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PM's image of democracy in Israel conceals mistreatment of Arabs

The fact that Arab countries treat their citizens badly doesn’t give Israel the moral or legal authority to treat its Palestinian citizens poorly.

unrecognized Arab village in Israel (flickr/Physicians for Human Rights - Israel)

An unrecognized Arab village in Israel (flickr/Physicians for Human Rights - Israel)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before the U.S. Congress can easily be characterized as hypocritical and inconsistent. He presented Israel as the country seeking peace while speaking of the Palestinians as enemies of reconciliation and coexistence. His hypocrisy didn’t stop with issues of the occupation and Palestinians in the West Bank. He went on to brag about Israeli democracy being a model for the world. He shamelessly claimed that Arabs in Israel have more rights than Arabs across the Middle East. His comparison of Israel to the totalitarian regimes of the Middle East was an interesting choice. There are many Arab minorities living in Europe, South America, Canada and the U.S.; however, Netanyahu chose to compare Israel to the falling dictatorships rather than to the first world.

“Courageous Arab protesters are now struggling to secure these very same rights for their peoples, for their societies. We’re proud in Israel that over 1 million Arab citizens of Israel have been enjoying these rights for decades [applause]. Of the 300 million Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa, only Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy real democratic rights [applause]. Now, I want you to stop for a second and think about that. Of those 300 million Arabs, less than one-half of 1 percent are truly free, and they’re all citizens of Israel [applause].”

Netanyahu wanted to present Israel as the only place where Arabs have a true democracy. It makes me wonder if Netanyahu had been listening to his cabinet members’ attacks on Arabs in Israel or if he bothered to ask any “Arabs” of what they think of Israeli democracy. Netanyahu spoke from his imagination, ignoring the reality in which Palestinian Israelis live.

He neglected the fact that the current Knesset is the most racist since the creation of the state of Israel. On a regular basis, laws are proposed and passed to limit the freedom of non-Jews in Israel. A law that segregates residential communities, a law that requires Arabs to forget their past and forbids them from mourning their loss in 1948. Other laws propose to control their education, banning them from learning their own history and limiting their employment in public service. Despite all of this, Netanyahu boldly and arrogantly claimed that Israel is the only place where Arabs enjoy true freedom.

Netanyahu’s attempt to polish Israel’s image and conceal its mistreatment of Palestinians citizens of Israel through comparisons to the Arab world is nothing new. I have heard the same comparison from many Israelis when discussing human rights violations and the second-class status of Palestinian Israeli citizenship. Setting a low standard for the state of Israel is the best way justify the mistreatment of non-Jews.

In a dialogue meeting I attended five years ago between Israelis and Palestinians, a similar comment was made by an Israeli who bragged about Israel’s “wonderful” treatment of the Arabs. We allow them to have Knesset members, they can vote, they have health care and more money than the Arabs in the neighboring countries. They are better off than their Arab brethren in the Middle East, and therefore should not complain. In the same dialogue meeting there was an American Jew who grew up in America at the time of the Second World War. He reminded the Israeli defender of Israel of a similar comparison that was made about 65 years ago.

He told us that in the Second World War era, Blacks, Jews and other minorities were treated as second-class citizens in America. You couldn’t get a good job if you were a Jew. He told us about sending dozens of resumes to big companies and being rejected merely because he was a Jew. The argument some used back then was that America was the best place for Jews to live in. Don’t complain, they were told, Look at what Europe does to the Jews. Jews are way better off in America than in Germany or Poland. It was true. It was much better to live in America than to live in Germany in those days. However that didn’t justify the mistreatment of Jews in America. Jews in America didn’t want to be treated a little better, but fought hard to be treated with dignity and respect and enjoy their full rights.

Netanyahu’s presentation of “Arabs” in Israel was deceitful and those who gave him a standing ovation in Congress chose ignorance over truth. Democracies are not supposed to  discriminate between their citizens based on race, color or religion. Israel does.

Netanyahu and Boehner (Flickr/TalkMediaNews)

Netanyahu and Boehner (Flickr/TalkMediaNews)

Israel still has Arab villages that are not recognized and cannot receive services, while illegal settlements in the West Bank enjoy full services and security.  The fact that Arab countries treat their citizens badly doesn’t give Israel the moral or legal authority to treat its Palestinian citizens poorly.

Israel must face reality and look in the mirror if it wants to be a true democracy. Netanyhu must realize that Israel is not immune from the Arab Spring. There are consequences for discriminating against your own citizens, and Palestinians citizens of Israel are not different from other Arabs rising up for their rights and dignity.

This is the time for Prime Minister Netanyahu to look around at his neighboring countries and learn from the lessons that Egypt and Tunisia have learned. You can lie to your people and oppress them for decades, but eventually the desire for freedom, equality and dignity will prevail.

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    1. Koshiro

      This is as good an opportunity as any for me to express my support for the only democracy in the Middle East, and the only place in the region where an Arab minority of about a million people can live in true equality and freedom.
      I am referring – of course – to Turkey.

      Or, in other, simpler words: Netanyahu is not merely hypocritical. He is lying. His claims are not just misleading, they are untrue. Netanyahu has once more shown himself to be a passionate, habitual liar.

      Reply to Comment
    2. what is name?

      Obviously, israel has a long way to go regarding its treatment of its Arab citizens, or, as they identify themselves, “Israeli palestinians”. But, since the jews were never at war with the states, a more accurate comparison would be between Israel’s treatment of arab citizens, and the US’ treatment of its ethnic japanese citizens during WW2. Perhaps that would give you some historical perspective.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Louis

      Great piece. Israel will conveniently set out its own playing field…. it chooses Europe for soccer and basketball, and runs to the fields of authoritarian regimes when it wants to play the democracy card… problem is that, as far as football is concerned they do not do so well in Europe, and as far as democracy is concerned… well comparing to Syria is like beating a 3 year old in 3 card Monty… Bibi, where you hiding the pea?

      Reply to Comment
    4. max

      Such hate… no wonder reason and truth take the backstage.
      But the bottom line is clear: Netanyahu was right in what he said, but it’s not fair because Israel’s neighbors are even more criminal… what’s worse, his message was well received.
      Just compare his “biased” perspective to Abbas’ twist of history, where effect became the cause (is this what’s called a “narrative”?), a much more fundamental issue. Somehow, I missed the articles about hypocrisy here.
      Israel is not the Garden of Eden, but it doesn’t compare so badly with other Western countries facing even lower ethnic tensions. Income gaps may even be in favor of Israel; religious freedom is often better… and you’re right, there’s no equality. But as the Arab MKs – and you – prioritize your national agenda ahead of the people’s welfare, how can you complain about the results?
      What’s with this lie about “a law that requires Arabs to forget their past and forbids them from mourning their loss in 1948”? Care to provide the relevant text?
      @Koshiro, you mean the Kurd minority in Turkey? The one with 3,000 uprooted villages and 30,000 dead? Oh, they’re more than 1M and not Arab, so it doesn’t count…

      Reply to Comment
    5. ARTH

      This argument misses the point: The inhabitants of the West Bank who are not Jewish settlers have no civil rights at all, not even the freedom to move without check points and permits. Moreover, they have no control of their own land and water resources.

      Reply to Comment
    6. ARTH

      To Max: Israel has the largest skew in national income distribution in the world, second only to the USA.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Koshiro

      “Koshiro, you mean the Kurd minority in Turkey?”
      No, when I mean ‘Kurd’ I usually say ‘Kurd’. I meant Arab. I take it you were not aware of the fact that Kurds are not Arabs, and you were likewise unaware of the presence of an Arab minority in Turkey. Quelle surprise.

      That said, even with the (rightly condemned) oppression against the Kurds that is going on in Turkey: They are much better off than Palestinians in the territories. Turkish Kurds are citizens, they can vote, they have freedom of movement in the country, they are not liable to be expelled on the whim of a foreign government. Things Palestinians under Israel’s rule in the West Bank can only dream of.
      I am not sure that they are worse off than Palestinians in Israel proper.

      In any case, as I said, I referred to the *Arab* minority, which reveals Netanyahu’s statement to be a dirty, stinking lie and nothing else.

      Reply to Comment
    8. max

      @Arth, the OECD isn’t the world… but as you know, you switched the topics (typical?), which was the gap between Arabs and non-Arabs in Israel
      @Koshiro, sorry for you that you can’t read till the end of 2.x lines

      Reply to Comment
    9. Chana

      Wow Max,

      It’s like dealing with children trying to argue points with Netenyahu lovers who feel he’s such a good macho example of a Zionist as to get rid of the, “Nerdy, over-achieving, passive Jewish male” stereotype. Still, your insecurity shines through with weak arguments that just say, “Well so and so is worse!” or “So and so did it first”, or my favorite, “God gave it to us, so it’s ours, not yours. Nah nah na nah nahhh!”

      And apparently BiBi being so well received by a bunch of crooks and bastards on Capitol Hill- people that you probably have said that you loathe and don’t really care about America- they give this clown a stage and feed into his narcissism and you think that means that Netenyahu is right!? LOL! What asinine bull****.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Koshiro

      “but as you know, you switched the topics”
      You’re a master of realsatire, aren’t you just?

      Reply to Comment
    11. directrob

      Read the speech …
      No go here and download and read the document.
      Did you read the document? Now read the speech again…
      Suddenly the WHOLE speech collapses to a bag of cheap tricks, the cheapest of them all the about 49 times the word peace was used. Truth is unimportant.

      In the words of Dr Frank Luntz:
      “And remember, it’s not what you say that counts. It’s what people hear.”

      Reply to Comment
    12. max

      Chana, the resemblance between what I wrote and what you claim I did is nil. You probably referred to someone else’s comment.
      As a spectator I observe that your text contains not a single piece of reasoning

      Reply to Comment
    13. Rich

      Arth, here’s some numbers behind your assertion of the staggering difference in living standards between Jews and Arabs in Israel.


      The Center’s report has shown that a staggering 54% of Israel’s Arab population lives in poverty, as compared to 15% of the Jewish population. According to the report, over 150,000 Arab families, including some 400,000 children, live below the poverty line.


      Over the decades, however, Jewish-Arab relations in Israel have been marked by mutual suspicion and resentment. From 1948 until 1966 Arabs here lived under military rule. A 2003 government report acknowledged discrimination by state institutions, and a recent report on poverty published last year by Israel’s National Insurance Institute indicated that 53 percent of the impoverished families in Israel are Arabs.


      Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer on Tuesday presented figures showing that the poverty rate in the ultra-Orthodox and Arab sectors has gone up by more than 50% in the past decade, while remaining unchanged at around 13% among the general population.

      There is no doubt that part of the difference between the salary of Arab workers in the labor market and the salary of others stems from discrimination,” said Fischer.


      Furthermore, of the 40 towns in Israel with the highest unemployment rates, 36 were Arab towns. The total employment rate for Arabs is 68%.

      Reply to Comment
    14. ARTH

      Max, how do you have any idea what is “typical” of me…

      Reply to Comment
    15. Ragfish

      Considering the humane treatment of Fatah by Hamas in their takeover of Gaza in 2007, it is no wonder Arabs who have coexisted with Jews in Israel are reluctant to declare a Palestinian state. Following the takeover, Fatah loyalists were cast off roofs after witnessing Hamasniks murdering their family members in a similar manner.
      Rule by intimidation, murder is lower than Mafia rule. There is no code of honor among followers of a triumphalistic, politically violent and lawless ideology of Islam.
      Anti Jewish Arabs were given a homeland in 1946 constituting 78% of the British Mandate called Jordan. This is where Arabs could live apartheid from their Jewish cousins. Islamic doctrine cannot rest without total hegemony. Jews will only be tolerated by Palestinian Arabs living in dhimmi status in an Arab Muslim state.

      Reply to Comment
    16. max

      1. Fact is, that there’s a stark disparity in income between Arabs and none-Arabs in Israel. The question is why?
      2. The fact is, that the same observation can be made also in Europe. So this means that the problem isn’t an Israeli one.
      For example, the university of London states that “Three in four Pakistani and Bangladeshi children in UK living in poverty at age 7” compared with “one in four white (26%) and Indian (25%) children”.
      Similar stats exist for France and Germany.
      3. In Israel, the Arab population has a socio-economic profile similar to that of ultra-orthodox Jews.
      This can provide an indication to the reason behind the gap
      4. Indeed, besides the discrimination mentioned by Fischer to explain part of the gap, we have the OBVIOUS, which is OBVIOUSLY ignored here: families with only 1 parent working for a wage, with many young children, will ALWAYS have a lower average income than families with 2 working parents and less children.
      So please stop the hypocrisy and out of context numbers.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Jorge

      @max. The problem with your explenation is that Arabs don’t have as many children as orthodox Jews and they are much more educated even in Israeli universities. Despite that when an arab And a Jew apply to a government job Jews are given the proiority

      Reply to Comment
    18. max

      @Jorge, when you look at the stats of the past 60 some years, you’re absolutely wrong. You may be referring to the tendency, which should have its effect in some years

      Reply to Comment
    19. Waleed

      @ Aziz, I think someone should write about the discrimination and oppresion Palestinians inside the green line face every single day and in general.Unfortunately , the so called left Israeli newspapers rarely report such incidents.Last week 7 Palestinian families in Lyd received eviction notices because they didnt get permissions, and we all know why they werent given the permissions.The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians hasnt ended yet ,esp in the coastal cities.

      Reply to Comment
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