Much has been written about the current twin conflicts Israel faces: the bombs from Hamas and the internal Arab-Jewish violence in some of its mixed cities. However, it is the New York Times that provides the most inaccurate assessment in order to place the underlying blame on the Netanyahu government. In a news article assessing why now, it summarizes its overall assessment thusly: “And it was the outgrowth of years of blockades and restrictions in Gaza, decades of occupation in the West Bank, and decades more of discrimination against Arabs within the state of Israel,” said Avraham Burg, a former speaker of the Israeli Parliament and former chairman of the World Zionist Organization.” All the enriched uranium was already in place,” he said. “But you needed a trigger. And the trigger was the Aqsa Mosque.”
The article deceptively suggests that Burg is a Zionist political leader of some prominence. His tenure at the World Zionist Organization was more than twenty years ago and he has not been a member of the Knesset for 17 years. Then he was a former Peace Now leader who became a member of the leftwing of the Labor Party. Since then he has evolved to become a member of Hadash, one of the parties in the Arab Joint list, has rejected Zionism, and was preparing to appeal to the Supreme Court to have the Interior Ministry erase from its records that his nationality is Jewish.
Given the central role the Burg quote played in creating the context for understanding the current conflict, it was a dramatic misuse of journalistic discretion to so mischaracterize Burg’s political affiliation and Zionist outlook.
Just as important was the mischaracterization of the contemporary situation of Israeli Arabs. While, of course, discrimination remains, Arab citizens of Israel have seen a dramatic improvement in their economic wellbeing. They have entered the mainstream of the hi-tech and medical industries. Arabs comprise more than 20% of student graduates from Technion – Israel’s MIT – and they have made Nazareth a hub for startups and international company sites. Fully, 17% of Israeli doctors are Arabs and they make up 24% of nurses, and 47% of pharmacists. And thanks to affirmative action programs, the share of Arab teachers in Jewish schools has doubled in the last six years and the share of Arabs in government employment has reached 10%.
Although the majority does not accept Israel as a Jewish state, 65% of Israeli Arabs are proud to be Israeli, up from a low of 31% in 2007. And nearly 80% view Israel as a good place to live and prefer living in Israel over a potential Palestinian state. And a growing share are signing up for alternative service positions.
This was the positive backdrop of the Arab support for Ra’am in its quest to become part of a ruling coalition, something that fully half of all Jewish Israelis came to support. Indeed, in an unprecedented decision, Likud was willing to form a new government that relied on the outside support of Ra’am, and the opposition coalition also agreed to the same stance. Thus, if anything the Israeli Arab community was full of optimism because of their economic and occupational gains, as well as the anticipation that there would be Arab influence within the eventual ruling coalition.
Rather than a combustible internal situation that could easily be ignited, Palestinian nationalist within Israel and in the occupied territories were the source of the current upheavals. Yes, Netanyahu could have handled better the situation outside the Aqsa Mosque or the Jewish extremist provocative actions in East Jerusalem. However, the source of the violent eruptions was the deteriorating situation of the Palestinian Authority. It was losing credibility for once again postponing elections, enabling Abbas to remain prime minister in a four-year term that began sixteen years ago. In addition, the ascendancy of Ra’am into the ruling coalition would have adversely impacted on the standing of Palestinian nationalists, let alone those who promote the narrative that Israel is an apartheid state. This is why these nationalist forces seized on events and why Hamas, to gain political advantage, used them to rain missiles on Israel.
Most troubling have been the violent actions in Israeli mixed cities, most prominently Lod, a city that had very specific conflicts. Over the last few years, ultraorthodox Jews have been moving into Lod, changing the city’s character. Very similar to the situation in Jersey City (NJ), this influx created antagonisms that led to extreme anti-Semitic responses: in Jersey City, the killing of three orthodox Jews while in Lod, the burning down of three synagogues.
Fortunately, Israeli Arabs and Jews are rallying against this violence perpetrated by Jewish and Palestinian extremists. In Jerusalem, hundreds rallied with the Yad be Yad (Hand in Hand) organization. Elsewhere, including Lod, demonstrations were led by school principals and educators calling for coexistence. The civil rights group, Sukkuy crafted a proclamation signed and published by 65 Arab and Jewish heads of local authorities in 5 regions asking their constituents to refrain from violence, preserve and protect the social fabric, and respect the right to peaceful protest. As the ascendency of Ra’am illustrated, there are vast numbers of Jews and Arabs who desire equality and harmony and are prepared to fight for it. Maybe the New York Times should be part of the solution rather than being part of the problem.