A Party for Jews Only

Haaretz (Hebrew version),  December 9, 2007

Party for Jews Only

by Ehud Oshri from Haaretz

As things appear right now, the 60th anniversary of the state will be celebrated solely by its Jewish citizens.  Heads of the Arab community have announced to Ruhama Avraham, the minister responsible for the celebrations, that they intend to boycott the events and not participate in the activities planned in the Arab locales.  If the boycott takes place, it will be a personal slap in the face for minister Avraham after all the enticements she has showered on them, but that’s nothing compared with the public blow Israeli democracy will suffer precisely on the day she intended to emphasize the unity between all sectors of the population.

The trouble is that the state has only itself to blame.  For 59 years, it has discriminated against the Arab population (about half of it is to be found below the poverty line), treated it as a “strategic threat,” attacked its leaders, and comes the 60th year, the state suddenly tries to convince this sector to join the independence party.  The state is even ready to change its tactics from the stick to the carrot – heads of the Arab public were promised that the celebrations would include large financial investments in the infrastructure of their towns.  What should have been theirs by right suddenly had become a holiday gift, if they would only help the state present the appearance of equality and democracy.

Besides the financial enticement, Avraham also presented a national inducement – the common denominator chosen for the 60 years celebrations was “Children of Israel,” a general motif with which all levels of the population could identify.  The problem was that when Avraham says “Children of Israel,” what she means is the children of Jewish Israel.

For example, one of the climactic events of the celebrations is installing a national corner in every school, in which the state flag will be placed and where there will be a symbolic signing of the Israeli declaration of independence by the children.  The declared objective of the plan is “to help all Israeli youth, Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze, and others, to serve as a model of the vision of the state of Israel as a ‘Jewish and democratic’ country.” But the question arises as to why Muslim, Christian, and Druze youngsters should want to adopt the vision of a Jewish state, especially one that sees them as second-class citizens.  Why should they agree to sign the declaration that sets up the return of the Jewish people to its land when they are not a part of it?

Ruhama Avraham would come and say – because Israel is a democratic country.  It’s a fact that the declaration of independence promises “total equality of social and political rights of all its citizens no matter what their “religion, race, or sex,” and it even exhorts its Arab population to “take part in building the state on the basis of full and equal citizenship.” What’s the problem with signing it?  Even Meir Wilner, a member of the Maki faction and eventually the general secretary of the Israeli Communist party, signed it.

For this, the Arabs have two replies.  Those who are more separatist, members of the Balad party, say that with all due respect to Wilner, the declaration of independence commemorates the establishment of the Jewish state on the ruined lives of its indigenous inhabitants, the Palestinian Arabs.  From their point of view, that event was a “Naqba,” a disaster.  It would have been different had the state recognized its historical responsibility and the Arab identity dilemma, and had interwoven, for example, the alternative narrative in the education system, but there was no way that was going to happen, so why should the Arabs participate in the independence celebrations?

The more moderate among them, representing the majority, that is, those wanting to integrate into Israeli society, point out the two concepts of “equal rights” and “full and equal citizenship” and they ask where do they fit into those concepts.  As they see the situation, Arab citizens would have had good reason to take part in the events if the state had only taken the trouble to implement these slogans in practice.  Until such time, any participation would be coerced and artificial.

It’s hard to argue with these reservations.  The alienation and discrimination felt by the Arabs cry out all around us.  The hostile declarations of top-level politicians and defense officials consistently call into question their legitimacy, ignore the position of the Arab majority, and cause even the moderates to doubt their identification with the state.  it is enough to see their low voting percentage, 53% in the most recent elections, to understand how deep the crisis is and how perverted the attempt to expect their participation in the 60-years celebrations.  Instead, we need to flip the record and start treating the Arabs as equal citizens.  Perhaps then we will be able to celebrate together when the 70-years celebrations come along, insh-allah.

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