Can Arabs Be Fully Integrated Into Israeli Society?

Dan Schueftan feels that the Arabs of Israel will never come to terms with the Jewish nation-state, and that if anyone is to blame for their situation it is they themselves.

Tamar Hermann
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Tamar Hermann

Israel's Palestinian Citizens II

Palestinim Beyisrael

Father and child at a ceremony in Kafr Kana in October 2010 commemorating the Events of October 2000. Credit: Yaron Kaminsky

(Palestinians in Israel: The Arab Minority's Struggle against the Jewish State ), by Dan Schueftan Zmora-Bitan Publishers (Hebrew ), 844 pages, NIS 116

Reading this exceedingly thick and hard-to-digest book by Dan Schueftan is a difficult task in the middle of a hot, muggy Israeli summer. But for anyone willing to enter the real and profound debate on the past and future of the complex relationship between Israel's Arab minority and Jewish majority, it offers rich rewards. For them, this book affords an opportunity to probe the subject closely, as it issues a powerful intellectual-political challenge to anyone who believes in the possibility of equality and full integration of the country's Arab citizens into its national life. The author - Dr. Dan Schueftan, deputy director of the National Security Studies Center at Haifa University, and a veteran adviser to decision makers and to heads of the political security establishment in Israel - argues that given current circumstances, there is little current feasibility to the practical application of this option. Schueftan backs up this view with countless facts and statistics, while leaving out other facts that might go against his thesis.

Schueftan doesn't pull any punches vis-a-vis either party in the argument; considerations of political correctness are not his forte. His thesis is razor sharp: The crux of the disagreement and debate between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority is the objectives and the form of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, a premise that - in his view - the Arab public and its leaders fundamentally reject.

This rejection, says Schueftan, is accompanied by charges that at times obscure the essence of the Arabs' main reservations about the character of the state. These complaints include, for instance, Israeli-Arab criticism of Israel's policy toward the Palestinians in the territories, accusations of various forms of discrimination against them, or the charge that their prolonged economic distress is a consequence of an intentionally discriminatory policy of various Israeli governments toward them. Schueftan argues that this allegation is highly questionable, if not practically distorted. Schueftan believes that the economic and social troubles of Muslim-Arab (as well as ultra-Orthodox Jewish ) society stem from their lack of willingness to adopt a modern, productive lifestyle, as opposed, for example, to Christian Arabs (and non-Haredi Jews ).

Nevertheless, judging by the primary thrust of the book, these are secondary allegations, when compared to the aversion of the Arab sector in Israel and its leaders to Israel's very status as a Jewish nation-state. This sets into motion a major clash, as the Jewish majority would be prepared to fight tenaciously to preserve this status. "As far as this majority is concerned, not only does it not have any choice but to fight in order to prevent its own national destruction, but the mere attempt to instigate this destruction is seen as wholly illegitimate. The majority is certain that it is capable of thwarting any such attempt."

Hostility and malice

Schueftan ascribes most of the responsibility for the creation of this fundamental distinction to the hostility and malice with which the Arab political and intellectual leadership in Israel represents the reality. "The Arab members of Knesset, with only a handful of exceptions, express and comport themselves as if they do not see a need to establish a common denominator with the Jewish majority, within the framework of the basic premise on which the State of Israel was founded. They focus their political activity on an attempt to alter the most elemental aspects of this premise. ... Alongside their efforts (which everyone in the world legitimizes ) to take advantage of the democratic mechanisms in order to achieve civil equality at the individual and community levels ... they act in a callous and defiant manner to bring down the Jewish state, with the aim of founding in its place a bi-national state, which is itself only a transition stage on the way toward an Arab state."

So as to prove his argument, Schueftan delineates in the second section of his book (taking 355 pages to do so! ) the statements and activities of Arab members of Knesset, past and present: Hashem Mahameed, Abdulwahab Darawshe, Ahmad Tibi, Abdulmalik Dehamshe, Mohammed Barakeh, Taleb El-Sana, Jamal Zahalka and the one whom he believes was the most cunning and nefarious of them all, Azmi Bishara. He then feeds into the same unequivocal historiographical meat grinder the elites of Arab civil society - academics, actors, journalists, authors and poets.

Toward the end of this section, he holds up for critical examination the positions held by the Arab general public - albeit a "softer" examination, as compared to his review of the conduct of the elites. Here, too, he detects clear symptoms of support for, and even active involvement in, acts of terror against Jewish citizens of Israel, and moreover, an espousal of the commonly held consensus throughout the region that utterly rejects the legitimacy of the Jewish nation-state. Yet Schueftan simultaneously determines, on the basis of survey findings and other sources of information, that "there is within the Arab minority a significant element that recognizes the advantages of the State of Israel and its accomplishments and is even proud of them, and proud of its own Israeliness."

Preference for the radical option

Nonetheless, the unequivocal conclusion reached by Schueftan is that, at this time, there exists a substantive contrast between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority in Israel. What's more, as he sees it, the situation is not static, but dynamic, and the range of alternatives is becoming ever more limited: "The choice they are facing is between a process that leads to a dead end, a useless conflict with no conceivable end," should they opt for the attempt to alter the Jewish character of the State of Israel, "or a prolonged process of improvement, one likely to accrue into a profound change in the situation of the Arab citizens of Israel." And if, in the early 2000s, the two societies stood at a crossroads, by the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the lot, according to Schueftan, has already been cast: "In terms of the Palestinian national minority in Israel, it is doubtful if the path that heads toward a route of profound integration into Israeli society, in the framework of the Jewish nation-state, is still open."

It is clear that Schueftan assigns greater probability to the selection of the first choice, because "the history of this entire people is the story of continued national failure, rooted in a preference for the radical option."

Although the author periodically attempts to see things through the eyes of his subjects, he does not display any empathy for them, even if he does not relate to them condescendingly. Without embellishment, Schueftan presents Israel's Arabs with two alternatives, which in his opinion are the only viable options available to them. The first is to come to terms with their being a minority in a Jewish nation-state, participating in the common framework, while being able to protect their cultural and national identity, without actively identifying with the struggle against Israel; and the second, to fully realize their national identity in another nation-state of their own, and relinquish any claims over land ownership.

Not his intended audience

And yet, despite the severity of the charge sheet Schueftan prepares against Israeli Arab society and its leaders, one gets the feeling that they are not his primary intended audience. A careful reading of Schueftan's lengthy discourse suggests that the real targets of his barbed arrows are in fact those Jewish Israelis who are working for the full integration of the Arab citizens of Israel. In his opinion, these individuals and organizations have a blind spot when it comes to the real motives of the group they would assist. Mainly in the third section of the book, which focuses on economic and societal issues, he mercilessly strikes at these activists, stridently declaring essentially that they are proposing solutions that will only aggravate the problems they profess to solve: "It is difficult to guarantee the Arab population any real chance of extrication from its distress and contributing its part to this process, when there are those raising on their behalf clever proposals intended to sidestep the need for change, for effort, for improving skills and for investing in the future." In this respect, despite its academic bearing, this book is actually a polemic, which clashes, no holds barred, with the Israeli left, and particularly with human rights and civil rights organizations such as Sikkuy: the Association for the Advancement of Civil Rights in Israel, an NGO that Schueftan represents as an empty vessel.

In my opinion, this is the book's weak point. The author grants easy passes to the Israeli decision makers and political leadership, attributing to them minor, if any, responsibility for the current sad state of affairs. In contrast with the acute punctiliousness that he adopts toward the mistakes he finds in the conduct of Israeli Arabs and their leaders, Schueftan does not contend systematically or directly with the notion that very few people would argue with, that the Jewish-Israeli establishment and Jewish-Israeli society have for the longest time related to the Arab minority as a step-child, in the best case, and as a being as troublesome to Israel as a scab.

It would have been fitting, then, to reduce the scope of historic background, and even more so, to cut back on the overabundance of evidence of the negative trends reflected in the statements and actions of the Arab leadership and public, and instead to devote a whole chapter to the criticisms showered on the Arab public by some Jewish-Israeli leaders, and the ongoing negative influence of these criticisms - and actions inspired by them - on the Arabs' ability and willingness to integrate, and which influenced their choice to deal with the situation in the manner criticized by Schueftan.

Logic also dictates that the author should have plumbed the depths of the historic moment during Yitzhak Rabin's second term as prime minister (1992-95 ), during which he went to lengths to make Israeli Arabs feel wanted, and to the proven positive repercussions this initiative had - albeit fleetingly - on that population's attitude toward the country and toward Israeliness. In other words, Dan Schueftan discounts the influence of the "Pygmalion effect," familiar to every pedagogical neophyte, by which expectations of bad behavior will produce such behavior, while expectations of good behavior are likely to foster the same.

Nevertheless, the book is recommended reading, in particular for those who cling to the idea of profound and egalitarian integration of Israeli Arabs. All those among us who feel this way are called upon to do some soul-searching as we confront the facts that Schueftan presents. This does not mean that the idea of integration need be abandoned, but both intellectual honesty and political rationalism require us to relate to those stumbling blocks that the book delineates, and call for a grounded, coherent answer to the questions of why and how we can stay the course; even after we have knowledge of these things.

Prof. Tamar Hermann is a political science faculty member at the Open University of Israel and a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, who writes "The Peace Index," a monthly survey of Israeli public opinion, in conjunction with Prof. Ephraim Yaar.



Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

Already signed up? LOG IN


Charles Lindbergh addressing an America First Committee rally on October 3, 1941.

Ken Burns’ Brilliant ‘The U.S. and the Holocaust’ Has Only One Problem

The projected rise in sea level on a beach in Haifa over the next 30 years.

Facing Rapid Rise in Sea Levels, Israel Could Lose Large Parts of Its Coastline by 2050

Tal Dilian.

As Israel Reins in Its Cyberarms Industry, an Ex-intel Officer Is Building a New Empire

Queen Elizabeth II, King Charles III and a British synagogue.

How the Queen’s Death Changes British Jewry’s Most Distinctive Prayer

Newly appointed Israeli ambassador to Chile, Gil Artzyeli, poses for a group picture alongside Rabbi Yonatan Szewkis, Chilean deputy Helia Molina and Gerardo Gorodischer, during a religious ceremony in a synagogue in Vina del Mar, Chile last week.

Chile Community Leaders 'Horrified' by Treatment of Israeli Envoy

Queen Elizabeth attends a ceremony at Windsor Castle, in June 2021.

Over 120 Countries, but Never Israel: Queen Elizabeth II's Unofficial Boycott