Avi Shamir
Avi Shamir

Our Only Real Choice: Between the Haredim and the Israeli Arabs

It was a sad day for Israel as our soldiers were left stranded on the road to their Army bases after a weekend at home, all because of a coalition spat over fixing train tracks on Shabbat that rendered our railways unusable on Sunday. Once again, the almighty Haredi sector has flexed its muscle and reminded us that the very stability of our elected governments, not to mention the morale of our soldiers, depend on our readiness to appease them.

Rather than reprimand Health Minister Yaacov Litzman (Yahadut HaTorah) and Interior Minister/ Negev and Galilee Development Minister/ ex-con Aryeh Deri (Shas) for exercising what they see as their God-given right to hold the whole country hostage, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has blamed Transport Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) for “fabricating” the crisis.

Bibi’s disparagement makes practical good sense. After all, publicly chastising one of his own party members doesn’t cost him anything in political coin. Why antagonize his persnickety “partners” from Shas and Yahadut HaTorah who form the basis of “coalition wholeness” and keep him in power?

This need to placate the Haredim out of a sense of political expediency gets more intriguing when we take into account that the opposition is no better than the government. At this very moment Buji Herzog must be gloating over the “train crisis” that almost derailed the coalition. One can write the script of his overture to the Haredi parties in the next national elections when, behind closed doors with his tongue hanging out, Herzog will ask them to renew their “historic alliance” with the Labor Party.

This chronically sick state of affairs has an alternative that no one, not Labor, certainly not the Likud, and hardly any other player on our political landscape even wants to consider:

There is always the Israeli Arab sector, the population that everyone wants to ignore; that eternally snubbed political force that can actually change Israeli coalition politics for the better.

Here’s how: A future partnership with the Israeli Arabs can neutralize the lop-sided influence of the Haredim, that segment of the Jewish population that still refuses, for the most part, to serve in the IDF, become part of the Israeli workforce, teach secular subjects in their yeshivas or even acknowledge the authority of a modern Jewish State in Eretz Yisrael.

In truth, most Israeli Arabs aren’t too enamored with the Jewish State either. But asked if they would rather live under the Palestinian Authority, most of “our Arabs,” as some Israeli Jews condescendingly call them, say without mincing words that they wish to remain citizens of Israel with full equality.

Teaming with them in a future coalition would be a step in that direction. For starters, it would enable the diversion of disproportionate funding for Haredi private schools to Israeli Arab public schools, which suffer from a sore lack of resources. It would encourage an overall improvement of much needed municipal services for the Arab sector. And by endorsing a more equitable way of dividing the national budget it would dignify the Zionist aspiration to build a “Jewish and democratic” state.

No such signs of moral integrity were seen on the coastal road at 9:00 AM on Sunday morning as our soldiers stood with their weapons and knapsacks by congested bus stops, wondering how this archaic argument over Shabbat observance still keeps this progressive hi-tech society mired in retrogressive conditions.

Our founding fathers called for the establishment of a Jewish State, but never intended to build a religious state. This historic truth is an abomination for most Haredim and many modern orthodox Jews, who are offended that most Israelis are non-practicing, secular Jews.

But with the alarming birth rate among Haredim, that too, along with the Palestinian demographic problem, is a time bomb waiting to transform this Jewish nation into something entirely different from what Herzl and Ben Gurion once envisioned.

The inclusion of Israeli Arabs into a future coalition government can help this country approach what our forefathers dreamed about, a state of true national redemption that all sane Israelis strive for.

This of course doesn’t mean that we should enable virulent anti-Semites to take over the Knesset, or that we can trust terrorist sympathizers in our defense establishment. We are not suicidal. But while our fears lie somewhere between justifiable and hysterical, our unofficial policy of hiding our heads in the sand and ignoring a large minority population is reckless and self-defeating.

We should cultivate moderate Arab leaders, citizens of Israel who are willing to work with us and build a democratic society. We can go on calling it the Jewish state, they can call it the one country in the Middle East that offers social equality; while we ensure our Jewish majority and retain control of our defense forces, the rights of one population doesn’t have to infringe on the rights of the other. And the results of newfound Jewish-Arab cooperation can be most encouraging.

So encouraging, that most Israeli politicians are too scared to change their mindset and admit that a coalition with Israeli Arabs is even doable. And here is the most inspiring potential outcome of this conceivable partnership that scares away so many Israeli Jews:

According to a ynet poll published on 22.08.16, a robust 87% of Israeli Arabs support the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This overwhelming majority in favor of that inevitable solution contrasts with the minute majorities of divided Israeli Jews (53%) and Palestinians (51%), whose hopes for conflict resolution are frustrated by the internal deadlocks that plague those combatant populations.

What’s more: A whopping 90% of Israeli Arabs favor the terms of a political agreement based on previous negotiations, which would include: Israeli withdrawal to the Green Line, a de-militarized Palestinian state, territorial exchanges, West Jerusalem the recognized capital of Israel and East Jerusalem the capital of Palestine. Among both Palestinians and Israeli Jews, only 39% would agree to those terms.

In brief: The Israeli Arabs can dramatically change the equation in favor of conflict resolution, and that is what we dread the most. We would do most anything to avoid sitting in a coalition with them, citing the catch phrase “we can’t trust those Arabs.” Which is why we are stuck with the Haredim, and would rather spar with them over Shabbat observance until that day, in the foreseeable future, when they outnumber us and form a Jewish theocracy.

About the Author
Avi Shamir is a freelance writer, editor, translator and the author of "Saving the Game," a novel about baseball. A Brooklyn College graduate with a BA in English, Avi has contributed to the Jerusalem Post, The Nation, Israel Scene, In English and The World Zionist Press Service.