11 March 2008 - Israeli Arabs need new leaders, smarter support
Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post has written a brilliant article that contrasts the way a loyal Israeli Arab—a Bedouin IDF soldier killed last week by a bomb near Gaza—has been ignored, while a villainous traitor—the terrorist who killed eight yeshiva students in Jerusalem on the same day—has been celebrated. She blames intimidation by radical Islamic groups and argues that most Israeli Arabs are loyal citizens.
I’m inclined to agree. There are also growing signs of increased willingness by Arabs in other countries to criticize terrorism against Israel. A Kuwaiti newspaper recently criticized the yeshiva attacks (“a barbaric murder of eight children who were engaged in religious study”), saying they had nothing whatsoever to do with the violence in Gaza, and slamming the methods of Hamas and Hezbollah.
Glick suggests that Israel “must launch a serious, directed hearts and minds campaign among Israeli Arabs.” That won’t be enough. Israel has to come to terms with the needs and aspirations of a 20-percent-strong national minority that, like similar national minorities in other democracies, is demanding greater political guarantees, economic assistance, cultural autonomy and symbolic recognition.
So there will need to be some political compromises as well as rhetorical overtures. One of the forces that holds back this necessary process of reconciliation is a small group of “enlightened” Jews and Arabs who share an antipathy to the state of Israel itself, even towards the very existence of the Jewish state. Take my Harvard Law School classmate Nimer Sultany, an Arab citizen of Israel, who wrote last week:
“Israeli propagandists go out of their way to repeat the soundbite: we withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and since then the Palestinians have been firing rockets on our southern towns. This soundbite might fly in the western media; after all it resonates with a simplistic world view that ignites stereotypes which have been in the making for centuries, producing demonic and degrading representations of Muslims and Arabs. It becomes easy to describe the Palestinians in this context as the carriers of incomprehensible and irrational rage.”
So Israeli complaints about rocket attacks have been nothing more than anti-Arab propaganda? Note that Sultany expresses no concern in the article for the welfare of his fellow Israeli citizens under attack, whether Jew or Arab.
I have learned over the past several months that although anti-Israel critics try to present the Palestinian case in terms of universal human rights and values, they are often the first to trash them.
“Palestinians bear not only the burden of liberating themselves but also of unmasking humanity's false pretensions; ie exposing the realities of power that always trump universalist and humanist postures. In this sense, Palestinians are the voice of the wretched of the earth.” (my emphasis)
The only answer to such malevolent misanthropy is for Israel to affirm those universal, humanist values within a Jewish political framework.
Israel’s Arabs need better, bolder leaders. They also need support from friends of Israel abroad. Right now the only major Diaspora donor to Israeli Arab NGOs is the New Israel Fund, which backs groups like Adalah, which opposes the definition of Israel as a Jewish state.
It’s time for those of us in the Diaspora who believe in liberal, humanist values to back an alternative vision, and alternative Arab leadership in Israel.