Arabs are more present than ever in the Israeli public sphere, but attempts to marginalize them are growing at an even faster pace. A new law aimed at pushing Arab representatives out of the political system could wind up changing the rules of the game — in the worst possible way.
The Knesset this week passed a law that will enable it to expel Arab MKs from their positions as elected representatives. The same day, a storm erupted over a program on Army Radio that examined a poem by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Both events have one thing in common: they highlight Israeli right wing’s hopeless desire to make the country’s pesky Palestinian population simply disappear. That’s no easy task considering that proportionally speaking, there are more Arab citizens in Israel than African Americans or Hispanic Americans in the United States. And can anybody even imagine a U.S. without them?
Those on the right in Israel will tell you that they don’t oppose the Arabs themselves, just their ideas. That is, of course, feigned naïveté. As long as Israel is defined as a Jewish state, Arabs will always feel alienated from it. An Arab can become Israeli like he or she can become German or American, but he cannot become Jewish, which Israeli Jews wouldn’t want either. That’s the fundamental difference between the Israeli model and the Western democratic model, where even if there sometimes exist symbols of Christianity or some other nation, Western democracies are ultimately based on the idea of “a state of all its citizens.” In Israel, that idea is so terrifying to people that some want to criminalize even advocating for it.
And yet despite this unusual model, Israel has managed to maintain a mostly democratic system within its pre-1967 borders (though never a liberal one). It worked, somehow, because of the pragmatic attitude adopted by both the Jewish majority and the Palestinian minority that survived 1948. For example, the unwritten compromise according to which Palestinians can vote and be elected, even if they oppose — quite naturally — the very idea of a Jewish state. Or that a Palestinian poet can be canonized even if, among other things, he wrote poems that portray Jews as the enemy, just as Israeli poets who saw Arabs as enemies enjoy an even more sacred stature.
What made it work was the separation that existed between the realm of...Read More