Two Blows Against Arab-Jewish Reconciliation in Israel

How can you integrate Israeli Arabs into a society if half of its members would like to see you expelled from the country?

Joint List
Rami Shlush

It was a bad week for relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel. These relations are, in any case, a tender plant which needs nurturing for it to grow to maturity. Last week may have set it back substantially.

One blow was the announcement that two political parties represented in the Knesset as part of the Joint (Arab) List, Balad and Hadash – the Nasserists and the communists – condemned the decision by Saudi Arabia and the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. They well know that Hezbollah is a sworn enemy of the State of Israel and has engaged in numerous terrorist acts against Israel, including the launching of rockets from Lebanon against Israeli civilian targets, and has by now amassed an armory of over 100,000 rockets and missiles all aimed against Israel. At the moment it represents the most immediate security threat to Israel and its citizens, Jews and Arabs alike. Hezbollah was also responsible for blowing up the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires and the Jewish community center there.

If Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization, then who is? A declaration by Israeli Arab political parties denying that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization is not only a blatant negation of the truth but is also an expression of support for an organization dedicated to Israels destruction.

It is not difficult to imagine the effect of this announcement on Israels Jewish citizens. Some, no doubt, will be inclined to conclude that most of Israels Arab citizens support it and interpret it as an indication that they back a terrorist organization seeking the destruction of Israel. That is hardly consistent with integration of Israels Arab citizens into Israeli society. As a matter of fact, all of the component elements of the Joint List seem to have little interest in such integration, but quite the contrary, seem to be pursuing a policy of promoting hostility between Jews and Arabs by acts of a provocative nature which can only arouse the ire of Israels Jewish citizens.

It will take time to recover from this blow to the process of reconciliation between Jews and Arabs in Israel, which has been making progress in recent years. One can only hope that the Channel 2 television station poll published this weekend conducted among Israels Arab citizens indicating that 56 percent of them do not consider that the Joint List represents their interests is a better measure of their attitude to the State of Israel.

The second blow to the relations between Israels Jewish and Arab citizens came from an unexpected source – the Pew Research Centers recent poll of Israels citizens. According to this poll, published last week, 48 percent of Israels Jewish citizens said that they agreed with the statement that Arabs should be expelled from Israel. As was to be expected, this captured the headlines of Israels newspapers and occupied the talk shows on TV and radio. The poorly formulated question addressed an issue that is not currently debated in Israel, with no political party advocating the expulsion of Israels Arab citizens. It is difficult to fathom just what was in peoples minds when this question was thrown at them.

Some years ago there was a party represented in the Knesset which called for the departure of Israels Arab citizens – Moledet. It advocated voluntary population transfer of Israels Arab population. Led by Rehavam Zeevi, it garnered two seats in the Knesset election of 1996, the last time in contested elections to the Knesset. That may be a fair indication of the support for its program among Israels Jewish citizens, a far cry from 48 percent calling for the expulsion of Israels Arab citizens. But the damage caused by the publication of the Pew poll was done.

It is not difficult to imagine the reaction of Israels Arab citizens when reading the Pew poll results. How can you integrate into a society if half of its members would like to see you expelled from the country? It will take a lot of time and much explaining to overcome the reaction to this misleading poll.