It is important to acknowledge that with all of Israel’s incredible successes in many fields since its creation, there are issues that Israel is grappling with as it continues to stride into the 21st century. One of the most pressing of these concerns is how to harmoniously co-exist with a minority population. Approximately 20%, one out of five, of Israel’s population consists of Israeli Arabs.
Of the 20%, about 8% are Druze, about 5% are Bedouin, and about 10% are Christian. Israeli Arabs have full democratic rights, parliamentary representation, State education and judiciary recourse. The Joint Arab List is the third largest party in the Knesset. Despite their full democratic rights, the resources given to Israeli Arabs are less than those given to the Jews. The majority of Israeli Arabs do not serve in the army. (The Druze, with mandatory male conscription, Bedouin and some Christians who can, and do, volunteer are the exception.) The non-service in the army results in most Israeli Arabs being denied substantial social benefits. At times of recession and unemployment in the Israeli economy, the Israeli Arab sector is consistently amongst the hardest hit. Despite the loyalty demonstrated by the vast majority of Israeli Arabs, the number of Israeli Arabs involved in anti-Israel activities, either directly or indirectly, has increased in recent years. In recent years, some of the more radical rhetoric of Arab Knesset members has received intense criticism and brought a number of legal probes. The self-identity of Israeli Arabs is increasingly showing more overt identification with the Palestinians.
The old anti-Semitic canard that Israel is an Apartheid state is patently false. To call Israel Apartheid is as absurd as saying that there are equal rights to all peoples in any of the countries surrounding Israel. South Africa, the only apartheid state the world has known, was a brutally oppressive regime where State-sanctioned racism was enshrined in the law. The colour of ones skin was the sole factor as to whether one did or did not have rights. The contrast between Apartheid South Africa and the State of Israel is total. Israel’s Declaration of Independence enshrines equality for all of her citizens by categorically stating:
The State of Israel… will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions…
In the Arab world and Iran women are denied basic human rights. Adultery is a crime for both sexes, though women receive harsher punishment. Adultery is a capital offense, with execution by stoning. This is sexual Apartheid. The United Nations Human Development Report of 2002 (page 22) states that:
Women in Arab league countries suffer from unequal citizenship and legal entitlements. Often evident in voting rights and legal codes and from inequality of opportunity evident in employment status, wages and gender-based occupational segregation. Their political and economic participation remains the lowest in the world.
Whilst Israel continues to wrestle with its relationship to its minority population it is imperative to remember that relative to any of the neighbouring countries in the region the situation is incomparably better, although there is certainly room for improvement.