Discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel rooted in 1948
Jerry Haber, 5 May 2010
Haaretz ran here a news item about the low percentage of Arabs in the governmental and public sector (around 6%) despite the government decision six years ago to raise it to match the percentage of Palestinian Arabs in the Israeli population (20%). It is not for lack of qualified candidates. The article sums up in a nutshell the complex of attitudes of Israeli Jews toward Israeli Palestinians. On the one hand they are citizens; on the other hand they are foundationally discriminated against. What do I mean by “foundational discrimination”? I mean the sort of discrimination that follows from foundational assumptions, in this case, the assumptions of the Jewish ethnic state established in 1948 against the will of the native Arab population.
You see, it is one thing to be discriminated against because you are a member of a minority, and no doubt ethnic minorities often suffer discrimination in states formed by ethnic nationalism. Israel’s case is different, and in some respects unique – for in statist Zionism you have an ethnic nationalism that recognizes the importance of equal rights of ethnic minorities by virtue of citizenship – but is unable, for ethnic nationalist reasons, to put that principle into practice. This is the fundamental difference between, say, the discrimination against African-Americans in the United States and against Arabs in Israel. Statist Zionism inevitably casts Palestinian Arabs as enemies, for what normal people will not resist attempts to conquer its land? They *should* be a fifth column, thinks the Israeli, even if facts are to the contrary. So Palestinian Arabs are axiomatically viewed as one (or as a “potential” fifth column) by virtue of their being Arab. Of course, when they have harmless successes (as in football), or modest gains (as in education) they are to be boasted about. But when they assert their rights or when call for cultural autonomy, the fifth column business crops us. Foundational discrimination against Palestinians entails that despite official Israel’s recognition of the principle of equal rights and genuine desire to improve their lot, official Israel must accord them inferior status. And, of course, the foundational assumption ensures that the Palestinians themselves will be excluded and will feel excluded from the Jewish state.
Even if there were peace with the Palestinians, or if Israeli Palestinian were to serve in the army, this foundational assumption would not be altered. To put this point another way – the inevitable price to pay for a Jewish state along the lines founded in 1948 is foundational discrimination against its Arab minority. This foundational discrimination can only begin to be rectified by transforming Israel from an ethnic Jewish state to a state of all its citizens — to transform it into a liberal democracy.
Every so often, usually following a crisis, there are well-intentioned attempts to improve the lot of Arabs. Intelligent Israelis realize that such an improvement would be good for the country as a whole. And so a sympathetic minister takes an initiative, or the government makes a decision. All these well-intentioned efforts are doomed to fail, because other priorities and needs will inevitably trump them
The Haaretz article tells an all-too-familiar story that brings together the standard elements: the good intentions to increase the percentage of Arab employees in government agencies and ministries, the failure to realize these intentions; the good guys bemoaning the failure; the bad guys justifying it.
Perhaps the most poignant position here is the one taken by Reuven Rivlin, long-time Likud politician, and about as decent a human being as an ultra-nationalist can be. I have no doubt that Rivlin genuinely believes that it is vital for Israel’s national interest to reduce the gaps between Israeli Palestinians and Israeli Jews. This belief underlies the good intentions of all the various initiatives and decisions over the year. But what Rivlin doesn’t get is not just that the gap won’t be significantly reduced but that it cannot be, as long as he and others champion the values of the ethnic state. Like the obese man who perpetually intends to go a diet, but whose ingrained eating habits and cultural mores prevent him from reducing weight, Israel must discriminate against 20% of its population — if it wants to remain Israel.
More on Israel’s Foundational Discrimination against its Arab Minority On my previous post there was a long anonymous comment that made two erroneous claims: first, that I attribute Israeli Jewish discrimination of Israeli Arabs to “natural bigotry” and racism; second, that this discrimination can be best explained by the dubious loyalty of Israeli Arabs, as evidenced by their political leaders, their identification with Palestinians outside Israel, etc.
My response was too long for a comment, so here goes:
Actually, the commentator misunderstood me entirely. My original post agreed with much of what he wrote. In my opinion, Israeli views towards Arabs for the most part are formed by the century history of enmity between Jews and Arabs. That is the main factor, Of course, there are also feelings of European/Jewish ethnic and cultural superiority over Arabs, but I really don’t think that is a significant factor. Non-Arab gentiles are also discriminated against, but not to the same extent.
How do we best explain this official discrimination against Israeli Arabs? Let’s perform an experiment; let’s look at two sectors that share a lot In common for our purposes, the Israeli Arab and the Haredi. Both are ideologically anti-Zionist, both receive legal deferments from military service; both do not celebrate state holidays; both are vilified by the Israeli mainstream. Yet one has had representatives in virtually every governing coalition since the founding of the State, wields enormous political power beyond its numbers (often as a coalition partner) and controls important and powerful ministries. The other has political parties that never get to drink from the trough and no political power, despite their numbers in the population.
From this I infer that failure to do military service, possession of an anti-Zionist ideology, non-observance of national holidays, and — this is important — being the object of hatred by many mainstream Israelis are all PERFECTLY COMPATIBLE WITH WIELDING POLITICAL POWER.
So when Israelis give reasons for discrimination against the Arab sector as their lack of service in the military, or their lack of observance of national holidays, etc., said Israelis engage in deep self-deception.
For what about the Druze who serve in the military, die for the state of Israel, and observe the national holidays? Compare their lot with the Haredim. Strength in numbers, you will say? That is what explains it?
So we are left with the explanation of the distinction between the political power of Arabs and Haredim as the view that Arabs are actual or potential enemies, because they are Arabs (with a certain history) and haredi Jews are potential friends, because they are Jews (with a certain history.)
What created the view of the Arab as enemy — for the first time in Jewish history, really, since Ishmael was understood classically as Muslim rather than as Arab — was the inevitable consequence of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine. Israel no doubt wanted to live in peace with its Arab neighbors, once it had a state and territory. But this desire was quite understandably viewed as a foreign invasion by interlopers. I am not denying that there were massacres of, or discrimination against Jews, by Arabs, before Zionism. But these were local events explained by local circumstances, and not indicative a deep antipathy towards Jews. Let us not forget that there were Jews who rose much higher in some Arab societies, then any Arabs have risen in Israeli society. And, indeed, the Zionists themselves did not make the assumption that the Arabs were natural enemies of the Jews. (Of course, there are those who believe that it is in the Arab blood or destiny or culture to hate Jews, and that explains their opposition to Zionism. This is rubbish. And leave religion out of this; no religion here is more tolerant than the next. Maimonides held that Christians are idolaters, and that idolaters must be forced to give up their religion or be put to death in a Jewish realm.)
Surely it is reasonable to expect that the Palestinian Arabs would resist the attempts of Polish and Russian Jews to establish a Jewish state in Palestine. Many Zionist leaders themselves thought it reasonable; that is how they would have responded to the claims of a foreign invader. The Zionists simply felt that the Arab claims to Palestine were unwarranted, or that the Jews had a better claim. That is why I wrote that Israelis quite naturally expect the Arabs to be enemies, and understand why they are hostile; that is how Israelis would act in the same circumstances. It would have been racist for them not to have such expectations, because then they would have had to explain Arab hostility as something perverse (e.g., inbred cultural hatred of the Jew) or their lack of hostility as something unnatural (they are happy to live under other masters, Turks, British, Jews because of a servile mentality).
The new state of Israel, from the beginning, should have made an attempt to create an Israeli people with an Israeli identity that would include, as much as possible, Israeli gentiles, Arab and non-Arab. It should have retreated to the 1947 partition lines, offered full citizenship to the Palestinians and promised a new order in which Palestinians and Jews would be on equal footing as Israelis. It should have shown that its acceptance of the Partition Plan was not merely a temporary irridentist tactic in order to gain power and time (as Ben Gurion expressed himself in that manner at least once) but was a principled compromise. Instead, it forgot about borders as soon as it had increased its geographical area through conquest.
What did it do instead? It blocked the return of the Palestinians to their homes; took over territories that were not allotted to it under the Partition plan; secretly agreed with Jordan to a partition of Palestine that would thwart the partition plan and the establishment of a Palestinian state, resettled Jewish refugees in the homes of Palestinians, and placed the remaining Palestinians under a military government for close to two decades. (I could go on and on about how the Shabak used collaborators to spy on the Israeli citizens, rewarded “good Arabs” through patronage and bribery, split the Druze from the Moslem Arabs in order to divide and rule, etc., created Arab political parties that were part of Mapai, etc. All this is in Hillel Cohen’s book about “Good Arabs.”) So for the first 18 years of the state, the essential patterns towards the Israeli Arabs were established, despite the fact that during this time fewer Jews were killed by Israeli Arabs on nationalistic grounds than died last week in Israel in traffic accidents.
Now, the Arabs did not suffer such discrimination because of what their political leaders said, because those leaders were handpicked by David Ben Gurion and his Mapai party. Nobody was upset at the Arabs then for not serving in the military because they were informally BANNED from serving in the army as security risks. All this followed very naturally from the logic of statist Zionism, which said that good (for the Jews) Arabs would be rewarded with privileges; bad Arabs would not. Arabs would have what freedom of speech the Zionists would allow them, but if they started demanding things like educational autonomy, the sort of things given to the haredim, they would be viewed as separationists.
“While most Arabs remaining in Israel were granted citizenship, they were subject to martial law in the early years of the state. Travel permits, curfews, administrative detentions, and expulsions were part of life until 1966. A variety of legal measures facilitated the transfer of land abandoned by Arabs to state ownership. These included the Absentee Property Law of 1950 which allowed the state to take control of land belonging to land owners who emigrated to other countries, and the Land Acquisition Law of 1953 which authorized the Ministry of Finance to transfer expropriated land to the state. Other common legal expedients included the use of emergency regulations to declare land belonging to Arab citizens a closed military zone, followed by the use of Ottoman legislation on abandoned land to take control of the land.
In 1965, the first attempt was made to stand an independent Arab list for Knesset elections, with the radical group al-Ard forming the Arab Socialist List. The list was banned by the Israeli Central Elections Committee.
In 1966, martial law was lifted completely, and the government set about dismantling most of the discriminatory laws, while Arab citizens were, theoretically if not always in practice, granted the same rights as Jewish citizens.” (This last line I don’t agree with entirely, but it would be folly not to realize that there have been significant changes since 1966. Of course, there have been changes in the other direction, as well.)
In short, statist Zionism said that Israeli Arabs would be tolerated provided they lacked real political power. And this was ensured since no coalition government, including the “leftwing” Merez-Avodah government of Rabin, would ever invite them into coalition talks.
Now, most Israelis will read this and say, “Sure, why not? This is a Jewish state. They can stay here as long as they behave.” And the liberal Israelis will allow them more leeway.
But the result of all this exclusion were powerful feelings of alienation among Israeli Arabs. And so they lose out both ways. It is not legitimate for them to be a powerful part of the state, since this is a Jewish state. On the other hand, it is not legitimate for them to identify with the Palestinian people, since they are the enemies of Israel. And their educational system forces them to be *Israeli* Arabs, which gives them this hybrid identity.
The Anonymous Commentator made the following statement to explain why there are so few Israeli Arabs in the foreign ministry.
After all, would you want a Geulah bochur in your Foreign Ministry going around the world undermining Israel, or for that matter would you want someone who cheered for Hezbollah in 2006 in the Defense Ministry?
Now, my short answer is no, I would not. But why would any decent person assume that a qualified candidate for a foreign ministry post who happens to be haredi or Arab must possess the views herein attributed? Note that I say decent person. Because a bigot believes that an individual is defined and determined by what the bigot believes to be the worse attributes of a group he is prejudiced against. So he will disqualify an Arab from being Israeli Consul in Atlanta say, because he cannot help but be a cheerer of Hezbollah, since he belongs to a group where some, even many, cheer Hezbollah.
In order not to be accused of racism against Arabs, the commentator threw in a bigoted remark about haredim yeshiva students from Geula. It used to be that an unconscious bigot would say, “Some of my best friends are Jews” to show she was not prejudiced. Now all she has to say is, “Some of my worst enemies are Jews” to prove the same thing.