It Smells Like Discrimination

During this fragile period, it appears that more and more Arabs are doubting the partnership in national politics and their ability to influence their situation by parliamentary means.

Muhammad Amara
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Muhammad Amara

The widening gap between Israel's Jewish majority and the Arab minority is worrying and poses many questions as to the country's Arab-Jewish coexistence. Nearly every day statements are heard from senior figures concerning the legitimacy of Arab citizens, and unbridled attacks have become routine: MK Israel Hasson of Yisrael Beiteinu is talking about a second War of Independence against the Arab citizens in Israel, MK Otniel Schneller of Kadima is talking about establishing task forces to examine the possibility of population exchanges and the head of the Shin Bet security service is talking about the Arabs as a strategic threat.

Public opinion polls show that more than half of the Jewish respondents support government encouragement of Arab emigration, and a high percentage of those surveyed think Arab citizens do not deserve full equality. To put it simply, a significant segment of the Jews does not believe in real partnership with the country's Arab citizens.

The "lynch" atmosphere of recent weeks and the unprecedented verbal attacks on the Arab leadership in particular and the Arab public in general is intolerable. Many Arabs see the investigation of former Balad MK Azmi Bishara as political persecution whose aim is to deal with Arabs who constitute a strategic threat - as defined by the head of the Shin Bet. The latter has declared that the Shin Bet "will take care of" any attempt to change the Jewish nature of the state, even if this is done by Arabs using democratic means.

During this fragile period, it appears that more and more Arabs are doubting the partnership in national politics and their ability to influence their situation by parliamentary means. They wonder how they have benefited from the political game thus far, which has not significantly improved their situation (the proportion of Arabs who voted in the last elections was 53 percent, as compared to more than 90 percent in the 1950s).

Arabs across the political spectrum are declaring that they are not enemies of the state, while the opposite picture is being painted among the Jewish public. It should be remembered that Moshe Dayan once called the Arabs "the quietest minority in the world." The Arabs are struggling for a comprehensive change in the game in democratic ways and not through violence. They want equal and meaningful citizenship, and they also want the state to serve them and to belong to them as well as to the Jews.

The relations between the state and the Arabs do not revolve only around ideology and symbols. The discrimination against Arabs cries out to the heavens in every area. Half of the Arab population is under the poverty line, and the government's policy toward them has made a significant contribution to worsening their depressed state. For 60 years, there has been talk of equality but, in fact, all the talk has been just empty slogans. The preferential treatment of Jews over Arabs can be seen and smelled everywhere.

This harsh reality necessitates a long-term vision and government policy to allow Arabs to get closer to the establishment and to government power in order to build true relations between the sides. To my regret, this has not happened, and the Arabs remain in the status of present absentees. They are edged out of consciousness and of active participation in the public domain, and they have hardly any influence on what happens in the country, both in the political and socioeconomic realms.

As a member of the team that participated in the writing of "The Future Vision," and like most of the Arab population, I say: We recognize a state that recognizes its Arab citizens, we want real partnership with the Jews in the country, fundamental equality and true citizenship; we wish for an honorable life, and we want relations based on solid values, and not on the kindness of anyone's heart.

It is the obligation of intellectuals, academics and politicians, from both sides, to start a real and painful and continuing dialogue. To this day there has never been such a dialogue. At most there have been diktats from the majority side. To put it simply, the Arabs have been told that if they don't like it here, they have 21 countries. And recently the Arabs are being told that they have a Palestine that has not yet arisen and that may well never arise.

The author is a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and Beit Berl College.

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