The departure of radical Arab lawmakers from the Knesset presents a unique opportunity to foster stronger relations between Israel’s Jewish majority and its Arab minority.
Due to the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict, relations between Arab and Jewish citizens in Israel are complex and at times tense. Yet while the Arab-Israeli leadership has become increasingly radicalized and often hostile towards Israel, many – perhaps even a silent majority o of Israeli Arabs quietly embrace increased integration into Israeli society.
The departure of extremist Arab lawmakers from the Knesset, like Hanin Zoabi and Jamal Zahalka, presents a unique opportunity to foster stronger relations between Israel’s Jewish majority and its Arab minority.
Israeli Arab society has undergone tremendous development and change since the creation of the modern State of Israel in 1948. While radical Arab lawmakers in the Knesset often sound like hostile mouthpieces of Israel’s enemies, most young Israeli Arabs see their future in Israel rather than in Ramallah, Syria or Gaza.
In the last election, most Arab citizens voted for the Arab Joint List, consisting of several radical anti-Israel Arab nationalist and Communist parties. However, a recent poll suggests that fewer than 50% of Israeli Arabs are happy with the performance of Arab lawmakers in Knesset. Young and educated Israeli Arabs increasingly feel that the Arab parties in the Knesset do not properly represent them.
This is hardly surprising. The average Israeli Arab may not be a passionate Zionist, but most see themselves as a part of Israeli society. Radicals like Zoabi and Zahalka focus disproportionately on the Arab population in Judea, Samaria and Gaza while often ignoring its constituency inside Israel proper. They also vocally oppose normalization of relations between Israeli Arab citizens and the State of Israel.
Integration vs. Demonization
In other words, Arab lawmakers in the Knesset largely ignore the will of most Israeli Arabs. Instead of advancing integration of the Arab minority into Israeli society, Arab parties have demonized Israel, supported Israel’s enemies and thereby poisoned relations between Arabs and Jews in Israel.
There is a trend suggesting that an increasing number of Israeli Arabs may gradually switch and vote for more mainstream Zionist parties in the next election. For example, Dima Tayeh recently announced her plan to run in the Likud primaries. Tayeh sees no conflict in being a Muslim Arab woman who identifies with Israel. Instead of focusing on the war with Hamas and Fatah, Tayeh and other moderate Israeli Arabs seek to improve socio-economic integration of Israeli Arabs.
The recently passed Jewish Nation-State law increased tensions between Arabs and Jews in Israel. However, much of the anger was rooted in ignorance, slander and misunderstandings. Despite this, polls suggest that at least 50% of Israeli Arabs accept the definition of Israel as a Jewish nation-state. This number could increase dramatically if Israel clearly shows that the Jewish state does not discriminate between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens in terms of socio-economic opportunities.
Israel needs to invest more resources in winning the hearts and minds of young, educated Israeli Arabs who reject radicals like Zoabi. While progress has been made in terms of Arab integration in Israel, much work remains. The key to future success depends on Israel’s ability to reward loyalty while punishing unlawful, treasonous behavior among its citizens.
Israel is both a Jewish nation-state and a democracy with equal individual rights for its citizens. Therefore, the Jewish state must fight the international slander campaign that inaccurately demonizes Israel as a “racist” state.