The Arabs are voting! This is… bad?

According to Prime Minister Netanyahu, I’m a member of the extreme left in Israel. You can imagine this comes as a bit of a shock to someone whose economics are largely inspired by Friedman and Thatcher. As someone who believes the best way to alleviate poverty is for the government to ensure the operation of the free market and encourage small and medium businesses, I’m more used to the term ‘capitalist pig’ than ‘extreme leftie’.

This being the case, it is altogether reasonable to wonder what horrendous sin lies hidden in my ideology to justify labeling me with the term ‘leftist’ in 2015 Israel, a term that is spat out with the same hatred and derision as the term ‘terrorist’. The answer, of course, is my opinion of the Israeli Arabs. But don’t close this article if you happen to really dislike Arabs, just scroll down to the ‘what if I really dislike Arabs’ part below.

Arabs are People Too

Israeli Arabs account for over 20% of the Israeli citizenry. It’s true that they get an equal vote for Knesset and it’s even true that this is more than Arabs in many Arab states in the Middle East are permitted. It’s also true that one of the Supreme Court justices is an Israeli Arab and that he’s currently the head of the Central Election Committee. However, when it comes to public perception, allocation of resources and opportunities in life, Israeli Arabs have to endure deep-rooted, systematic discrimination.

Nobody bats an eye when the current Likud-campaign calls to vote for them to prevent the Arabs from getting a position of power in parliament (not even ministries but in committees). It is seen as altogether normal when they’re called a ‘fifth column’, when it’s suggested that each individual Israeli Arab should make a declaration of loyalty and when they are described as a demographic threat.

It is also apparently entirely acceptable to people that Israeli Arabs get far less money to invest in their education system, their infrastructure, and their healthcare. There apparently is nothing strange about people being fearful to hire Israeli Arabs for jobs and to look frightened when hearing Arabic on the street. No, in 2015 Israel very little has been fulfilled of the promise in the Declaration of Independence that Israeli Arabs would get “full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its […] institutions”.

I think none of what I mentioned above is okay. I think that Israeli Arabs are, above all, people. I think they’re citizens of the state and should be treated as such. This apparently makes me a member of the extreme left.

‘What if I really dislike Arabs?’

Even if you think Israeli Arabs are scary and evil, I want you to think about the following: 20 years ago, it would have been unthinkable for an Israeli Arab to call himself a Palestinian – now it’s commonplace. Why is that? The answer is that successive governments have done everything they can to show the Israeli Arabs that they’re disliked and unwanted here, that they can’t improve their lots. Is it really that surprising, then, that many of them become angry and feel that the state has nothing to offer them?

In order for people in bad socio-economic positions to work for the betterment of the state and obey the rule of law, they need to believe that law is just. They need to see a light at the end of the tunnel and live in hope that they can improve their fate. As such, I vehemently disagree with Prime Minister Netanyahu when he says we should be fearful of the current increased political participation among Israeli Arabs. We should be proud of that as well as happy and relieved. It shows that they haven’t entirely given up hope that they can improve their situation by participating in democratic institutions. We should be happy that there are Arab MKs who actually want to take part in committee discussions and coalition talks. It shows that all hope is not yet lost.

So this Tuesday I’m looking forward to seeing a massive turnout among Israeli Arab voters. I’m looking forward to seeing Israeli Arab MKs casting off the stubborn rejectivism that has typified many of them over the past years and working diligently to improve the lives of their constituents. I’m looking forward to seeing Israeli Arab MKs active during committee meetings in the Knesset. I’m looking forward to coming closer to keeping the lofty promise our founding fathers made. If that makes me part of the extreme left, then bring on the Internationale.

About the Author
Alon van Dam is a Dutch-Israeli political analyst and journalist featured in Haaretz, Metro, NRC and other leading newspapers. A seasoned political campaigner, Alon was Head of Online Strategy for Kadima during the 2009 national elections.
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