Opinion |

Who Are the Good Arabs?

Arab citizens do not want to give up on their citizenship – they aspire to live as a national minority in a democratic country.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, European Council President Donald Tusk and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis attending former Israeli President Shimon Peres' funeral in Jerusalem, September 30, 2016.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, European Council President Donald Tusk and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis attend former Israeli President Shimon Peres' funeral in Jerusalem. Credit: Abir Sultan, AFP
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

About a decade ago, an Arab politician came to an Arab village in the north to give a lecture. As expected, there were a few “good Arabs” in the audience. One of them sent a report to the security establishment claiming the lecturer called for the residents to take up an armed struggle against the state. The security forces knew the person who filed the report. They turned to one of the learned men in the village and asked if the lecturer had really meant that. The answer from the learned man was quite simple: “Replace your stool pigeon because he didn’t understand.”

I read the articles by Abed L. Azab, “Who Here is a Hypocrite?” (Haaretz, October 8, in Hebrew) and Afif Abu Much, “We Must Not Criticize the Arab MKs” (Haaretz, October 9, in Hebrew) and remembered that “good Arab” who had a difficult time understanding. The two writers both attacked my article “To all the hypocrites attacking Israeli Arab politicians for not attending Peres’ funeral,” in which I accused of hypocrisy those who attacked the Joint List after the party boycotted the funeral of Shimon Peres – claiming that in a democratic society it is allowed to oppose elected Arab representatives. But they ignored the fact that in the same article I wrote explicitly: “In Arab society, even in the Joint List, some people criticized the boycott of Peres’ funeral. That’s healthy, proper and essential. That’s the way a pluralistic party is supposed to conduct itself.”

The problem is that behind the enthusiasm of the two writers hides yet another attempt to adopt the role of the good Arab, in the sense of: We, the Arabs, a gang of hypocritical primitives, need to thank the enlightened and democratic State of Israel every day for accepting us as citizens and granting us rights, which in the dark Arab world we can only dream about.

Such statements will win support from both the right and the left, certainly from the Jewish members of the Labor Party as well as in Arab society. It is possible to understand the distress of the Arabs who support this position: The Arab citizens of Israel do not have anyone they can trust – the Arab world is torn into shreds, the Palestinian leadership is divided, violence is eating away at the fabric of society, and their leadership is facing continuing delegitimization.

That is why the solution is to flee to “Israelization,” to adopt the lifestyle of the vacation and mall, to earn a respectable living, everyone and their family, everyone and their extended family, without a national identity, to condemn the Arab parties, to live in the only island of sanity in the Middle East.

For the immediate future, it seems like the ideal solution, mostly for those who are trying to make their way in the Israeli mainstream. As far as they are concerned, the anger over the non-participation in Peres’ funeral did not stem from concerns about the feelings of his family, but from the fear of the response from the majority, the loss of the democratic partners in Israeli society, and from the failure in the loyalty test that has accompanied them for almost 70 years. The problem is that these views do not lead to an improvement in the status of Arab citizens. The opposite: They only strengthen the policy of “divide and rule.”

This week Arab research institutes and academics released an alternative curriculum for civics studies in schools. The message that comes from this program is simple: Arab citizens do not want to give up on their citizenship – they aspire to live as a national minority in a democratic country that recognizes their narrative and views them as equal citizens, they want to live in a society that knows how to handle crises and criticizes its leaders, desire to become a society motivated by self-confidence, not defeatism, that believes in building and demands its rights.

It would be a good thing for our colleagues Azab and Abu Much to study these materials.

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