Beware of anti-Arabism

There is a great deal that Jewish Israelis can and must do to marginalize, and if possible to suppress, the foul anti-Arab voices that have been heard in Israel these past two months.

Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens
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Members of right-wing organization Lehava protesting the wedding of a Jewish-born woman and a Muslim man in Rishon Letzion, August 17, 2014.
Members of far right organization Lehava protesting the wedding of a Jewish-born woman and a Muslim man in Rishon Letzion, IsraelCredit: Ofer Vaknin
Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens

The war between Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the Israel Defense Forces has given rise to an upsurge of ugly emotions that may have been lying dormant and that tend to surface in times of emotional stress, namely anti-Semitism in a number of European countries and anti-Arab emotions directed against Israel’s Arab citizens in Israel. They are similar to reactions that have tended to break out in times of war throughout the ages.

There may be nothing that Israel can do about the upsurge of anti-Semitism in countries in Europe that bear a heavy responsibility for directly or indirectly participating in the murder of the Jews of Europe, but there is a great deal that Jewish Israelis can and must do to marginalize, and if possible to suppress, the foul anti-Arab voices that have been heard in Israel these past two months. Not just for the sake of Israel’s Arab citizens, but for the sake of Israel itself and Israel’s future.

It started with the abduction in Gush Etzion by Hamas terrorists of the three students on their way home from school in June. The whole country prayed they would be found alive, and mourned when it turned out they had been murdered. Was it only Israeli Jews who mourned? Of course not, their worries and sadness were shared by most of Israel’s Arab citizens. But the very question, when directed at Israeli Arabs, do you share our grief, do you condemn the murderers, is an affront, hurtful to our fellow citizens. They do not need to justify themselves or to make excuses for that marginal group of Israeli Arabs who support Hamas and its criminal activities.

When three Israeli Jews murdered a young Arab boy in Jerusalem, it was not only Israel’s Arab citizens who were aghast at this horrendous act, so were the vast majority of Israel’s Jewish citizens. But they have no need to affirm their outrage at this murder; Israel’s Arab citizens are not about to question them on this matter.

Tempers rose when Hamas began firing rockets at Israel’s cities, the IDF entered the Gaza Strip, soldiers fell in battle and hundreds of innocent Palestinians in Gaza were killed in the ensuing encounters. Jewish thugs took to the streets, the cry “death to the Arabs” was heard. Now who do you support, some Israeli Jews questioned their Arab neighbors: Are you with us or against us?

It takes a very insensitive soul not to understand the difference in the feelings of Jewish and Arab citizens in these circumstances and to not empathize with Israel’s Arab citizens. After the abduction of the three Jewish teens, most Jewish Israelis said to themselves that it might have happened to their own children. And after the murder of the young Arab teen, Israeli Arabs said to themselves it could have happened to one of their sons. The solidarity that embraced Israelis, who are parents of soldiers in the IDF, could not possible be matched by the sadness that most Israeli Arabs felt over the casualties the IDF suffered during the fighting in Gaza. Jewish Israelis were distraught at the large numbers of civilian casualties among the Palestinian population in Gaza, but their feelings could not possibly be identical to the feelings of Arab Israeli citizens who might have relatives and friends in Gaza.

And yet, the many things that Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens share outnumber by far the differences between them. The integration of Israel’s Arab citizens into Israeli society and into the Israeli economy is of utmost importance to the future of Israel, to its Jewish and Arab citizens alike. To the wonderment of many it is a process that has been taking place and accelerating in recent years. The credit goes first and foremost to the many Arabs who have made their way, despite objective and subjective difficulties, to become productive citizens of Israel, and to the many Arab teens who volunteer in increasing numbers for national service and even for service in the IDF.

If recent traumatic events were to lead to a reversal of this trend it would be a tragedy not just for Israel’s Arab citizens, but most importantly for the State of Israel. We can only hope the prime minister understands this and will make his voice heard, showing empathy for Israel’s Arab citizens in these trying times and making it clear that Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens share not only a common country but also a common fate. By the same token, Israel’s Arab leaders must distance themselves from those voices that seem to imply that it is the duty of Israel’s Arabs to support Hamas, a terrorist organization, simply because its leadership is Arab. It will take a common effort to achieve a common goal.

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