An extensive survey released late last month indicated that Arab Israelis have become more extreme in their attitudes to the state and its Jewish majority, while Jewish Israelis have maintained their positions or have become more amicable to the Arab minority.
On the surface, the statistics in the “2012 Index of Arab-Jewish Relations In Israel” seem straightforward, but professor Sammy Smooha of Haifa University, who conducted the study, said this is not the case. There are many reasons for the shift, and Israel has to own up to its side of the story.
“Why the hardening of the Arab view?” asked Smooha on a recent call from Israel. In the last decade, he answered, Arab-Israeli aspirations have been shattered.
“The second term of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, from 1992 to 1995, was a golden age of Jewish-Arab relations. The Oslo Accords meant for the Arabs the right to self-determination. … Aspirations for peace skyrocketed,” said Smooha. “Rabin … reduced many of the discriminations against the Arabs, he engaged in negotiations with their leaders, he respected them, and he felt the Israeli government could work with the Arab Israelis with respect and with equality.”
After Rabin’s assassination in November 1995, the Arabs’ hopes were shattered; the gap between their aspirations and reality became wider and wider.
Moreover, he said, Israeli action against the Palestinians since 2000 — the second Lebanon war, Operation Cast Lead, Operation Pillar of Defense — affected attitudes, too.
“Arabs were disaffected by the state’s behavior toward [the Palestinians],” he said.
What is striking is that Israelis don’t recognize this. But Smooha said, “Why would they?” The issues that affect the Arabs often have little to do with the Jews, and the Jews don’t see it from the Arab perspective.
“Let’s take the war on Gaza. While the Arabs view this as against the Palestinians, against the Arabs, and they feel a part of that group … as far as the Jews are concerned, this is an act of war and security and has nothing to do with the Arabs of Israel,” Smooha explained.
In addition, he said, as Israel becomes more democratic— and despite media reports, he said it very much has — this affects the Jewish perspective. Jews are becoming more centrist (not right or left), which leads to a more moderate viewpoint and a goal of treating Arabs more equally than before. The Arabs, who live in Israel and read and learn about political enlightenment, become more politicized. The more they know, the more impatient they become with the continual discrimination.
Discrimination is a strong word. But Muhammad Darawsha, co-executive director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, said it is the right one when referring to Israeli treatment of its Arab citizens. He said even the state has admitted that discrimination exists. In 2007, for example, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert delivered a speech in which he accused Israel of “deliberately and institutionally discriminating against Arabs.”
Darawsha is not short on examples of this discrimination.
Israel’s Land Authority has a policy of preferential treatment of Jews in land appropriation and ownership. Jews control 97 percent of the land; Arabs, who make up 21 percent of the population, 3 percent.
Double the amount of the municipal budget goes to development of Jewish infrastructure. There are gaps in the education budget; Arab children learn in schools without enough classrooms and with outdated curricula. The result is that only 12 percent of Arab children (as opposed to 25 percent of Jewish children) attend a university.
And after college, there is discrimination in the workforce.
“The strongest elements of Israel’s economy are finance and high tech. How many Arab workers are in high tech? Less than 1 percent. This is the result of first, a failing Arab educational system, and second, a job market that is discriminatory,” said Darawsha, noting that only 7 percent of civil-service positions are filled by Arab Israelis.
While Darawsha is angry — his family has been on the land for 20 generations — he is not pessimistic. He said that the state’s founders made a promise to the Arabs in 1948 that Israel would be a democratic state that would grant equal social, economic and political rights to the Arabs who stayed in the country.
“Whoever is leading the state in the opposite direction is betraying the founders,” he said.
Darawsha would like to see a constitution written that reflects the nonlegal document of the Declaration of Independence. He said that would provide a legal set of checks and balances and would empower Arab Israelis to take cases of discrimination to the highest courts.
In 1999, Darawsha noted, the government passed legislation similar to America’s affirmative-action policies. However, the policies were never carried through. He said he does not need international pressure on Israel, he needs an Israeli government that is accountable to its own decisions.
And he needs people-to-people connections. Racism in Israel, he said, is the highest ever, and he believes that is because of lack of integration between young Jews and Arabs.
“There is a great deal of dehumanization on both sides,” he said. “Not enough Jews meet Arabs, not enough Arabs meet Jews. The education system is segregated so they don’t meet for the first 18 years of life. Then, the Jews go to the military and first encounter Arab citizens at a university or in their jobs, when they are already 21 and hardened from the military.”
Smooha said that while eliminating discrimination is essential, the process will be slow. The nature of the state of Israel as a Jewish state makes it more complicated. He cited the Law of Return as an example. This law pertains to Jews, and eliminates even Palestinian spouses of Arab Israelis, for fear the children may be raised unloyal to the state.
But, said Smooha, Arab Israelis remain very loyal.
“They are resigned with Israel as a Jewish state, with a Jewish majority, a Jewish calendar, culture and language,” he said. “They don’t want to shatter the rules, they just want more equality and dignity.”
The international community can help, Smooha said. Jewish philanthropists are starting to fund some programs for Arab Israelis as they become more aware.
“Every person who cares for Israel — whether outside or inside — needs to realize that Jewish and Arab coexistence cannot come without equality. The gateway for peace is equality, and that is in the best interest of everyone,” Darawsha said. “We [Arabs] learned democracy and human rights in Israel. We learned human dignity in Israel, and we believe what we learned. These values come from my own Israeli educational system, and I want them for myself.”