Israeli Arab advances in the last decade have a number of parallels with civil rights advances made in the United States during the 1970s. While there were unprecedented improvements in the situation of black Americans, liberals belittled government efforts and trivialized the advancements made as tokenism. Instead, liberals emphasized the racist stance of many white Americans and supported black nationalists leaders.
These liberals did not understand that this racist pushback was precisely because of the meaningful black advances. For the first time, white Americans faced blacks as equals in the workplace and in the schools. Similarly, Ron Gerlitz, co-director of Sikkuy has pointed out that the recent upsurge of anti-Arab sentiment among Jewish Israelis is precisely because of the Arab advances. For the first time, many Israeli Jews now face them as equals in the workplace and at the university. As a result, rather than seeing these racist upsurges as signaling the irredeemable nature of dominant populations, they should be seen as a predictable, transitional occurrences when ethnic or religious reordering is taking place. They should not be a reason to support national forces within the disadvantaged groups: whether black nationalists in the 1970s or Palestinian nationalists today.
In a +972 article, I discussed other ways in which the supporters of Israeli Arab advancement can learn from the missteps made in the United States by supporters of black advancement. Here let me discuss one important reason for the unwillingness of many liberals to acknowledge the remarkable advances made by black Americans in the 1970s and Arab advances in Israel in the last decade: their attitude toward the political leaders responsible for these advances.
In the United States, President Nixon took office in 1969. Liberals will immediately point to his off-the-record bigoted comments concerning blacks and Jews. They will emphasize that his presidential victory was a result of a “southern strategy,” whereby racist whites would be moved to shift from the Democratic to the Republican Party. Thus, Nixon had reprehensible qualities and surrounded himself with bigoted allies.
When you look at the actions of the Nixon Administration, however, his civil rights efforts were substantial. For example, his civil rights budget increased twenty-fold and there was a remarkable desegregation of Southern schools. By 1971, a larger share of black students in the South attended majority white schools and fewer were in schools that were more than 80 percent black than in the North. His Philadelphia plan led to the ending of the most extreme racist practices of construction unions and his small business initiatives led to a dramatic expansion of black-owned firms. Historian Hugh Davis Graham wrote, “He signed voting rights amendments in 1970 and equal opportunity legislation in 1972 that in most ways reflected the policy preferences of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and feminist advocacy groups. More strikingly, Nixon encouraged the development of affirmative action regulations that required minority preferences in government contracts for both public and private employment.”
This is exactly the paradox with Netanyahu. On the one hand, he has regressive personal attitudes toward Arabs and many of his Knesset allies are every bit as racist as Nixon’s southern strategy allies. The employment and educational policies under Netanyahu, however, are just as commendable as those enacted during the Nixon Administration. Indeed, efforts since Netanyahu assumed office have been even more proactive and effective. Unfortunately, advocates for Israeli Arabs have been much too focused on his personal attitudes than on his policies and results. Government surveys have shown that Israeli Arab community believes that they are much better off as a result of these policies and it’s about time that their liberal advocates acknowledge this.