In the shadow of the excitement surrounding John Kerry’s valiant efforts to jump-start negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, the tug of war for the hearts and minds of Israel’s minority population reached new peaks in recent weeks, but went almost unnoticed.
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Leading the effort to alienate the State of Israel’s non-Jewish population and prevent its integration into Israeli society were Arab Knesset members, representing a coalition of members of the Islamic Movement, Communists and pan-Arabist followers of Azmi Bishara, a former MK and fugitive from Israel. Despite their diverse and contradictory ideologies, these groups share a common denominator: to prevent Israel’s Arab citizens from integrating into Israeli society. They try to incite every Arabic-speaking citizen of Israel – Muslim, Christian, Druze, and the Bedouin in the Negev – against the state.
Their flag is not the flag of Israel, but the flag of the Palestine Liberation Organization. This is the flag they wave when attempting to lead Israeli citizens in protest. This is the flag they hoist try to rally all Arabic-speaking Israeli citizens.
It is a tug of war, a battle for the hearts and minds of Israel’s Arabic-speaking citizens. Pulling to one side are Arab politicians to whom the very existence of the Jewish state is anathema; they are aided by Jewish politicians who try to make political capital with expressions of hostility toward Israel’s Arab citizens. Who is pulling the other way? The government of Israel, in a very half-hearted manner, and many of Israel’s Arab citizens, possibly even a silent majority. At this point it is an unequal contest whose outcome will have a significant influence on Israel’s future.
The battle for the hearts and minds of Israel’s Druze citizens has been a win for Israel. The anti-Israel propaganda directed at this community by Arab politicians has fallen on deaf ears. The service of Druze youngsters in the Israel Defense Forces has done it – thanks to David Ben-Gurion, who many years ago decided that Druze youths would be subject to compulsory military service. As we have learned throughout the years, the IDF is the best social integrator.
The Bedouin community in the Galilee may yet come down on the side of its Druze neighbors. Although Bedouin youths are not subject to compulsory military service, they volunteer each year in substantial numbers for army service. Making this service compulsory would go a long way toward advancing their integration into Israeli society.
Throughout the years, there has been a small stream of Christian youngsters who also volunteer for service in the IDF. But such service, unheralded until now, has become a cause celebre during the past few weeks, by virtue of the support that Greek Orthodox priest Gabriel Nadaf from Nazareth voiced for it. He immediately became the target of virulent denunciations from pan-Arab members of the Knesset. Christian MK Basal Ghattas went into the trenches, threatening that Nadaf would be persecuted and defrocked.
Ghattas’ colleague Haneen Zoabi joined him, writing to Nadaf: “You are separating the Christian youngster from his people and are turning him into an enemy of his people, a helper to his real enemies. Christian Arabs have an identity…they have no place outside their people. They are part of the fabric of our Arab Palestinian people.” The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem has threatened to sack Nadaf over his remarks.
The battle lines could not have been drawn more clearly. Do Israel’s Arab citizens, and Christian Arabs in particular, see Israel as an enemy? Where does the Israeli government stand on this vital issue?
Now come the Negev Bedouin, who constitute a quarter of Israel’s Muslim citizens. To those waging battle against the integration of Israel’s Arab citizens in Israeli society, they are a prime target. This still largely nomadic population faces a traumatic, and yet inevitable, process of urbanization. Long neglected by successive Israeli governments, their problem is finally receiving the government’s attention. Not surprisingly Arab politicians, waving PLO flags are staging mass demonstrations, not in the Negev, but in the north. The lines are drawn.