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Arabs in Israel want to join the government. You'll never guess who's stopping them

Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh said he would be willing to consider joining a center-left coalition, prompting a response from Israel’s centrist party that reveals the true face of those who hope to replace Netanyahu.

I do not know whether Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh is a diligent paramedic or a doctor preparing for the long-term treatment of a 72-year-old patient suffering from chronic illnesses such as racism and Zionism. In either case, the patient is suddenly showing signs of life.

All it took was a single interview with Odeh with a top journalist in one of Israel’s largest newspapers last week, in which the member of Knesset said he would join a center-left coalition under certain conditions, to throw his party directly into the lion’s den of Jewish Israeli electoral politics.

His first condition for joining the coalition was that the government would work toward ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state. This should sound familiar to both Prime Minister Netanyahu — who committed to those very ideas in his Bar Ilan speech — as well as the Labor Party.

But in today’s messianic State of Israel there is no such thing as “ending the occupation” or, God forbid, “peace.” There is annexation, settlements, closure, and managing the occupation under the guise of Trump’s so-called “deal of the century.” There is not a single Zionist party in Israel who speaks about removing settlements or even freezing settlement construction. Odeh’s condition should have taken the option off the table.

Odeh said that under a center-left coalition that would include the Arab parties, Palestinian citizens of Israel would no longer be second-class citizens. Wouldn’t this, as the Balad party has long advocated, be the state of all citizens we all want so badly? After all, the “citizens” Odeh represents also want to be able to rule the country. What’s wrong with that?

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Unfortunately, Odeh’s vision is unfounded, since the Jewish state is unwilling to allow its non-Jewish citizens to take part in ruling. After all, the mechanisms of the state were built and maintained in order to preserve pure Jewish sovereignty. Balad quickly made clear that it would oppose any government run by what it called “occupying generals,” distancing itself from the leader of the...

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Is the reunited Joint List enough to bring back Palestinian election boycotters?

Palestinian voters in Israel who previously called for an election boycott say they are willing to give the joint slate of Arab parties another chance. ‘Local Palestinian leadership is all we have now.’

The immense pressure that the Palestinian Arab community in Israel applied on the Arab parties to unite has borne fruit: they will run as a joint list in the September elections.

The online commentators can finally retire, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect. With Eid al-Adha, the Muslim “Festival of Sacrifice,” in full swing, most of the passionate social media pundits are off on vacation somewhere in Europe, or sluggishly moving across the border to Egypt or Jordan. They weren’t too enthusiastic about discussing the Joint List at the moment.

In the run-up to the 2015 elections, after the Israeli right raised the electoral threshold to keep Palestinian parties out, the four Arab parties ran on a single slate to survive. The Joint List ended up winning 13 of 120 Knesset seats – the largest representation of Palestinians in Israel since the founding of the state.

In the April elections, political infighting overshadowed the political union, and the Joint List split in two, against the wishes of thousands of Palestinian voters. Having incurred a substantial political cost for the split, the Arab parties recently announced that they will run together under the banner of the Joint List once again.

The Joint List failed us, but Smotrich is worse

Among those who boycotted the April elections are Palestinian citizens who refused to cast their ballot based on ideological reasons. These “classic” boycotters are keeping at it, explaining to us once again that the entire Zionist state is built on discrimination, that it’s a colonial project, and that we must not grace it with our cooperation.

I went into the official Facebook page of the boycott movement and discovered that the last message was posted on April 17, just after the last elections. It was a long post, thanking all the movement’s activists.

“As far as we’re concerned, now that the elections are over, our work here is done. We respect the [Arab] parties that were elected into the Knesset, they are not our enemy, and this is their path. We will continue struggling on the outside.”

It’s hard to tell whether the boycott movement is simply off on holiday as well, or whether they missed the...

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As a Palestinian woman, it is my duty to support the Ethiopian struggle

As the most oppressed group in Israeli society, Palestinian citizens of Israel have an obligation to stand with the Ethiopian Israelis protesting against racism and police brutality.

The “Black Intifada” erupted just as I was in the middle of a trip to Morocco with my mother. Yet even there, in that quiet kingdom, thousands of kilometers from home, it was impossible to shut out the public conversation happening inside Israeli society.

In the Moroccan city of Essaouira, in the Jewish quarter known as the mellah, migrants from African countries such as Senegal and Congo wandered the streets trying to self us handcrafted goods made of wood and ivory. It was clear to all that they were not locals.

One day, those migrants will be part of Morocco, which already includes citizens of all colors — from the whitest remnants of colonial rule to dark-skinned refugees. What will this place look like after 70 years, I thought to myself? How will Morocco — which prides itself on the harmonious relationship between members of the world’s three major religions, between the indigenous Amazighs and the Arabs who arrived from the Islamic empire, between the different ethnic and cultural groups — contend with thousands of migrant workers and refugees?

I was surprised to discover that some Moroccans had seen the videos of Ethiopian Israeli protesters yelling “Free Palestine” and “Allahu Akbar” during the demonstrations against racism and police brutality, following the police killing of Solomon Tekah in late June. They wanted to know what is taking place in Israel, and had a hard time understanding why Israeli Jews would mistreat Jews from Africa.

“Do Moroccan Jews also mistreat blacks? That’s very strange,” one of the vendors told me. She was especially disappointed to discover that the truth, to a large extent, was yes. Mizrahim, not only those from Morocco, also take an active role in and help fuel discrimination.

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There were those in Morocco who viewed the Ethiopian protests as a positive development that would usher in the end of Zionism. The internal divisions between “the Jews of Palestine,” a nickname given to Israelis in Morocco, would lead to the dissolving of the settler government at Israel’s helm, inspiring hope for change for all victims of Israeli policies.

I didn’t want to spoil the party but I had to be honest with them: these protests were going to liberate neither Ethiopians nor Palestinians. A young Ethiopian...

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Arab women made history in Israel's local elections. Here's how they did it

A record-breaking 26 Palestinian women were elected to office in Israel’s local elections. Despite the unprecedented numbers, there is still a long way to go.

Arab women made history in the last round of local elections in Israel held in late October. A total of 26 Arab women were elected across the country, including the first Druze and first Bedouin woman, respectively, as well as an unprecedented four female heads of political parties.

In the past months, civil society and women’s associations banded together to encourage more Arab women to participate in local elections and exercise their right to vote. (Full disclosure: the organization I manage participated in that campaign.) The political fortress that Arab men have built for themselves in this country is still impenetrable, and it will take time before its gates are open to women. And yet, it seems that the old guard of local politicians in Arab communities has finally understood that women are on the rise.

The tide has been changing over the last decade, manifesting in several ways. The first trend is that more youth, women, and educated Arabs are fed up with the failed “council of wise men” approach. Liberal voices have pushed for more progressive perspectives and candidates, which sometimes includes feminism. The second trend reflects a wider, pan-Israeli development: a shift from party politics toward broader coalitions built from grassroots activists. These coalitions can be based on family ties; in more optimistic cases, they are based on the shared goal of improving local services, such as education, welfare, health, housing, etc.

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In a conversation with Vera Baboun, the first female mayor of Bethlehem, I sought to understand how it was possible that women were so politically integrated in the Palestinian territories (four women serve as mayors, four more are deputies, one heads a district, and four are village heads), while in Israel, Arab women are still fighting for the opportunity to run in local elections.

Baboun believes it has something to do with resisting the occupation and the role women play in that struggle. What more, under the Palestinian Authority, there is a legally-mandated quota that women make up a third of any political list. Palestinian women were supposed to hold significant...

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When a Palestinian, Muslim woman went on Israeli Big Brother

Shams, a hijab-wearing, Palestinian woman went on the Israeli reality TV show to teach Jewish Israelis about her humanity. She was naive to think she’d succeed, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t support her. 

It’s hard with these Palestinians everywhere, even on Big Brother. I admit and confess, I know next to nothing about the reality show. When I was approached a few months ago in an attempt to interest me in participating in the show, I was amused and laughed at the very mention of the crazy idea. The network representative who tried to persuade me to come to the audition told me that if I wanted to convey a message to the people, this was the best platform. I want to convey a message, I replied, “Just decide who counts as the people, and I will consider.”

I explained that the participants in the program, especially the women, are objectified, and why this is contrary to my feminist ideology. I received, in return, an explanation that there has been a conceptual change — this time there will be a “big sister”. I quickly realized that there was no chance that the message would be conveyed in a telephone conversation, so I elegantly refused the offer. Since then, I have wondered, who is going to be the Arab woman to raise the ratings for Big Brother. Who would nonetheless dare to enter this artificial human laboratory, a beehive of Israeli Jews looking for instant fame?

And indeed, on the first episode of the show, a Muslim woman entered the Big Brother house — with a hijab, as the media like to point out. Shams Marie Abomokh, 30, an art therapist, married, and mother of three from Baqa al-Garbiyyeh. I recognized on the screen the woman who, weeks earlier, destiny had brought us together for a long discussion about the role of the Palestinians in relation to the refugees from the civil war in Syria and our relationship to Israeli aid organizations.

I was impressed at the time by a woman who knew what she wanted, articulate, ambitious, and opinionated, who was aware of the complexities of Palestinian identity in Israel, and, like most of us, laboriously refined her identity. Between the sentences and the glances, shone forth a naiveté that stems from a good place of deep faith in human beings and their ability to listen, understand and change. In...

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Bidding farewell to the voice of Palestine

Rim Banna, one of Palestine’s most recognizable and important singers, died on Saturday after a lengthy battle with cancer. She leaves behind a dream of freedom from the occupation, patriarchy, and oppression.

Rim Banna, the singer from Nazareth who enraptured millions died on Sunday after a battle with cancer. She was 51 years old. Arabic social media filled with eulogies written by people from every segment of society.

One of the most famous Palestinian singers in the world, Banna came to be known through her modern interpretations of traditional Palestinian songs — children songs and popular women’s melodies — which she performed in a youthful, rhythmic manner, breathing into them a new life. She was a composer, a creator, and a singer of a rare kind who combined the spirit of resistance to the occupation, the hope for freedom, and the joy of creation to make moving music.

Banna was born and raised in Nazareth. After studying at the Moscow Conservatory, she returned to her homeland and dedicated her life to the project of conserving and reviving traditional Palestinian musical culture. In addition to the songs that she wrote and composed herself, she also put to music the poems of the great Palestinian poets — Mahmoud Darwish, Tawfiq Ziad, Samih al-Qasim — as well as those with whom she wrote, like the poet Zohira Sebag.

Rim sang of the stolen homeland, of the children of the refugee camps, of the bleeding youth of Gaza on the way to freedom. Dressed in embroidered Palestinian clothes and big, antique silver jewelry, she was a musical icon — one of a kind.

She was one of the first artists to call for a cultural boycott of Israel. She could not understand how artists whose work encouraged resistance and called for liberation could, at the same time, perform in an occupying country.

There is not one Arab student who did not did not hear Rim Banna at least once — in a concert at one of the universities, at a protest, a march, or a parade.

In 2009, Banna was diagnosed with breast cancer. She began her battle against the occupier in her body, as she described it. She gave interviews to TV channels and cultural media programs around the world after she had lost her wild, curly hair, and was left with a shaved head, magnanimity, and big...

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The quiet feminist revolution in Arab society in Israel

Despite the hardships, Arab women are making gains in the Israeli legal establishment, local politics, academia, and even in the Islamic Movement. 

I watched as Hollywood stars collectively came out of the feminist closet during the Academy Awards this week. They spoke with pride about the recent #MeToo campaign, and demanded more respect and more funds for films made by women about women.

But why envy the women of Hollywood? There’s enough work to do back home. This past week we also learned that the Israel Prize Committee could not find a single woman who was worthy of receiving the prize, just as an Israeli judicial appointments committee failed in the same seemingly insurmountable task.

Truthfully, as a Palestinian feminist, I don’t care very much about the prize. And yet, as a feminist I still stand alongside Jewish women who demand representation for the vaunted Zionist prize, and wish them success in their struggle to give Israel’s multicultural democracy a facelift.

Nevertheless, it’s worth taking a closer look at my own society — at how Palestinian women in Israel fared in the past year.

A women’s Islamic revolution

Two months ago, the southern branch of the Islamic Movement decided to increase the representation of women on its Knesset slate, including guaranteeing a spot specifically for women, as well as integrating women in its decision-making process. Unsurprisingly, such a dramatic announcement hardly made headlines in either the Hebrew or the Arabic press.

As talk of general elections grows, I decided to see for myself what has changed. It turns out the Islamic Movement has a new party constitution, which was passed overwhelmingly during its last general assembly. And according to the constitution, the fifth and sixth places on the list will hereby be reserved for women.

I asked Islamic Movement spokesperson Mansour Abbas why women are worthy of only the fifth and sixth places.

“Today we are only four representatives in the Knesset. We did not want it to be seen as a woman taking the place of a sitting member of Knesset,” he responded. “This would have led to opposition to the move.”

Before I managed to yell “So what if a woman replaces a man?” he responded: “Women can compete for the first four seats, but the fifth and sixth seats are guaranteed for them. Moreover, the movement decided that it will guarantee a spot for them among the...

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Setting the struggle against gender-based violence back 30 years

A proposed bill to increase the sentences for Arab men who kill women ‘on the basis of family honor’ is not a step forward for feminism, but a step back.

The Justice Ministry recently presented a bill to the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice committee that would define murder on the basis of “family honor” as “aggravated murder,” which requires a sentence of life imprisonment.

At first glance, this might seem like a good change, but it’s not.

For the last two decades, I have been fighting the excessive use of this term – murder on the basis of family honor – to describe the murder of Arab women. Arab feminists from all over the world have struggled to eliminate the use of this term, which bears no actual relation to women’s lives. Books and articles have been written about the relationship between the female body and the “male honor” that tries to control that body. Women’s sexuality, intelligence, even their property have all been thrown together under the meaningless blanket term, “family honor.”

We have proven, case after a case, that a woman fighting for her inheritance, or for her children and her house, or to end a relationship with a drug dealer, is a free woman who can live as she chooses. And yet there is always someone who does not like that. And this angry someone whose honor has been bruised is always a male. It is very simple and has nothing to do with the honor of any man armed with a gun. This is called gender-based crime.

We briefly felt that some progress was being made and had a sympathetic ear among law enforcement agencies, judges, journalists and social workers for our demand to erase this term from the legal-social lexicon of the supposedly progressive and democratic state. I felt moments of solidarity and understanding and felt heard by Jewish women’s organisations and the families of Arab and Jewish victims. Slowly, the struggles against gender-based crime, violent men’s crimes against women for being women, began to intertwine, especially after the shocking week in which five women — two Arab and three Jewish women — were murdered.

And then, one fine day, the conductor of the enlightened and white chauvinist band that rules our lives, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, threw us down the stairs and set the women’s struggle for control of their own lives back 30...

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Arab woman MK attacked by Hebrew media for criticizing army policy

MK Aida Touma-Suleiman, a female legislator from the Arab-Jewish socialist party, criticized the Israeli army’s policy toward Syria, warning that it could escalate to a war that would endanger civilians. In response, one veteran male television news analyst ordered her to ‘sit down and be quiet.’

The Israeli air force has carried out more than 100 bombing incursions deep inside Syrian territory over the past few years, with little acknowledgement from the Israeli media and without suffering any military or diplomatic repercussions.  Meanwhile, Russia and Iran have deployed military forces in Syria, ostensibly to eliminate the Islamic State but in fact to increase their sphere of influence — at the cost of the starving Syrian people.

Israel did open a field hospital for wounded Syrians in the Golan, an act for which it sought — and received — substantial international media coverage that portrayed the country in a very positive light. But this act of magnanimity to Syrian civilians should not be used as a means of distracting attention from the fact that if the Assad regime, or the Russian and Iranian forces that are fighting to support it, had responded militarily to Israel’s many military sorties deep into Syrian territory, a war would have broken out long ago — with all the attendant, and very grave, consequences for civilians who live on both sides of the border.

Last week, this scenario nearly came to pass. The Israeli military downed an Iranian drone that penetrated Israeli air space from Syrian territory. Israel retaliated with an air sortie into Syria, which led to another retaliation from Syria, which shot down an Israeli fighter jet. Israelis were shocked, but they should not have been. This escalation has been heating up for a long time.

Now there are two wounded Israeli pilots and a destroyed fighter plane; and this stings Zionist pride, which has become accustomed to hearing about the heroic exploits of its powerful air force when it carries out strikes against enemies incapable of responding. The army did not even have time to prepare civilians for the long-simmering possibility of war.

The Knesset rushed to express its support for the government “during this difficult period.” Even Zehava Galon, the leader of the leftist Meretz party, tweeted her support for Netanyahu. Those who claimed Netanyahu wanted a war to distract the public from his legal troubles were, she wrote, indulging in conspiracy theories. Netanyahu was a cynic, but he wasn’t evil; he would not arrange for the downing of an Israeli fighter plane in order to divert public attention from his possible indictment on charges of corruption.

 

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'There's no such thing as a feminist name-change'

When I reverted my surname back to my maiden name, apparently the Interior Ministry decided I was getting divorced. How do you prove that you’re not getting divorced? My own personal brush with Kafka.

I went to the Interior Ministry office in Beit Shemesh to get a passport issued for my adolescent son last week. He is supposed to travel with friends for a ski vacation in Europe, where it is winter, snowing, cold, and expensive. I got there very early so that I could get back to work at a reasonable time. There were only two Arabs waiting in a short queue, the rest were ultra-Orthodox people of all ages. After an hour, our turn came.

“I paid in advance on the internet,” I declared proudly to the nice, sleepy clerk who asked a few questions as he typed on the keyboard. He looked at me doubtfully and said: “According to the computer you are getting divorced, so you need your partner to also consent.” I was shocked.

“I’m not divorced, sir, what are you talking about?”

“It’s recorded here, ‘in divorce proceedings.’ That’s what you declared a few years ago when you changed your surname.”

“I didn’t change it. The name was Salaime-Egbariya and I decided to keep only my maiden name, Salaime. It’s a feminist act, do you understand?”

“I don’t know, you probably told the clerk and she wrote that you were separated.”

“We never initiated divorce proceedings. I’ve been with my partner for 22 years. We are not separated. How is it that we’re registered as separated?”

I began to defend my marital status with all my might, as if my family’s honor had been deeply wounded by the fear that the clerk conjured up. My son, embarrassed by the situation, remembered that he had been with me at the Interior Ministry that day when I changed my surname — he began to argue also and insisted that his parents actually live together.

“Do you have a court’s ruling?”

Kafka in Beit Shemesh

I approached the manager of the Interior Ministry branch in an attempt to explain the situation to her so that she would allow us to move forward with the process of issuing a passport to my nervous son. The woman did not listen and began to recite in rapid-fire: “A woman who changes her name must have a reason. Maybe you are separated? Maybe your husband doesn’t live at home and he has...

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When the IDF protects Palestinians for the sake of propaganda

The army’s new hasbara video is meant to convince the English-speaking world that it protects Palestinians from settlers during the olive harvest, as if the latter were some kind of untamable beasts.

With the beginning of the olive harvest, the IDF has decided to wish all Palestinians a bountiful and safe season!

A new video being spread by the IDF on social media seeks to placate the worries of anyone worried about the safety of Palestinian farmers during the harvest. Focusing on Palestinians in Hebron, the video — with English subtitles, of course — announces to the world that due to the army’s protection, this year’s olive harvest is going smoothly.

The video features an elderly man from Hebron filmed in his grove, where he is able to tend to 90 trees because the army sends soldiers to ensure he can harvest, alhamdulilah. Everything, then, must be fine.

It’s unclear who the army is targeting with this video, and why a Palestinian farmer needs to thank the army for protecting him. After all, he’s only doing what every single owner of an olive grove has done every fall for the past thousands of years: he goes up to the hill, lays out a mat, complains about the lack of olives but says that the oil will be excellent and that, anyway, his olives are superior to those of the neighbors.

This isn’t the situation in Hebron’s Tel Rumeida neighborhood. The banal act of harvesting Palestinian-owned trees has turned into a complicated military mission for soldiers. Why? Because of one thing and one thing only: the settlers. Jewish settlers who threaten Palestinians on a yearly basis, make their lives difficult, and do everything they can to make Palestinians disappear from the breathtaking hills of the West Bank.

Ghetto of olives

Attacks against Palestinians on their land have become routine to the point that the army decided this year to initiate an intricate plan with the Arab fallahin in order to protect them from settler violence — as if the latter were untamable beasts. After all, it’s always easier to control a Palestinian armed with buckets and plastic bags. The Palestinian can be told at what time to arrive and how long he or she have to harvest. They can be accompanied back to their home, with a short stop to be filmed by the army that “protects” him...

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Wonder Women: The Arab feminist revolution on Facebook

Thousands of Arab women on Facebook are sharing, with heart-wrenching honesty, stories of female heroism that don’t always make headlines. Is a new Arab feminism emerging? And what about the new Arab man?

A week ago one of my Facebook friends added me to a group for Arab women. Oh no, I thought. Not another group. But, as usual, I couldn’t resist the feminist urge and went in to take a look.

I found stories of working Arab women of all ages from all over Israel: Muslim, Druze, and Christian, religious and less so, married and single; short, emotional stories along with simple reports, stories full of love and stories of disappointment, stories of crisis and stories of new starts.

In recent years tens of thousands of women have found a home for their stories on Facebook. On the pages of teachers, social workers, nurses, businesswomen, self-employed women, personal trainers, you can find posts about everything.

For instance, I stumbled upon the story of a young woman, Lamis, whose mother died in childbirth, and for her whole life has carried the name of the mother she never saw or embraced or looked in the eye. Lamis, who grew up with a physical disability, describes the difficulties she has faced since she was born prematurely, and the various stations of her life. Today she runs a program for youth with disabilities from the Arab community. The name of her program—“I can.”

A woman with a snake tattoo

Hanan, an amazing woman in her thirties, attached to her story a picture of her arm with a tattoo of a snake and a staff, the symbol of medicine, next to the words: “I promise to return there.” She started medical school, had a crisis, was in a serious accident that left her half paralyzed. She swore that if she got out of it she would go back to medical school and realize her dream. Over the years she worked as a first responder, got her bachelor’s degree, and now is finishing a masters in medical research. She gathered her strength and decided to make a U-turn in her career: to go back to medical school and the clinic she promised herself. She is in the midst of preparing for the big step.

I found women who left cushy jobs to fulfill childhood dreams. Fitness and healthy living trainers, a cycling trainer for women, a...

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The young Arab women on Israel's hasbara dream team

A young Arab woman on a propaganda delegation to the United States sparks a storm in the Arab world with an interview in which she praises Israel’s democracy, which she says liberates Arab women from their primitive society, and which 90 percent of Arabs pray to live under.

Dema Taya is a young Arab Muslim woman from the village of Qalansuwa in central Israel, who recently traveled to the United States as part of a delegation belonging to the Israeli hasbara group, “Reservists on Duty.” An  interview with Taya on the Arabic television channel Musawa has more than two million views and led to a barrage of responses, parodies, and discussions in Israel and across the world.

The interview made its way to the Arab world as well and a longer, well-edited version found a home on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s official Facebook page. Right-wing websites called to rally support for Taya, while Arab sites ridiculed her in every possible way.

So what is this young woman’s story, and why did her interview arouse such anger?

Taya is one of six people chosen to represent Israel on a 12-campus tour across the United States. The main goal of the tour was to combat BDS, bring about a change in the way students think about Israel, and prove that it is not an apartheid state. A young, sweet Arab woman who praises the state is a good way to whitewash the occupation and the racism that so bothers American Jewish liberals.

I am not sure Taya regrets the interview, in which she made every possible mistake — from her choice of words to actually knowing the facts, including about the Arab world and Arab society. If that were not enough, she also made a few mistakes in her native language, leaving no room for doubt that she learned to recite a few key sentences, the kind we hear from every Jewish Israeli who takes part in hasbara.

‘I don’t talk politics’

Taya insisted on telling the interviewer, Ramzi Hakim, that she was not there to talk politics. The Arab minority in Israel has nothing to do with politics, she said, “I don’t care about occupation and the territories.” Apparently, as long as there is work for Arabs as doctors, lawyers, and teachers — Israel is a democracy. Arabs have the right to vote, that’s enough. Taya is a member of the Zionist enterprise...

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