The Freest Arab Nation in the World?

There are currently 12 Arab members (MKs) of Israel’s Knesset.  In fact, Arabs have served in the Knesset since 1949, when the first Israeli elections were held.  To date, there have been Muslim, Christian, Druze and Bedouin MKs, as well as women, and it is noteworthy to add that there have also been a number of Deputy Speakers of the Knesset, as well as Ministers, among them.

All of this should come as no surprise.  However, when I tell this to critics of Israel, they refuse to listen, which attests to the effectiveness of anti-Israel propaganda.

Not long ago, I was sitting in a café in Jerusalem’s Mamilla Mall, near the Jaffa Gate.  Passing before me was proof of just how wrong those misguided denigrators are.  On the next bench, a young Muslim Arab woman, traditionally dressed, was cleaning ice cream from her son’s face and Manchester United t-shirt.  Other Arab shoppers – dressed both in western and traditional garb – strolled by carrying shopping bags, all part of a crowd of people that included modestly attired Orthodox Jewish women, Hasidim, Roman Catholic nuns, Armenian Orthodox priests, an American evangelical Christian tour group and young Israelis dressed in everything from jeans to miniskirts.  No one seemed to pay the slightest attention to one another.  Not that it was unique; similar scenes play out every day all over Jerusalem, both downtown in Zion Square and in the alleyways and markets of the walled Old City.

Similar scenes played out at on theTel Aviv waterfront.  One warm evening, I saw Arab families picnicking on the grassy parkland between Alma Beach and Yafo.  However, what caught my eye were the Arab women who were dressed in traditional clothing, and wearing their Nikes, who were “power walking,” barely noticing the young Orthodox couples on dates, strolling and talking but not holding hands and the other people who were walking, running, exercising, riding bicycles or walking their dogs.  It was a cross-section of the country’s diverse population, in a wide range of attire, happily enjoying the sea breezes.

Of course, Arab-Jewish relations are far more complicated than what meets the eye and there is also a distinction between the two Arab populations I observed.  Those in Tel Aviv and Yafo are Israeli citizens, while most of those I saw in Mamilla were probably from East Jerusalem or the West Bank.  And here I say “most” but not all, because Arab villages to the west in the Jerusalem area, such as Abu Ghosh, have been a part of Israel since 1948 and their residents are Israeli citizens.

It amazes me, however, that accusations concerning Israel and its Arab citizens and residents are so emphatic, as well as so wrong and misplaced.  Most of Israel’s neighboring states are ridiculously guilty of those human rights violations and discrimination that Israel’s detractors accuse it of (yet Israel’s critics – those upholders of freedom and human rights – chose not to comment on any of them!).   Israel is not a perfect country, however the same can be said for the United States and probably every other nation as well.

No, Israel is not perfect, but when you compare to its neighbors, it is pretty exceptional.  This brings me back to the Knesset.  Had more Israeli Arabs chosen to vote in the January elections, there would be even more Arab representation.  The word “chosen” is important.  No one kept them from the polls or forced them to vote for someone they did not want.  Choosing not to vote is as much a right as choosing to cast your ballot and they freely exercised this right without fear of retribution.

I still believe in the “two-state solution.”  However, when Yisrael Beiteinu leader, Avigdor Liberman, suggested some years back that “The Triangle” (a group of Israeli Arab communities near Kfar Saba and the Green Line) be transferred to a future Arab state in return for Israel sovereignty over some settlements in the West Bank, 83% of those Arab residents surveyed objected to the plan.

Contrary to what the critics say, I believe that Israel is the freest “Arab nation” in the world.

About the Author
Robert L. Kern has served as Director of Marketing & Communications for several "American Friends," Zionist and Jewish organizations. He is a former President of the American Jewish Public Relations Society and a member of the Executive Committee of the American Jewish Press Association. The views and opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author.