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Israeli Arabs should do national service - for everyone's sake

It would do wonders for equality and integration, and Israeli Arabs seem willing to volunteer, but they’re being pounded from both sides by Arab and Jewish nationalists.

In principle, I don’t think there would be anything unjust in going so far as to draft Israeli Arab youths to do a year or two of civilian national service in hospitals, schools, etc.  – even though there is a well-known, deeply entrenched pattern of discrimination against Arab citizens in this country. If it’s unjust to draft them to do national service in an old-age home, it’s much more unjust to force them to pay income taxes, much of which goes toward the state machinery that keeps them second-class citizens, occupies the Palestinians and occasionally attacks neighboring Arab countries – and I don’t hear Israeli Arabs saying they should be exempt from income taxes, or national health insurance payments, or traffic fines or other obligations borne by all Israeli citizens. (I use the term “Israeli Arab” or “Arab citizen” rather than “Palestinian” just to avoid confusion with Palestinians elsewhere, not to make a political point.)

I said “in principle,” though; in practice, drafting Israeli Arabs into national civilian service would meet far, far more resistance than it would be worth; even the Netanyahu government, which supports such a program, isn’t trying to actually implement it. Furthermore, it would have to be done in consultation with Israeli Arabs, with Israeli Arabs in key leadership positions and be free of any “Zionist content,” because no Arab should be expected to be a Zionist.

But yesterday, the government gave its support to a new bill that, even though its main purpose is to screw Israeli Arabs, and even though it’s been deemed discriminatory and unconstitutional by the attorney general, inadvertently offers Israel Arabs a historic opportunity, one that they should jump on if the bill gets through the Knesset and the Supreme Court (which, however, seems unlikely).

The bill gives veterans of IDF and national civilian service preference in hiring, salary, allocation of state land for housing, acceptance to college, and student housing. This would do more for the cause of Israeli Arab equality than anything I’ve ever heard of. But Israeli Arabs are against the bill not only because of its clearly malign intent (it was introduced by one of the Knesset’s great Arab-bashers, Likud’s Yariv Levin), but because Israeli Arab political leaders and opinion-makers have, for the last decade, been waging a campaign that brands Arabs who do national civilian service as the local version of Uncle Toms. At a meeting earlier this month of the Arab Monitoring Committee, which is made up of Arab Knesset members, mayors and other political leaders, MK Jamal Zahalka, head of the Balad party, warned:

Anyone who does national service should be ashamed. A young woman needs to know that if she performs national service, there is a chance no one will marry her and she will be ostracized. The same is true for every boy.

The main argument against national service for Israeli Arabs, whether compulsory or voluntary, is that they shouldn’t serve a state that denies them their right to equality. But in any plausible arrangement, they wouldn’t be serving the state as it oppresses Arabs or advances the Zionist cause; they would be serving regular people getting health care, education, practical assistance and other basic human services.

Above all, they would be paying their dues and thereby gaining legitimacy as Israeli citizens – not Zionists. This, I’m convinced, would reduce the alienation from Israeli Arabs on the part of Israeli Jews, and make it much, much harder for Israel to keep them down.

I know, and I agree, that Israeli Arabs shouldn’t first have to do national service to gain civic equality. But the fact is that standing on that principle isn’t getting them anything, while doing national service in rehabilitation centers and the like – which does not shame anyone – would bring progress.

And the thing is, the Israeli Arab public has shown a lot of support for national service, which is why their political leadership has been working so hard against it. Haifa Prof. Sammy Smooha, the leading pollster of Arab-Jewish relations in this country, found in 2007 that 78 percent of Arabs aged 18-22 would be willing to volunteer for national service. That figure dropped to 40 percent last year – but even then, support for national service among the Arab public at large was still at 62 percent. Meanwhile, the number of Israeli Arabs volunteering for national service multiplied tenfold – from 240 to 2,399 – in the six years after a new program was instituted in 2005.

And this is despite the organized, intense campaign by Israeli Arab leaders – as well as the steadily growing antipathy toward Israeli Arabs by Israel’s Jewish majority, especially in the four years since Netanyahu and the far right took over.

Arab citizens are not Zionists and don’t want to be, but they do want to be equal, integrated members of Israeli society. If the Arab nationalists and Jewish nationalists would stop pounding at them from both sides, there’s no reason why they wouldn’t go into national service in large numbers, which I believe would do wonders for the cause of equality and integration. It would be good for the Arabs, good for the Jews, good for the society. And it doesn’t have a chance in hell of happening, all because of our old friend, nationalism.

Palestinian citizens cannot be expected to serve Jewish state 
Debate on draft reform moves Israel further away from democracy 

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    1. The Trespasser

      Surprisingly unobjectionable article.

      I’ll only add that Arabs are refraining from paying all and any taxes by all ways possible – pretty much like Haredim do. Both groups have their own microeconomies, without VAT or income tax, while extensively using the National Insurance services.

      As of BALAD bit…s – all and any antagonism between Jews and Arabs is mostly welcome by them, since it is the only way to insure that these cheap populists would have their comfy chairs.

      Israeli Arabs really should not be Zionists. I don’t think that majority of Israeli Jews are Zionists.

      They should be Israelis – not Palestinians, that’s all.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Frank Lewis

      A revolutionary move would be for Arabs in Israel to demand equality and to be drafted to the most elite units of the army… imagine 20 young Palestinian citizens of Israel with great grades, great physical strength… i.e. all the “NETUNIN” from Nazareth going to the Upper Nazareth induction center and saying that they want to get drafted to the pilots training? It would be rather revolutionary… or 500 young Palestinian citizens of Israel who are in great physical shape going to IDF induction centers to get drafted into elite combat units, like the ones guarding the settlements… (at least then the problem of settler violence might get some serious attention).

      Reply to Comment
      • XYZ

        Nothing new here. Some Bedouin Arabs do serve in the IDF.

        Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        They are welcome to do so and I would very much welcome the switch to a discourse whereby Arab citizens aim to change Israeli society and policy from within rather than approaching the entire state and all its institutions from a position of hostility. This is happening to some extent already, but it doesn’t get as much attention as the anti-Israeli European-funded organizations and the Israeli Arab leadership whose power comes from a narrative to which such a trend is anathema.

        Reply to Comment
        • sh

          I love your use of the word “already”, hastily qualified, after 65 years, by your “to some extent”. It is Jewish Israel, not its Arab population, that invented the idea that Arabs should not be put in a position in which they are forced to fight their “brethren” (the Arab nations who used them and then dumped them). And it was not magnanimity that drove it. Not only Bedouin but also Druze serve in the IDF, the latter because of a so-called blood pact which, when their service is over, does not continue into the job market or social acceptance or the right to live where they please. Both Druze and Bedouin are good trackers we have been told for those 65 years, a job Jews are incapable of doing well.

          Reply to Comment
    3. I think Larry is right. A uniform draft with national service opt out would remove one form of State sponsered citizen separation, which in turn would lead to action for the removal of other forms. Of course there would be resistence at first; progress usually entails such.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        >A uniform draft with national service opt out would remove one form of State sponsored citizen separation…

        State acting to remove state-sponsored separation. Is it possible to come up with something even more illogical?

        By the way, you had forgotten about Zoabi, Zahalka and others, who openly proclaim that Israeli Arabs should not try and overcome the separation.

        You just can’t hold them responsible, can you?

        Reply to Comment
    4. rsgengland

      I agree with the sentiments of this article, that if the Muslim/Christian Israelis served in some form of national/civilian service, their integration into mainstream Israeli life would be a lot less problematic.
      I will always object to laws like this, irrespective of their sponsors, because of the laws of unintended consequences.
      To often laws like this become entrenched in the system, clogging it up and contributing to ‘spheres of influence’ and corruption.
      Laws like this, which serve no real purpose, other than the aggrandizement of their sponsors, help to create disdain and disrespect for the law.
      Incidentally, I do not think in practical terms that this bill is racist.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Dave

      If I was an Israeli Arab, why would I even bother? When I have finished my service, will anything have changed? Will I have achieved equality? Will racism and discrimination miraculously have disappeared because I picked up some trash off the freeway. I don’t think so. Instead of serving a state that hates my guts and would rather I was dead, I think I would spend that time saving every grusch I could to get the hell out of here as fast as I could. I’m an American Jew with a father and grandfather who fought with the US Army in two world wars, and guess what? When they came back from serving their country they still got called; “dirty jew bastard”

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        >When I have finished my service, will anything have changed?\


        >Will I have achieved equality?

        Arabs are not perceiving Jews as their equals, Arab women are not allowed to date Jewish men, so there could not be any “equality”

        >Will racism and discrimination miraculously have disappeared because I picked up some trash off the freeway.

        There is much less racism and discrimination in Israel than it is – or ever was – in USA.

        >Instead of serving a state that hates my guts and would rather I was dead


        >I think I would spend that time saving every grusch I could to get the hell out of here as fast as I could.

        More bullshit.

        Reply to Comment
        • Dave

          Bullshit. Hmmm yes. The usual response of someone who couldn’t think of anything intelligent to say but has to flap his gums anyway.

          Reply to Comment
    6. The Trespasser

      No. The usual response to someone who have not even lightest idea of what he’s talking about.

      Reply to Comment
      • Dave

        Wrong, sparky. I’m an Israeli citizen and an IDF veteran. When you can actually back up your lame defenses with some numbers instead of your bitching, then we’ll have something to talk about. Until then you’re another chimpanzee with a kipat srulgah pulling sh*t out of his nappies and throwing it around the room.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          >I’m an Israeli citizen and an IDF veteran.

          About 5 000 000 Israelis are Israeli citizens and IDF veterans. Yet Bibi and Lapid were elected.

          >When you can actually back up your lame defenses with some numbers instead of your bitching

          Defences. With “c”. Aren’t Americans supposed to write such simple words without mistakes?

          >then we’ll have something to talk about.

          I had elaborated and explained two points from you post, yet you are not relating to them.

          >Until then you’re another chimpanzee with a kipat srulgah pulling sh*t out of his nappies and throwing it around the room.


          Given that you haven’t addressed two (2) elaborated arguments of mine, I see no reason to cast any additional pearls.

          p.s. Had you ever read about a research conducted among students in developed countries few years ago? The one which had determined that USA students have highest self-esteem and lowest knowledge, while Vietnamese students have highest knowledge, but highest self-esteem.

          Reply to Comment
          • Dave

            No. I’m afraid I didn’t catch that study. Did you manage to peruse the one where they definitively quantified the settler movement as a, how did they put it? “A big bunch of a-holes”?

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            You haven’t caught too much to be able to have any kind of even semi-valid opinion.

            By the way, the settler movement has no relevance whatsoever to the subject, other that it is comprised of Israeli citizens who also are IDF veterans.

            Reply to Comment
          • Piotr Berman

            >When you can actually back up your lame defenses with some numbers instead of your bitching

            Defences. With “c”. Aren’t Americans supposed to write such simple words without mistakes?

            English is tricky. “To defence” is to remove fences. “Defense” is connected to defending, and sometimes it entails building fences.

            Reply to Comment
          • Piotr Berman

            Some clarification: there was this guy Webster who decided to rationalize English spelling and his ideas are adopted in USA, but not in the British Commonwealth, so the spelling is not consistent. My office in in USA and just next to a poster on “defencing”: a computer program that converts a photo with a fence to a picture without a fence. I guess that when an American Secretary of Defense has talks with an Irish Minister of Defence they should use a translator.

            Reply to Comment
    7. Dave

      Mr. Derfner,

      Please accept my apologies. I sincerely wanted to keep it civil. Circumstances and one individual prevented that. I will endeavor to do better in the future.

      Dave Kreiselman

      Reply to Comment
      • Dave

        Your anecdotes and your emotionalism
        don’t equal facts. Until you can produce some, the 972 people are gonna be busy hosing down your cage. But ok. I can see I’ve upset you. I apologize. Take a deep breath and a shot of Bushmills. You’ll be fine.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          You psychiatrist knows that you are talking to yourself in public?

          Ah, it does not matter – we all are friends here.

          Reply to Comment
    8. Piotr Berman

      There is a serious chicken and egg problem here: do Arab citizen suffer discrimination because they engage in boycotting the state, like refusing military service and even its civilian equivalent, or they boycott the universal service because they are discriminated.

      I think that historical time-line shows that discrimination by the State was first. Moreover, my impression from news articles is that the trend is negative. Three anecdotes:

      1. Bedouins served in military. And the State resolutely refused to recognize their villages, so now very few Bedouins do. Some Bedouin villages were always recognized, so this category always had two subsets, “well treated” and “badly treated”, but the problem is that “good treatment” may remain crappy and “bad treatment” got worse.

      2. Israeli Druze serve in military. Their villages are subjected to similar discrimination as other Arab villages, and Druze military veterans suffer similar ostracism as other Arabs. E.g. rabbis cursing Jews renting to non-Jews make no distinctions for military veterans, and neither do arsonists who enforce such curses.

      3. Israel has very hard time accepting “uncle Toms” as equal citizens. This is what makes them “uncle Toms”. For example, there was a story of an Arab female citizen living in Tel Aviv and studying in Ariel. Probably her grades were not good enough for a university in Tel Aviv and yet she wished to have a normal carrier. On a bus to Ariel she was spotted by fellow passengers as speaking Arabic, reported to security and forcibly removed from the bus. Most importantly, the incident was officially reviewed and the actions of security guards were deemed proper.

      What I am trying to say is that Derfner has a good idea: that a nationalism of an ethnic minority can be combined with the loyalty to the state and equal rights and that this is a desirable outcome. However, this requires a sincere effort by the State to treat citizens equally, which this government is totally disinclined to do.

      To social contract “be an obedient citizens and we will humiliate you a bit less often” is not viable in the long run.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        >I think that historical time-line shows that discrimination by the State was first


        From the very inception Arabs were viewing Jews as underdogs, not eligible for peaceful coexistence on equal basis.

        Reply to Comment
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