Investing in the Arab Community Is an Investment in Israel's Future

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Ayman Odeh (C) and Dov Khenin (L), take part in a protest in Tel Aviv, in 2015.

Next year we will celebrate the 10th anniversary of Benjamin Netanyahu’s immortal assertion that “excluding the Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox, our situation is excellent.” Those pearls were thrown into the streets in 2012.

Today, nine years later, we can note that “excluding the Arabs” means excluding 46 percent of new physicians and 48 percent of pharmacists (according to Health Ministry data), as well as a very significant portion of other health care workers. And now, let’s roll up our sleeves and fight the coronavirus. Today one could say, “Excluding the Arabs, the situation is a disaster.”

Health care is joined by another list of people who would be excluded – 9,000 computer professionals, lawyers, accountants and engineers. And let’s not forget the restaurant and factory workers, the heroic construction workers who risk their lives so that Jews and Arabs alike have somewhere to live, the soccer players, artists, writers and poets, and many others. Excluding this human capital, Israeli society would be unrecognizable.

So now, when an economic program for the Arab community is being discussed, it would be a good idea to go back to the basics. And the basics show that even before somebody proposed and somebody pushed and Superman decided, the Arab community’s impressive human potential was the foundation for both the earlier economic plan (in 2015) and the current one.

Experts concluded that if the Arab community’s potential were realized, this would affect the entire Israeli economy. This is a win-win situation (an expression whose overuse by Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh has driven us mad). And just between us, that’s the real reason to invest in the Arab community: The country, Arabs and Jews alike, will benefit from the development of the Arab community.

Let’s recall, because it might be beneficial, that in 2015 – and only after three sessions, as if this were an unconventional war – the cabinet graciously approved the 15 billion shekel ($4.75 billion) five-year plan, Resolution 922. The political leadership tried to thwart it. It was only approved thanks to the efforts of Finance Ministry officials, with the support of academics, businesspeople and Jewish and Arab civil-society organizations, together with the prudent behavior of the Joint List and the mayors of Arab communities.

I’d like to point out that this happened without an Arab party in the governing coalition and without the Joint List abandoning the nationalist aspects of its activity. Why? Because what’s good for the Arabs is good for the country. But the establishment, being the establishment, wanted a bonus for a move that it rejected initially, while also using it to divide the Arab community and return to the old days of “good Arabs” and “bad Arabs” – or, in its modern version, “supporters of terrorism.”

Some people try to argue that if the United Arab List weren’t in the government, the Arabs wouldn’t have gotten what they deserved. Please, calm down. The Arabs are getting this funding because of the new generation, which, in the space of a decade, has revolutionized the community’s status and had an impact on the entire Israeli economy.

Moreover, had the Arabs remained united, they could have achieved more without all this mess, because the unity of the oppressed is a fundamental condition for the success of any battle for equality.

The competition today over who has achieved more for the Arab community, the Joint List or the United Arab List, disgusts Arabs. And unfortunately, instead of journalists and commentators analyzing the performance of individual Arab lawmakers, they throw out the baby with the bath water by vilifying them all. As a result, Arab citizens want nothing to do with politics, just when we need for our best and brightest to go into politics. Because politics, in the sense of charting the nation’s course, should be a job for our finest sons and daughters. But if politics is stigmatized, who will want to go into it?

Under both economic plans, the previous and the current, one thing has remained the same – the incitement. And in both cases, the main source of this incitement was Benjamin Netanyahu. His mantra back then was “supporters of terrorism”; now he has added a new mantra: The Arabs are taking control of the money. A stench of 1930s Europe assails my nostrils.

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