Opinion

Integration, Not Alienation of Israeli Arabs Is Vital to State Security

Integrating Israel's Arabs, 20% of the population, is the most important challenge facing the government

Israeli Arabs protest Trump's Jerusalem move outside the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, December 12, 2017.
Moti Milrod

The few hundred hooligans from the Wadi Ara area waving Palestinian flags, throwing rocks at passing cars on Route 65 and obstructing traffic last week to protest U.S. President Donald Trump’s acknowledgement that Jerusalem was indeed Israel’s capital do not represent a serious threat to Israel’s security. It did not take the police long to put an end to the disturbance they created. But Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s response, calling for Israelis to boycott stores in Wadi Ara communities, does represent a potentially serious threat to Israel’s security.

One might have assumed that since becoming defense minister a year ago, Lieberman immersed himself in studying Israel’s security challenges. His blustering rhetoric of past years ceased. He was seemingly intent on projecting a new image. And then came his latest outburst.

He must be busy worrying about the threat from Iran, its proxies and Islamic militias now not far from Israel’s borders. And of course, he must be thinking about the rockets being fired again from the Gaza Strip at towns and villages in southern Israel. It was not the old Lieberman who announced, after the latest rocket barrage, “we know what needs to be done and when to do it.” Let everyone puzzle about that. But after the Wadi Ara disturbances it was the old Lieberman again.

During the year he spent in the Defense Ministry, studying Israel’s security challenges from close up, with a heavy responsibility resting on his shoulders, he could have been expected to realize that the relationship between Israel and its Arab citizens, for better or for worse, will have a great impact on Israel’s security in the years to come. Evidently he is not yet there.

Around 20 percent of Israeli citizens are Arab. Integrating them into the wider society and economy is the most important challenge facing the government. Making sure that in the years to come the majority of Israel’s Arab citizens will not be alienated from the state and hostile to it is a major security challenge. If that goal is achieved, Israel’s security will benefit greatly. If most Israeli Arabs are loyal citizens of the state they will be a great asset to Israel’s security. Israel’s defense minister should be aware of this and should put the task of meeting this challenge at the top of his agenda. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case with the current defense minister.

The rioters in Wadi Ara and their supporters are a minority of Israel’s Arab citizens. They have no interest in integrating in Israel’s society and support Israel’s enemies, whether Iran or the Islamic State organization. At this point they do not have the support of the majority of Israel’s Arab citizens. In the ideological and political struggle among Israel’s Arab citizens, those who identify with Israel and are proud of being Israeli citizens have the upper hand at this time. It is obviously in Israel’s interest to keep it that way.

By claiming that all Israeli Arab citizens living in the Wadi Ara area support the minority that rioted there and therefore should be boycotted, Lieberman is strengthening the hand of the rioters and their supporters. Should they, in the years to come, gain the upper hand among Israel’s Arab citizens, Israel will face a security challenge of major proportions. It does not have to be that way.

Recent budgetary decisions taken by the current Israeli government to improve the lot of Israel’s Arab citizens are an important step in the right direction. The benefit of these steps will be felt not only in the economic and social area but can also have important security ramifications. Ayman Odeh, the chairman of the mainly Arab Join List played a key role in the government decision to allocate large sums to the Arab sector. Calling him a war criminal is an outrage. It’s time that Lieberman gets his priorities straight.