Emanuel Shahaf

Israel’s Arabs, between a rock and a hard place

These are difficult days for the Arab community in Israel

These are difficult days for the Arab community in Israel. It’s never easy being a minority in a country optimized for Jews, in more ways than one.

Now they face daily the fact that too many of their Palestinian brothers and sisters are being subjected to terrible violence in Gaza, and not for the first time, by the same Israelis (or their children) who shop in their villages, who they work for and who run this country.

When they mourn their Gazan brothers and sisters, and at times express their frustration and real anger, they come under attack from Israelis for being a fifth column within Israel, and are threatened by Jewish politicians with economic boycotts.

They are misrepresented by their own thoughtless politicians and MKs, led only in theory by a bunch of unelected radicals in the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee who hardly represent themselves, much less the Arab community in Israel.

And while all that is happening they must be demonstrably loyal to the State of Israel. One slip of the tongue, one raised hand, one unruly demonstration by a group of youngsters, or a rock thrown at the police, and all hell breaks loose. In the eyes of the average Jewish Israeli they immediately lose their rights, have to be thrown out, kicked out, interned, killed, you name it.

Plenty of good Israeli Jews will call for it, usually without too much vocal resistance even from left-wingers who themselves are under considerable pressure while the cannons are roaring. Many Jewish politicians hesitate to speak in support of the Arab community.

Many others are more than eager to jump on the bandwagon and put in a bad word to express their disgust with the behavior of that community, usually basing their judgement on the actions of several dozen bored or drunk youths, the very same demographic that is responsible for similar mob scenes where Jews seek out Arabs to beat them up: young, uneducated males without a future.

While our rabbis can be comfortable expressing racist, objectionable and illegal calls against the Arab community and still be certain that their government paycheck will come in, Arabs in the public service who are thoughtless enough to go beyond the pale of acceptable rhetoric on the social networks find themselves summarily dismissed from their jobs. I’d venture a guess that if all those good Jews who these days went similarly beyond the pale on Facebook — we are talking about tens of thousands here — would be exposed to the same immediate response from their employer, including the government, there would be a lot of suddenly open positions in the job market. A lot.

In a recent post on a social network, an Israeli (Jew) who I know to be educated, intelligent and experienced, expressed his feelings as follows:

“The State of Israel and those of its citizens who are truly loyal will have to hold the public that identifies with Arab nationalism accountable. Not by using methods of the extreme right or kowtowing by the extreme left. This public, which has been protesting for years and at the same time enjoying the state’s resources, has to decide once and for all. If it chooses to be Israeli and behave accordingly, maybe, in the future, it can get closer to our campfire. If it doesn’t behave like Israelis, insists on flouting its affiliation with the Arab nation and rises up against its state at every opportunity, let them join that nation, territory, flag and anthem and conduct its fight from there. I salute the non-Jewish citizens and soldiers that at this hour are part of the state and despise those who, like [Hamas leaders] Khaled Mashaal and Ismail Haniyeh, enjoyed the fleshpots of Zion, and after taking out the good pieces, spit into them. We are tired of them.”

I have no doubt that this honest expression of feelings, not that of a politician but of an intelligent and well-informed citizen, is a pretty good reflection of what many Jewish Israelis feel, maybe even most. But this apparently relatively moderate statement conveniently looks at the situation ad-hoc, out of context, forgetting history and background. As if it just happened now, two weeks ago. As if there is no systematic discrimination of the Arab sector that has been going on for decades unimpeded, as if there had not been the October 2000 riots, the Orr Report, as if anything had been done since that report.

There is no mention of the fact that less than two years ago we were in Gaza doing the same thing, acting with terrible violence against Palestinians there. And, of course, there is no notion of the occupation that has been ongoing for 47 years, and slowly but surely causes irreversible damage to our relationship with the Arab sector in Israel. There is no nuance, no empathy, there is only one demand from Israel’s Arabs: unflinching loyalty, no matter what.

And the more loyalty they profess to the State of Israel, of course, the more their Palestinian brothers look at them as collaborators.

Until the State of Israel decides that it wants the Arab population as equals and acts accordingly, and until it decides that it wants to stop the occupation and reach an agreement with the Palestinians, it will have to live with the fact that its Arab population will remain torn, on a daily basis, between its basic allegiance to the State of Israel and the sometimes unconscionable actions of that same State of Israel against Palestinians, whether in Gaza or the West Bank.

Under the circumstances, Israel’s Arabs are a lot more loyal to the state than we would expect, and certainly more loyal than the state is to them. Who knows how long this will continue?

About the Author
The author served in the Prime Minister’s Office as a member of the intelligence community, is Vice Chairman of the Israel-Indonesia Chamber of Commerce, Vice-Chairman of the Israeli-German Society (IDG), Co-Chair of the Federation Movement (, member of the council at and author of "Identity: The Quest for Israel's Future".