In Israel, a Good Arab Is an Invisible Arab

The woman who will light a torch on Independence Day is just the type of Arab that Israel likes — an invisible one.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Lucy Aharish.
Lucy Aharish.Credit: Tali Shani
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

My hearty congratulations to television presenter Lucy Aharish, who was chosen to light one of the beacons on Independence Day. On the anniversary of her nation’s disaster she will stand on Mount Herzl, not far from the ruins of the Arab village of Deir Yassin, the separation barrier and the Aida refugee camp, and light the beacon to the glory of the State of Israel. Aharish recalled that she was moved by the invitation, even to the point of tears. Her mother said on hearing the news that it was “a slap to all the racists.” We can assume that many “non-racist” Israelis will also be moved at the sight of the Arab woman who grew up in Dimona and appears on Hebrew television without an accent, participating in the fundamental ceremonies of their Jewish, democratic state.

This is the way Israel rewards her exemplary behavior. The committee that chooses those who light the beacons wrote that Aharish “promotes social pluralism and positions that call for coexistence in our country.” In the eyes of the Zionist establishment, Aharish is a good Arab. It turns out that in our enlightened state, a good Arab is an invisible Arab, when it comes to his identity. Why was Aharish chosen? Because she – how shall we put it – does not look Arab, sound Arab or dress like an Arab. The “coexistence” of the establishment that chose her is actually “uni-existence,” everyone in its image.

The deal is obvious: If you act like Jews, talk like them and think like them, you will be considered good Arabs, and maybe even Israelis. Because that is how we want you to be – like us. Not like the Zoabis. In other words, you are better off assimilating.

But that is a double standard. The same Zionist establishment whose representatives put a beacon in Aharish’s hand and that sees Jewish assimilation into the Diaspora as a national disaster enthuses over the assimilation of Arabs. Would the committee have rewarded assimilated Jews in Europe? Would it say to a Jewish television host in America who distanced himself from every symbol of his people that he was contributing to “pluralism” or to “coexistence”?

One should not complain about Aharish. Nobody has the right to judge her until he reaches her place. She is not the story. At Haaretz’s recent Israel Democracy Conference, Aharish came out firmly against Balad MK Haneen Zoabi and spoke like the last of the nationalist Jews. At the session on freedom of expression, she demanded that Zoabi be disqualified from running for the Knesset because of her positions, saying, “I am fed up with hearing racist comments because of Zoabi” – another sign of her shaky understanding of democracy.

After all, this is the same Aharish who came out against Hamas during Operation Protective Edge for harming a civilian population. But she should not be judged. She is a young and ambitious person who has chosen to take that path farther and farther upward, Lucy in the sky with diamonds. And maybe she has no other way.

It is the state and society, which become enthusiastic over Arabs like her and rewards them by choosing them to light beacons, that ought to be judged.

Many Israelis would like to consider themselves enlightened. They read Sayed Kashua, watch the television program “Arab Labor,” eat hummus in Abu Ghosh and are hosted in Bedouin tents. They also vote for Yair Lapid, the man who coined the terms “Zoabis” and “Jerusalem as an idea,” but they are not like the people on the radical right. They are enlightened. Aharish and those like her go easy on them, and that is a shame.

When Aharish stands on Mount Herzl, burial place of the man who envisioned the state, which has become the nightmare of its people, and when she kindles the beacon for the glory of the state and its soldiers, who continue killing the children of the Aida refugee camp, she should look in the mirror for a moment. Run, Lucy, run, but once the festivities are over, do you really like the reflection that looks back at you? Was all of this worth it?

Gideon Levy tweets at @levy_haaretz

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