identify with the worst of our enemies, Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria, the Islamic Jihad and the rest of the scum, and no one even seriously considers demanding the least loyalty to their own state."
At the same time, the author notes, Israeli Arabs have no interest in moving to a future Palestinian state. In a reference to a Lieberman proposal, he concludes that, "they're not even prepared to remain in place and have the border fence be moved - leaving them in 'Palestine' without their having to leave their homes."
Finally, we can all begin to sleep well at night, knowing that we can make our Arabs fit any misconceptions we choose. We can convince ourselves, in the space of an inbox, that Israeli Arabs enjoy unparalleled freedoms and prosperity. We can even accuse them of treason and, at the same time, console ourselves with their lack of true political conviction.
They live here among us. We can look right at them, and not see them at all.
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