Monday, February 16, 2009

Israel's Real Arab Problem

It isn't Hezbollah. It isn't Hamas. According to Fareed Zakaria new, right-wing Knesset is more concerned about the Arabs in their midst, the Israeli Arabs:

...while most commentators focus on the future of the peace process and the two-state solution, a deeper and more existential question is growing within the heart of Israel.

It's a question posed by the election's biggest winner: Avigdor Lieberman. His Yisrael Beytenu party won 15 seats, placing third but gaining enormous swing power in the Israeli system. Whether or not the new government includes him, Lieberman and his issues have moved to center stage. As fiercely as he denounces the Palestinian militants of Hamas and Hizbullah, his No. 1 target is Israel's Arab minority, which he has called a worse threat than Hamas. He has proposed the effective expulsion of several hundred thousand Arab citizens by unilaterally redesignating some northern Israeli towns as parts of the Palestinian West Bank. Another group of several hundred thousand could expect to be stripped of citizenship for failing to meet requirements such as loyalty oaths or mandatory military service (from which Israel's Arabs are currently exempt). The New Republic's Martin Peretz, a passionate Zionist and critic of the peace movement, calls Lieberman a "neo-fascist ... a certified gangster ... the Israeli equivalent of [Austria's] Jörg Haider." No liberal democracy I know of since World War II has disenfranchised or expelled its own citizens.

...The antipathy is mutual. "The people who stayed here did not immigrate here, this is our country," declared Azmi Bishara, a former Arab member of the Knesset, after being charged with sedition for his expressions of support for Hizbullah. "That is why you cannot deal with us on issues of loyalty. This state came here and was enforced on the ruins of my nation. I accepted citizenship to be able to live here, and I will not do anything, security-wise, against the state. I am not going to conspire against the state, but you cannot ask me every day if I am loyal to the state. Citizenship demands from me to be loyal to the law, but not to the values or ideologies of the state. It is enough to be loyal to the law."

..As extreme as it may sound, Lieberman's call to disown them seems to have resonated with many of his fellow Israelis. Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that Israel's Arabs constitute a demographic time bomb. He calls it unacceptable. Benny Morris, the once dovish historian who chronicled the forced expulsion of most Palestinians from the Jewish state in 1948, has turned to arguing that Israel needs to protect itself from the Arabs now living within its borders. "They are a potential fifth column," he warned five years ago in an interview with Haaretz. "In both demographic and security terms they are liable to undermine the state ... If the threat to Israel is existential, expulsion will be justified." It's a dangerous spiral: the worse the distrust gets, the less loyalty Israel's Arabs feel toward their country--and vice versa. Last week's election has brought the issue into the open. Its resolution will define the future of Israel as a country, as a Jewish state, and as a democracy.


Anonymous said...

See also Jonathan Cook's The Glass Wall .

The Mound of Sound said...

Gene, thanks for the link. I'll check out Cook's book. It certainly sounds as though this is an issue that's just about to boil to the surface.