Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beitenu) never tires of his old slogan: “No loyalty, no citizenship.” It crops up repeatedly in a variety of versions, and recently in an interview he gave to the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds, where he proposed, not for the first time, transferring the city of Umm al-Fahm to the Palestinian Authority. Lieberman considers this slogan his Judgment Day weapon against the Arab population, which is the last obstacle preventing total right-wing domination of the country.
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He knows that his benighted words won’t arouse any real protest among Jewish citizens. After all, the insensitivity is so great that nobody protests any longer against the prodigious quantities of racist poison being poured here like water. Lieberman also knows that the Arab citizens cannot answer him freely on this sensitive issue. He has discovered their Achilles’ heel.
Arab citizens of Israel, even if they have it good here and even if they refuse to replace their status in Israel with any Arab regime, even that of the PA, cannot say so outright. Not as long as Israel, their country, is the country occupying their people and preventing a just solution to the problem of their brothers the refugees. Moreover, the country tells them every day in countless ways, from the distribution of resources to denying them representation in state symbols, that they are not wanted here.
And now try to explain to an ordinary Jewish citizen why the Arabs don’t feel at home here. Retell the entire story, from 1918 up to the bulldozers that are once again engaged, for the umpteenth time, in demolishing the Bedouin village of Al-Arakib. The Jewish citizen wants the Arabs to dance a debka on Israel Independence Day, which happens to fall on their Nakba (Catastrophe) Day.
The absurdity is that in everyday life, and according to all the parameters, the Arabs are model citizens. At every juncture they have known how to find a balance between their citizenship and their national affiliation. But they cannot be overly fond of the country because of what was said above. And that’s what Lieberman feeds on, and in that way the Arabs continue to spar with the racists with one hand tied behind their backs.
So why not reverse the equation, and instead of peace and equality bringing full citizenship, have citizenship serve as the jump-off point for equality and peace? The time has come to commandeer the issue of citizenship from the racists. After all, the last thing Lieberman wants is for the Arabs to feel at home here. Because the more the Arabs behave like landlords in the country, the more the right will be sidelined.
The time has come to bring about a change in awareness among the Arab citizens and to foster a situation where the Achilles’ heel that Lieberman discovered among them will become the Achillles’ heel of the racist right. The time has come for the Arabs to use their citizenship productively. To replace the alienation that fuels the right’s wheels of incitement with active citizenship, which will cause the good people among both nations to start moving.
The time has come for the Arab leaders of public opinion to say outright: In spite of everything, we have it good here. It’s true that there’s a mountain of problems, but we want to be citizens of the state. Here we can fight to improve our living conditions, to protest, mobilize Jewish public opinion and conduct a battle against the extreme right. After all, the program that unites most of the Arab movements is based on the principle that Arabs are citizens of the state in which they will realize their national and civil rights. And in that case, it’s important to convey that the Arabs care about the state, because they care about themselves and their future.
In 1950 the leadership of the Arab population, the Communists and their allies, were able to mobilize the citizenry for the fight for survival. After about 70 years, the time has come to mobilize the citizenry to create a state that benefits all its citizens. That’s how to defeat Lieberman and his ilk.