Israel’s Arabs Can Still Identify With the Jews' Tragic Fate

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Israeli Arabs next to Israeli Jews in Jerusalem holding national flags to mark Israeli Indpendence Day and Palestinian Nakba Day respectively.
Israeli Arabs next to Israeli Jews in Jerusalem holding national flags to mark Israeli Indpendence Day and Palestinian Nakba Day respectively. Credit: Reuters

As a former MK, I can permit myself to extend a Knesset welcome to Ayman Odeh, who has just been elected and heads both the Hadash party and the Joint Arab List. I hope this does not sound patronizing, but I think he has made an auspicious start as a legislator.

I read with great interest his interview with Haaretz’s Ofra Edelman and was gratified to learn that he and the other Hadash MKs did not walk out of the Knesset session during the singing of the national anthem. Probably many people, like myself, were under the impression that every Joint List MK walked out demonstratively.

It is to his credit that he realized that walking out during the singing of the national anthem would be a blatant demonstration of disrespect for Israel, and that it is unbecoming of newly elected MKs to begin their Knesset careers in such a disgraceful manner. Our national anthem expresses the longing of the Jewish people for their ancient homeland, and it is understandable if some of Israel’s Arab citizens have difficulty identifying with the words.

They are in good company. Many people around the world, maybe even most, do not identify with every word of their national anthem but would not think of walking out while it is being sung. “God Save the Queen,” “La Marseillaise” and “Das Lied der Deutschen” are just a few examples.

All Jewish Israelis can appreciate that Israel’s Arab citizens would prefer to constitute the majority in the country. Yet there may even be some Israeli Arabs who prefer the present situation to that prevailing in the surrounding countries where Arabs are in the majority.

Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh in the Knesset during its swearing-in session, March 31, 2015.Credit: Emil Salman

Many, like Odeh, have made an effort to understand why, especially in light of the Holocaust, Israel’s destiny is to be a haven for Jews who need a haven. This is not racialism — it is the direct outcome of the Jewish people’s tragic fate since they were exiled from their ancient homeland.

It is not impossible for Israel’s Arab citizens to understand this, to sympathize with it, and even to empathize with it. Those Israeli Arabs who seek Israel’s destruction and back Israel’s enemies are obviously not in that category. Unfortunately, some Joint Arab List MKs sound as if they seek Israel’s destruction. Odeh has a tough job ahead of him.

We can understand when Odeh tries to be evasive when asked if he agrees with Joint Arab List spokesman Raja Za’atra, who said the Islamic State drew its inspiration from Zionism. Nevertheless, his answer that the Zionist movement carried out acts of terror in 1948 leaves much to be desired.

He knows only too well that 1948 was the year Israel was attacked by the combined Arab armies and the fate of the small Jewish community here hung in the balance. Israel’s War of Independence was a war of life and death. Had Israel been defeated the entire Jewish community would have shared the fate of the inhabitants of Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter and Gush Etzion.

When Odeh calls some of the legislation supported by the previous Netanyahu government racist, he like many others, including some of Israel’s Jewish citizens on the left, shows an appalling and possibly deliberate lack of understanding of the meaning of racism. Racism is a pseudoscientific theory claiming that some races or ethnic groups are biologically inferior. It was this theory that led to the gas chambers. You may not like this or that legislation passed in the last Knesset, but racist it was not.

Unlike some Arab Knesset members, Odeh believes in the integration of Israel’s Arab citizens into the fabric of Israeli society. It is a worthy aim that should receive top priority from the new government.

His suggestion that all Israeli children should study Arabic beginning in the first grade should be adopted. It can be a stepping-stone to Arabic becoming an official language in Israel, in word as well as in deed. Welcome Ayman Odeh.

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