Scandar Copti, co-director of the film "Ajami" that was nominated for an Oscar, declared in Los Angeles that he does not represent Israel. "I cannot represent a country that does not represent me," Copti said, sparking a predictable chorus of shallow responses from the right. Culture Minister Limor Livnat accused him of being an ingrate because his film received financing from the state. Other politicians demanded that from now on, government support be conditioned on a declaration of loyalty.
But the director's words deserve a more serious response: They ought to prompt deep soul-searching among all Israelis who care about the future of the state. Copti is not a devotee of the Islamic Movement, raised in some isolated village on the country's periphery, or an elderly Palestinian refugee for whom the "Nakba" is still a searing memory. He is 35 years old, born in Jaffa - not far from downtown Tel Aviv - and educated in Israel, where he has received opportunities that brought him to that red carpet in Los Angeles.
It would seem that no one is better suited to represent the state's declared desire to integrate its Arab citizens. If even he feels that Israel does not represent him, then the country has utterly failed to fulfill the promise of equality inscribed in its Declaration of Independence.
Integrating Israel's Arab citizens, who make up a fifth of its population, is not merely a moral imperative necessitated by the country's democratic values; it is also a social and economic necessity. The special reports being published by TheMarker this week and last expose the discrimination, barriers and closed-mindedness that Arabs encounter when they seek to benefit from the plethora of opportunities that Israel offers. High-tech industries are closed to them, as are most other top-quality jobs. There is no greater stupidity. Because of its prejudices, Israel is forfeiting the economic boost that its Arabs citizens could give it and is instead reaping poverty, crime and feelings of alienation.
Despite some worthy initiatives by Jewish and Arab entrepreneurs aimed at changing the situation, it is hard to imagine a turnabout in Jewish-Arab relations in this country while a right-wing government, with the racist Avigdor Lieberman at its heart, is in power. This is utterly unacceptable. Instead of dismissing Copti's warning in a rage, his words should cause every Jew in Israel to ask himself, "What can I do to draw my Arab neighbor closer?"
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