Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Disintegration of Arabs in Israeli Democracy

When I read the news I try to connect events by common themes in order to see trends occurring in society. The current trend I am observing is the decay of Arab involvement in Israeli politics. There has always been a rift between the Arab minority and the Jewish majority in Israel, but what I don't understand is why are they not embracing the right to vote and the right to run for office, and the power that comes with it, to correct whatever injustices they may feel. They are helping the Evil of Powerlessness. They are doing what the ultra-right parties want them to do. The only way to beat them, is to do it in their own game - politics. Resistance, Intifada, demonstrations and riots, what ever you want to call it, has only weakened the Arabs and brought resentment to everyone, Jew and Arab, in Israel. Suicide bombers went to clubs and pizzerias, places where secular left leaning Israelis go, not where the Datiim go. This is the time to build relationships, not break them.

Anyway, the following will be my presentation of recent news articles from various sources on the current state of Arab Israelis in the Israeli political sphere:

During the Gaza war, I wrote about the disqualification of Balad and United Arab List from the upcoming election. Fortunately for the sake of democracy, the Israeli Supreme Court overturned the Election Commitee's ruling.

I found this from the KACH and Kahane Chai wiki page for why Kach was first officially disqualified in the Israeli 1988 elections:
A candidates list shall not participate in elections to the Knesset if its objects or actions, expressly or by implication, include one of the following:
(1) negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people;
(2) negation of the democratic character of the State
(3) incitement to racism
Those who presented the case against the Arab parties gave additional reasons for disqualification but I thought that it would be interesting to look at the law that first disqualified the far right/fascist/racist KACH party.

The next news story is by Shani Litman of Haaretz about the Arab leader of Da'am. Her name is Asma Agbarieh-Zahalka, "apart from Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, she is the only woman heading an Israeli political party."
Even the ad by Yisrael Beiteinu, which strongly questioned the loyalty of Israeli Arabs, did not annoy them. The couple watched it as though it were a science fiction film. The only thing that concerned Agbarieh-Zahalka was the Balad ad, which did not even bother offering a Hebrew translation of its all-Arabic content. Her own ad was unusual not only because of its modest cost, or because it clearly showed her in the advanced stages of pregnancy, but also because of the party's utopian self-definition, exceptional in the Israeli political landscape of 2009: "We are Da'am, a workers' party."
You hear that? Not an Arab or Zionist party, but a workers' party.
Asma Agbarieh-Zahalka was born in Jaffa 35 years ago. Her maternal grandfather stayed there in 1948, when all his siblings fled to the Gaza Strip.

"We had good relations with our relatives in Gaza until the closures began," she said. "Since then, the connection has been cut off. I don't even know whether any of them were killed in the recent war."

Her father, a renovations contractor, came from a large family in Umm al-Fahm. He died when she was 18. She has three sisters and two brothers, all of whom lead traditional though not extremely pious Muslim lives.

It was in this context that her first rebellion took place. As a teenager, she became more and more devout, to the extent of joining the Islamic Movement. "I wanted to be close to God," she said, "and I thought this was the way. I didn't understand that the movement has political implications. I thought that religion contained elements of justice and meaning with respect to questions like 'why are we here and where should we be going.' As a girl who never left Jaffa until she went to university, I didn't have many options apart from the religious one."

But when she started studying in the humanities faculty at Tel Aviv University, another change took place. "This turned my world around in a very difficult and painful way. Suddenly I realized that there are different truths and different cultures. This confused me and brought the questions back much more forcefully, but this time there was no answer. Descartes dismantled everything for me, but he didn't manage to put it all back together again."

It was around that time, in 1995, that Da'am (which means "support" in Arabic) was founded by Jewish and Arab activists who had left the Derekh Hanitsotz organization. The party's first branch opened in Jaffa and got involved in trying to solve the housing problems of the city's Arabs residents. An activist who knew Agbarieh-Zahalka offered her a job as a copy editor at the party's newspaper.

"I came to the opening of the branch and they talked about politics, and I didn't understand a thing," she recalled. "There I met Michal Schwartz, who spoke to me in Arabic. It amazed me to meet an Ashkenazi Jewish woman who knew Arabic. That was the first time I had been able to feel that the two of us were the same."

I always wished I had learned Arabic. Being born in an enclave of Hebrew in the middle of the Arab world, and having a mother born in Tunisia, an Arab country, you would think learning Arabic would be important but because Israel hardly has any trade with Arab countries, Arab isn't necessary to learn; which is kind of odd because all the highway signs are in Arabic as well as Hebrew and English (though I think they removed the English since I left), and at least 20% of Israelis are Arab.
Working at the newspaper, she said, opened her eyes. "I began to understand what was happening around me and to believe that it is possible to change the situation - in contrast to my previous outlook that life is just a corridor through which one must pass as quickly as possible, because the important thing is life after death. After a few months, I joined the party. This wasn't easy. I entered an opposition politics that aims to change the way the world works, and this is something that frightens the population I come from, which is a minority guided by fear and survival instinct. From their perspective, the evil that is known is better than the evil that is unknown. It was hard for my family to accept this. I also had to fight for my right as a woman to follow this path. Only in the 2006 elections were they finally persuaded, and for the first time, my mother and brothers voted for me."
Great description of Semites: "
a minority guided by fear and survival instinct" and "from their perspective, the evil that is known is better than the evil that is unknown."
A few days before she gave birth to her first child, Adam - during the height of the war in Gaza - Agbarieh-Zahalka was still answering intentionally provocative questions from potential voters at a parlor meeting in Tel Aviv. One of them wanted to know whether she condemned Hamas and Hezbollah terror in the same way when she spoke in Arab locales. "How do you say that in Arabic?" he asked again and again.

Agbarieh-Zahalka did not lose her composure. She is familiar with the suspicion of Arabs that even many leftists feel ...
This is true, even leftist Israelis are suspicious of Arabs. This isn't just because of tribalism. It is because many Arab Israelis affiliated with the Palestinians - they are Palestinian as far as they are concerned. I went to dinner with a bunch of Israelis recently. The host is acquainted with two Jewish medical students at Technion (the MIT/John Hopkins of Israel). These medical students have Arab friends but there is always a rift between them when an Israeli or Palestinian is killed because of the conflict. When a Palestinian civilian is killed, Jewish Israelis are saddened and Arab Israelis are angered. But when an Israeli is killed, Jewish Israelis are griefed (they don't shoot bullets into the air) and their Arab peers seem indifferent. This causes a lot of Israelis to question the loyalty of the Arab minority which doesn't even have to serve in the IDF (except the Druze).

Note: according to the host and her acquintences at Technion, 30% of the medical students there are Arabs. The host didn't like this but the rest of the table seemed it was fine.
and she is also familiar with suspicions about her party. Da'am sees itself as a party whose members are united by their class affiliation, not their national identity. For now, however, there seems to be little class affiliation between Da'am's Arab agricultural and construction workers and its Jewish university lecturers. Jewish employees of manpower agencies from Yeruham and Dimona have not yet joined this workers' society, or the labor unions it is trying to establish.

"Most of our activity began in the Arab sector," said Agbarieh-Zahalka, "because this is the weakest population, and is therefore prepared to accept our party's ideas - peace and equality. Arabs have no problem accepting this. The side that has been deprived of equality is the one that wants equality back, whereas the side that thinks it is rightly enjoying its privileges - the Jews - clearly won't want to relinquish them. But the state of the Jews is no longer the state of the Jews - it is the state of the wealthy. And therefore, in reality, even Jews no longer have privileges. Arabs and Jews are suffering from the same situation, from the privatization of their right to live with dignity.

"I would like to think it will not be very long before Jewish workers, unemployed people and laborers understand that they have nothing more to lose, that it is worth their while to join forces with the Arabs. We have branches in Tel Aviv and we are helping people who need our help. At the moment, those who are contacting us are those who are naturally more open to accepting aid from a nonprofit organization in which Jews and Arabs work together."
What bothers me more than Arab Israelis affiliating with the Palestinians is Jewish Israelis of the religious and ultra-right persuation (fascist) being hostile of the Arab minority. This goes against every fiber of my American democracy loving self.
But the Arab masses are not voting for Da'am either.

"Our greatest enemy in Arab society is despair. More than 50 percent of the Arab public will not vote at all. They have lost all faith in the parties and in politics, and this is a faith that is hard to restore. And in any case, in recent years, Arab society has not been voting ideologically but rather by clans, and therefore, it is impossible to learn anything from the vote in the Arab street about political trends in this population. To my great regret, the establishment reinforces the clan structure of Arab society by not strengthening the economy of Arab society. When the extended family becomes the economic bulwark, anyone dependent on the family has to pay the price politically, and his vote is determined by the head of the clan. Therefore, the same people can vote for the Islamists in one election and for the communists in the next.
I think this characteristic of tribalism, which the Western Jews have already gotten rid of, not only makes Arabs vote by clan but also makes them affiliate with the Palestinians.
"The clans to which I belong - Agbarieh from Umm al-Fahm and Zahalka from Kfar Qara on my husband's side - put the Triangle [region] at my disposal and could bring in tens of thousands of votes. But I want to create a different electoral culture, one in which you vote for the party that represents your ideas."
Couldn't have said it better. The Arabs need "
to create a different electoral culture, one in which you vote for the party that represents your ideas."
For Da'am members, the Knesset race is only the tip of the iceberg of the party's activities. Mainly, these are carried out through the Ma'an nonprofit organization and other nonprofits affiliated with the party, which are supported by donations from workers' organizations abroad and dues paid by party members. Agbarieh-Zahalka - like the second person on the slate, Nir Nader, and other employees of Ma'an - is paid minimum wage for her work. The fact that the party has not yet won enough votes to enter the Knesset, and is apparently far from doing so this time as well, does not discourage them, nor has it caused them to seek shelter under the wing of another party with a similar ideology, such as Hadash (the Communist Party which has a list of Jews and Arabs).

"We draw hope from our day-to-day work, from the palpable change that occurs when you succeed in arranging a permanent job or a pension for someone," Agbarieh-Zahalka said. "My aim isn't to take shortcuts to the Knesset. If there were a party that was at all close to my opinions, I would vote for it. But since workers don't have any representation in the Knesset, from my perspective, the need is great. We are creating a change in consciousness and in the political culture and waiting for the moment when conditions are ripe. When that will happen doesn't concern me. "The progress of the workers' movement will also depend on the situation of workers' movements in the rest of the world. Even in Egypt, a dictatorship, we have seen a workers' movement that is beginning to build a different left. I want to believe that this can happen here, too. Today I know that this is my purpose in life, that I have found the answer I sought when I was young. Now, this has also become a personal issue, because I am doing this so that my son will grow up in a healthier society. We named him Adam [which means human being] because this is a universal name, and I hope the love of mankind will be a supreme value for him."
In a democracy people from totally different backgrounds but with similar goals can join forces to achieve their goals. Unfortunately, Arab Israelis haven't yet embraced this political arena because many have not yet embraced Israel, and Israel hasn't done enough to embrace the Arabs.

Science, Culture and Sport Minister Ghaleb Majadle said, "Anyone who wants loyalty from Israeli-Arabs must first ensure that the State is loyal to them, by closing the gaps."
The minister was speaking in response to the Israel Beiteinu election campaign which says only those loyal to Israel should be granted citizenship.

Majadle added, "I hope we will return to being a moderate society, and that the demagogues don't succeed in bringing us to state of despair." He said that the "vast majority" of Israelis were "sane and pragmatic."

The minister also referred to Israelis' scientific achievements in recent years, saying "We're one of four leading countries in space technology, and among the world's leaders in security research." He added, however, that Israel was not fulfilling its potential in societal terms.

He warned that the county would be in danger if "gaps in Israeli society" were not bridged.

Majadle is 15th on the Labor party's Knesset list.

I was reading the comments on readers left on the online article in JPost and it brings up the issue of whether Israel should be a Jewish state where everything is Jewish i.e. the people and the laws are Halacha, or a state of Jews and other people (but that doesn't mean that all of a sudden million of Palestinian refugees are going immigrate to Israel - I am very much against that). One commenter said:
Arabs living in the State of Israel are the citizens of the Jewish State and their security protected by the Jewish State equally as for all the citizens, I call it "the Jewish State's most precious loyalty to the Arab citizens". The Jewish state provides all the social benefits to the Arab citizens equally to all the citizens is another precious Jewish State loyalty. Unfortunately, Arabs (except Bedouins) would not be loyal to Israel. Proven by:1) Commemorate naqbah, 2) Committed to help terrorists to harm Israeli citizens. 3) Refuse to serve in the Israeli Army. 4) Israeli (cont. from 1of 2) Arabs deny to call Israel "home" (I never heard Israeli Arab abroad, to say he is from Israel) 5) Refuse to study the history of Israel.... Free and democratic Israel doesn't have punitive laws against present Israeli Arab attitude. Until the state laws to be changed or Arab world forges peace with the State of Israel, Israeli Arabs will side with their Palestinian brothers and stay the enemies of the Jewish State. If the above points are facts, Israeli Arabs who abuse democracy serve in the Knesset could cause more harm to the Jewish State and its nation.
So does State rejection of its Arab minority in "spirit" cause Arab citizens to be hostile to the State, or is it Arab rejection of the State to which they are citizens of cause the State to be hostile in "spirit" ot the Arab minority? I think it is the ladder. So what if the Israeli symbols are Jewish? All is required of the Arabs is to follow the law which they have the opprotunity control via the Knesset. One thing is for sure, both the Arab and ultra-right parties have to get over their sentimental issues. I don't see an Israeli "Brotherhood" poping up nor do I seek it. I just think that both the Israeli and Arab communities should have a stake in the other.

The next article is by Thomas Friedman in the NYTimes writing from Jenin, West Bank.

In recent days, some have questioned whether Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was making a big mistake in appointing so many “special envoys,” such as George Mitchell, to handle key trouble spots, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I think they are right to question Mrs. Clinton about this plethora of envoys. But I don’t think the problem is that she has too many; it’s that she doesn’t have enough. In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she may need at least a half-dozen envoys. Actually, this conflict is now broken into so many different pieces it may take a whole State Department of its own to resolve it.

In addition to Mitchell, Hillary may want to enlist Bill and Chelsea to take a crack at solving this one, definitely Jim Baker and Jimmy Carter, too. Why, heck, she might want to even ask some perfect strangers she meets in the halls at Foggy Bottom: “Hey, would you like a free trip to the Middle East?” Sure, it helps to know some history, but a grasp of biology now is even more useful — like how an amoeba reproduces by constantly splitting itself in half.
Nissim Dahan, a friend of my parents, said that he would like to go as an envoy to the Middle East or perhaps tag on Mitchell "with no pay and no position." He makes me excited because he has even more hope, more optimism, and more drive than I for Middle East peace - more specifically Israeli Palestinian peace.

Here is another excerpt from the Friedman article:

How did this conflict get so fragmented? For starters, it’s gone on way too long. The West Bank is so chopped up and divided now by roads, checkpoints and fences to separate Israel’s crazy settlements from Palestinian villages that a Palestinian could fly from Jerusalem to Paris quicker than he or she could drive from Jenin, here in the northern West Bank, to Hebron in the south.

Another reason is that every idea has been tried and has failed. For the Palestinians, Pan-Arabism, Communism, Islamism have all come and gone, with none having delivered statehood or prosperity. As a result, more and more Palestinians have fallen back on family, clan, town and tribal loyalties. In Israel, Peace Now’s two-state solution was blown up with the crash of the Oslo peace accords, the rising Palestinian birthrate made any plans to annex the West Bank a mortal threat to Israel’s Jewish character, and the rockets that followed Israel’s withdrawals from both Lebanon and Gaza made a mockery of those who said unilateral pullouts were the solution.

All of this has led to a resurgence of religiosity. According to Haaretz, the following questions were posed by a well-known rabbi in one of the pamphlets distributed by the Israeli Army’s Office of Chief Rabbi before the latest Gaza fighting: “Is it possible to compare today’s Palestinians to the Philistines of the past? And if so, is it possible to apply lessons today from the military tactics of Samson and David? A comparison is possible because the Philistines of the past were not natives and had invaded from a foreign land.”
If there is anyone who can articulate to readers a trend in a Middle Eastern society, it is Thomas Friedman. If you haven't read "From Beirut to Jerusalem" yet, after you have finished reading this sentence, go to the nearest library or book store and get that book, read it, and educate yourself.

The last issue I want to talk about is about a potential Arab boycott of the elections.
The debate in the Israeli Arab community on the question of boycotting the elections is growing in intensity. As of this week, all public debates between the two Arab and one Arab-Jewish party now include another participant arguing for a boycott. The parties are choosing to address the question as the possibility of boycott looms increasingly large, especially in the wake of the Gaza war. Some forecast that a high enough number of boycotters may result in one of the three parties not passing the 2 percent election threshold and losing its Knesset seats altogether.

One such debate took place in Sakhnin Wednesday. The secretaries of Hadash, Balad and the United Arab List-Ta'al were joined on stage by Muhammad Kana'aneh, secretary of the Abna el-Balad ("Sons of the Land") movement that supports a boycott. Kana'aneh told the audience that voting in the elections constitutes a complete recognition of the Zionist entity built on the ruins of Palestine. He went on to say that the Israeli establishment is utilizing the presence of Arab MKs to propagate its democracy, while in effect they have little influence. "The Arab representation in parliament does not influence decision-making, but it allows the Zionists to boast Arab MKs, including a deputy-chairman of the Knesset and members of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee," Kana'aneh said.
Is Arab lack of influence in government decision-making due to the Israeli establishment or because of Arab rejection of the State? It is obviously the latter. As another Haaretz article reports:
According to the government's statistical yearbook for 2008, Israel has about 120,000 Druze citizens, constituting 1.6 percent of the population. Five Druze lawmakers would be 4 percent of the Knesset's 120 members, 2.5 times more than the proportion of the community within the national population.
One surprise candidate is Hamad Amar of Shfaram, a long-time activist in Yisrael Beiteinu, and 12th on the party's list. Amar, who declined to answer questions Sunday about his candidacy, would only say that for the Druze community, Yisrael Beiteinu's campaign slogan "no citizenship without loyalty" is a natural one.
So why are Arabs under represented and Druze over represented in the Knesset? The reason is that Druze are more active in the Israeli establishment. They serve in the IDF and the police, and embrace Israel.
Deputy Foreign Minister Majali Wahabi (Kadima), a Druze, said yesterday that his community cannot be expected to vote en bloc: "The large parties have to understand the importance of our community. I personally plan to represent my people faithfully, but also anyone who voted for my party, no matter what sector they come from. I believe in our involvement in Israeli society, not in separate parties."
So this leads me conclude that the Arab disintegration from Israeli politics is self inflicted. One commenter on the Haaretz article about the boycott said:
Is it true that Israeli Arabs never lose an opportunity to lose an opportunity?
Another commenter said:
In Britain this sort of thing is called `cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Their leaders such as those in Balad and United Arab List (UAL) would never be able to help their people till one of them goes through the channel of mainstream politics and build relationships such as Barack Obama did in America, or what the leader of Da'am is trying to do.

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