Israeli Arabs: Time Is (Really) Running Out

Last year, I posted the results of Haifa University professor Sami Smooha's poll, which reinforced hopes that Israeli Arabs, over a fifth of the population, could eventually accept assimilation into Israeli life.

* 75 percent of Israeli Arabs between the ages of 16 and 22 support voluntary national service;
* 68 percent would be willing to live in a Jewish neighborhood, and 80 percent would like Arabs to enjoy parks and share swimming pools with Jews;
* Over 53 percent feel rejected as citizens of Israel;
* Almost 75 percent of Arabs support the return of refugees only to a Palestinian state;
* 45 percent said that they feel closer to Jews in Israel than to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza;
* Almost half support “comprehensive integration into the Western world.”

Prof. Smooha just released new results of his annual poll. These reveal a shocking decline in feelings of identity and citizenship among Israeli Arabs. Only 41 percent of Israel's Arab minority recognize the country's right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state, as opposed to 65.6 percent in 2003. Only 53.7 percent of the Israeli Arab public believe Israel has a right to exist just as an independent country, according to the poll, down from 81.1 percent in 2003. The saddest result of all: over 40% deny that the Holocaust happened. This might be translated as: 40% believe Jews are liars; or 40% believe Jews use the Holocaust to expropriate, or discriminate against, them.

Jerusalem, we have a problem. Benjamin Netanyahu is saying that "time is running out" on Iran, that Israel faces an existential threat and has to act. He is missing, as I stressed in The Hebrew Republic, the real existential threat to Israel as we know it--and the real count down. Among the things Netanyahu will raise with President Obama today is the demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as as "Jewish state." But as Israeli Arabs well know, there is a difference between a Hebrew-speaking republic (that is, a democracy with a Jewish national character), and a country that preserves over 90% of available land for settlement by legally ethnic Jews, that awards citizenship to anyone who qualifies as Jewish according to Halacha, that preserves a huge Jewish Orthodox school system through public taxation, that annexes Arab parts of Jerusalem, including the Noble Sanctuary, that hands over to rabbis jurisdiction over marriage, divorce and burial--do I bore you?

And on top of this, the regular eruptions of violence between Israel and Palestinians make polarization inevitable. As I argued before, the Gaza operation may not have deterred Gazans from further violence, but it certainly deterred Israeli Arabs from imagining themselves real citizens of Israel.

OBAMA, PRESUMABLY, WILL be too polite to ask Netanyahu: "What kind of Jewish state?" But perhaps his people could later put the question to Uzi Arad, the other Israeli official in the room, who wrote in the New Republic a few years back what Avigdor Lieberman now suggests, that Israel keep the settlements and offer Palestine, in return, the Israeli Arab towns in the Little Triangle. “The various land swap plans,” Arad writes, “proposing a tradeoff of territories aim to increase ethnic homogeneity... [so that] the Jewish majority would remain at 81 percent until 2050." Gee, 81 percent until 2050. And here I thought math was hard; that, anyway, Arab families living in Israel for 61 years, raised in the Hebrew language, and aspiring to lives in Israeli hospitals, high tech companies, and universities, might (if we can get past their rage) actually enrich the country.

Look, Arad was a colleague of mine for a while, and whatever he thought of me, I found him very engaging. I even once tried, in a modest way, to help him raise money in Toronto for his Herzliya Conference and research institute. He always showed me respect, even warmth (though I was hardly in a position to be his rival). I found him brilliant and morally serious; he once told me, what I took to be a kind of foundational fantasy, that he would like to organize a secret force to strike at anti-Semites anywhere in the world--something like the late Mordechai Richler's St. Urbain's Horseman, I thought.

But a warm Jewish heart is not public policy. Neither is Israel a big Jewish family. Arad wants us to think that the problem is Palestinians not recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. But does he recognize Israel as a state at all--I mean a state in any ordinary sense, like France, or even Quebec? In November 2003, he co-authored (with Uzi Dayan and Hebrew social scientist Yehezkel Dror) a new “Zionist Manifesto” for Israel, which was presented to the Zionist Congress in Jerusalem. It aimed to give “constitutional status” to Israel as a “Zionist-Jewish state,” a state of the “whole” [read, world] Jewish people.” Arad’s manifesto also called for a state that would teach “the feeling of a right to the Promised Land, which is a central principle of Judaism.” It also called for “the preservation of democracy for all of its citizens.” It did not say if this were a central principle of Judaism.