Jonathan Zausmer

All its citizens? Yes, ALL its citizens!

While the current far-right fanatical government of Israel takes over the state and its institutions, attempting to render all checks and balances redundant, there are many who will not allow this swing towards fascism to move forward. 

The extremist utterances, the plan for judicial “overhaul” (read – neutering the legal system) backed by a clear need by the prime minister himself and other officers of government who are deeply involved in serious legal trouble, bring us to an attempt to weaken democracy itself. Add to this the pure hatred conveyed towards the Arab population at large, to the immigrant population, the rise in religious ultra nationalism and the need to destroy any status quo regarding the holy sites – you literally have a bomb sitting under Israel’s declaration of independence and the basic laws driven by that. And when you play around with explosives, as we all know, “accidents” happen. 

If anyone thinks that the hundreds of thousands protesting are going to pack up and go home, they are mistaken. The financial fallout is beginning to show its ugly face. The stench emanating from this swing to ultra conservatism and ultra nationalism has reached way beyond Israel itself. The United States government is holding its nose while politely letting us know that this undermines the so-called special relationship. Putin is loving it. The world looks on with disbelief. See the international news channels to understand the plummet in status of what was once a country revered and held in high esteem. 

But worse, an intifada (the most feared word in Israel) looks very much like a real possibility, and with a government that conveys the feeling that all is quiet on the western front (read – the occupied territories), it is most certainly not. The harder the Ben Gvirs et al, press on the accelerator to subjugate, humiliate, destroy homes and lives in occupied territory, bring in death sentences and try to crush any Palestinian identity, the closer we all come to the third intifada. And as we know, each intifada grows more horrific when it comes along. Number one was bad, number two caused brutal murder in Israel and the territories, taking down the entire economy for years and leaving thousands of bodies along the way. The combination of removing all the gatekeepers, expanding into territory forbidden under the Geneva Convention, and the vocalized attempt to try to recapture the temple mount, escalating militarily to crush any Palestinian attempt at national identity, (even raising flags), the more this population under the boot will rise up. And they may be crushed yet again but bodies mount up on both sides. Even one is a tragedy. The second intifada left thousands. 

Add to this, the waning regime of Abu Mazen, alienated by many of his people due to his policy of security cooperation with Israel, without preventing a single settlement from being built or protecting a single dunam of land forbidden to Israel by international law and with not one result, in the most modest form, of inching towards a two state solution due to the refusal by Israel to take it forward. A lame duck would be a good term. Dead man walking, more accurate. So the gatekeeper on the other side is also a shadow about to fade. It is no wonder then, that Hamas in Gaza are taking ownership of the conflict. This is a path that is far more complex to navigate on than before.

We seemed to have forgotten the words in Israel’s declaration of independence, that the State of Israel… “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its citizens 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; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

The recently passed nation state law undermines this very principle by attempting to place Jewish Israeli citizenship as a prioritized status compared to Arab Israeli citizenship. This is the road to discrimination and our new government now rides on it. 

Ironically if we look back at history, the voting patterns of Arab citizens of Israel have often defined election results. 

Following the assassination of Rabin in 1995 I served in reserve duty at a check post between two  Arab cities, one in Israel and the other inside occupied territory. Almost every vehicle had a sign “Shalom Chaver”. Yet just a few weeks later Israel bombed and destroyed a gathering of innocent civilians in Kfar Qana in Lebanon (albeit by technical failure). Over a hundred innocent people were killed and more were wounded. Israel’s Arab population was shocked. At the elections that followed not long after, the Arab citizens voted with their feet: they did not participate. The government for peace that was virtually assured to win, following the assassination of Rabin, lost its majority. The rest is history. Likewise, when Netanyahu abusively said in 2015, “Arab voters are moving in droves to the polling stations. Left-wing organizations are busing them in”, the Arab community went out to vote proactively – specifically because of this racist slur. Indeed they increased their total vote, making it the third largest party in the knesset. We learn from the above that the Arab community in Israel can be a powerful force when motivated. This factor, together with the increasing integration into society at large, and with a willingness to be fully involved in business, academia and critical professions such as medicine and science, commerce and high tech, means that integration and cooperation can now easily move towards a more equal society with a common voice, common interests and a common need to blend and integrate while maintaining religious, family and social identity as well. 

These trends are now maturing and we are seeing a move towards Jewish-Arab integration and cooperation on the political front. A new political party “Kol Ezraheha” is now on the political map and making headway across the country. Dialogue, tolerance, and powerful cooperation in raising awareness has begun. More to follow. Watch this space.

About the Author
Originally from South Africa, Jonathan made aliya in the seventies, and lived and worked on a kibbutz for several years. He has a graduate degree in business from Boston University and is a managing partner of an Israeli based business. He was a co-founder of the Forum Tzora peace action group and participates in the Geneva Initiative workshops. He is the author of the book “Valley of Heaven and Earth”.
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