I recently saw a post on my Facebook that celebrated the amazing work of Fadiya, a nurse who works at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, and who was given an award for her service. In the post, the author mentioned that, given the large number of Muslim (and Christian and Druze) citizens working throughout the country, Israel couldn’t be considered an apartheid state.
In response, I noted that Israel doesn’t subscribe to apartheid in the classic sense, because it isn’t practiced as a government policy here. However, it would be naive to point to success stories like Fadiya’s without mentioning that by our own government’s admission, the Israeli Arab population is underemployed, and that many Israeli Jews openly admit that they would prefer to hire Jews unless the cost savings are substantial or it’s a job that’s literally only done by Arabs.
That is not a positive.
One of my native Israeli friends attempted to take some of the sting out of this statement by retorting that some Muslim Arab terrorists were actually well known and well received in Jewish homes as guests and neighbors, and then went nuts and performed terror attacks. In his opinion, because no one knows if an Arab is planning to kill you when he says “Hi” to you, it leads to distrust.
This opinion is one of the arguments I hear a lot. It’s not usually publicized in civil company, or even in political discourse. Maybe a Lieberman would say it, while a Bennett would walk around it, but give you enough information to get the same point across. I don’t disagree that there are extremists in the Israeli Arab and Palestinian communities. However, the best way to encourage rapprochement is to build bridges, instead of blaming an entire community for the actions of a few.
Another anti-apartheid argument is based on the ability of Arabs to enjoy freedom of speech and how they own business and be employed by major companies, while still being allowed to protest and avoid denouncing their terrorists. According to this view, we have the right to express our discomfort with our Arab population because their sentiment is that they hate us, and are planning on taking our jobs just to use this as an opportunity to commit murder and become martyrs. Therefore, we don’t need to feel obligated to provide Arabs with equal opportunities until the moderate contingent completely divorces themselves from the radicals.
Some people are all about proteksia, saying that while everyone should have the same rights to employment, their Jewish neighbors, whom they know and share food with should get job first. As a member of an ethnic minority, I’m horrified that we would be willing to shut out other Israelis because they aren’t in our group. This is always the problem with an inherently segregated civilization. If we were in America and someone from the suburbs was saying that to someone from the inner city, I’d be mad. But when I’m on the winning side, I should be okay with it? I would think Jews would understand why this would be problematic, given the problems this attitude has caused for us outside of Israel.
Others argue that Arab women, who are the least likely to have employment, can’t work outside the home, because the male members of their families will beat them up or kill them if they try. This does not answer the point that in most of the Middle East, 45 percent of women work. The low participation in Israel can’t be blamed fully on cultural behavior. In part, it is also because Israel has let down Arab communities by not providing enough childcare, job centers, or transportation to encourage a cultural shift.
Personally, I think of human rights as the same regardless of where people live or whose rights we’re talking about. If I don’t like something happening in America or Russia, or Great Britain, I’m not going to be okay with it here. If I don’t like something being done to African-Americans or Jews or Catholics, I’m not going to support it being done to Palestinians.
So, let’s be proud of a nurse like Fadiya, who shows that Israel isn’t 100% racist. But let’s also accept that many of us don’t want to hire Arabs because they might kill us, don’t look like us or live by us, and because we believe they don’t want to work anyway. And those beliefs aren’t exactly 0% racist.
Yah, it’s a tiring painful thing to have to consider. But I’m not going to just avoid a conversation because it forces me to think. So, I encourage you to take a day and just look around where you work and shop. How many faces do you see that are different from those of your friends and neighbors? And do you feel any obligation to change the status quo?