Israeli Arabs are the real winners in the deadlocked election


Melanie Phillips

If nothing else, one clear result of Israel’s frustrating general election gives the lie to the claim that Israeli Arabs were being intimidated from casting their vote.

This arose from a failed attempt by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party to allow its operatives to film inside polling stations on the unproven charge of voter fraud in the Arab sector. In the middle of election day, a report attributed to Likud that it had installed “facial recognition” cameras outside Arab polling stations was condemned as an attempt to intimidate Arab voters.

All of this seems, if anything, to have galvanized the Arab vote. More than 60 percent of Israeli Arabs turned out and returned an estimated 13 seats for the Joint Arab List, up from 10 at last April’s election.

This has led the leader of the list, Ayman Odeh, to suggest that he might now wield  unprecedented influence in Israeli politics by recommending to Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, that Blue and White leader Benny Gantz should be given first crack at forming a coalition, and that Odeh should become leader of the opposition.

Israeli Arabs are poorly served by their elected members of Knesset. According to a recent survey by researchers at Tel Aviv university, crime, unemployment, welfare and the community’s dire housing crisis top Israeli Arabs’ concerns.

Their Knesset members, however, are interested only in political posturing that bashes Israel, behaving as a kind of disloyal fifth column inside the Knesset intent upon harming the state to whose legislature they have been elected.

MK Ahmad Tibi, for example, does not support Israel as a Jewish state, opposes the Law of Return and has challenged the Jewish religious symbols on the national flag.

MK Haneen Zoabi has walked out of Knesset during the singing of “Hatikvah,” claims that the Israel Defense Forces are a greater danger than the possibility of Iranian nuclear weapons, and has said that Palestinians who kidnap Israeli civilians are not terrorists because such actions are their only alternative to suffering under occupation.

Before April’s election, some Israeli Arabs were quoted bitterly criticizing the Arab List MKs.

“It didn’t represent us, and it did great damage to the [average] Arab citizen who wants to integrate,” said one resident of Abu Ghosh, an Arab village near Jerusalem. “The infrastructure in the Arab communities needs to be taken care of, and they [the Arab lawmakers] aren’t dealing with it.

“We recognize the existence of the only democratic country in the Middle East and want to be a part of the country. And we’re proud of it. We, Israeli Arabs, exist with our Jewish brothers. Not coexist, exist.”

Those living in eastern Jerusalem, where civic status falls into an unhappy legal limbo under uneasy Israeli sovereignty over that part of the city, are by default Israeli residents but not citizens.

Officially, they are citizens of Jordan. Most choose not to exercise the right to which their residency entitles them to vote in Jerusalem’s municipal elections.

But Jerusalem’s city hall is currently swamped by applications from Israeli Arabs in eastern Jerusalem who are keen to activate the right they enjoy under Israeli law to convert their residency into Israeli citizenship.

They want to be Israelis. They don’t want to be citizens of a future Palestinian state.

They look at the Palestinian Authority and see the absence of human rights, the jailing of journalists and other dissidents, and the corruption that channels money intended to alleviate the dire poverty of many Palestinians into the pockets of Palestinian plutocrats living in enormous mansions.

And so, given the choice between being a citizen of a future state of Palestine and an Israeli, they are choosing the latter.

This is happening, moreover, despite Jordan’s refusal to allow eastern Jerusalem Arabs to give up their citizenship—an obstacle that Israel’s Ministry of Interior gets round through a legally documented statement that the new Israeli citizen does not intend to use his or her Jordanian citizenship.

None of this, of course, will be acknowledged by Israel’s enemies in the West, for whom it has become an article of faith that Israel is a racist state. Whether through ignorance or design, they elide the Palestinian Arabs living outside Israel, and who have no Israeli rights because they are not Israeli, with Israeli Arab citizens who have full civil and religious rights.

This is all part of the attempt to delegitimize Israel by claiming falsely that the Palestinian Arabs are the indigenous and oppressed people of the land deprived of their right to a state. Hence the furious charge that if Israel annexed the Jordan Valley, as Netanyahu announced during the election campaign, it would no longer be a democracy.

For Israel’s foes, however, the very concept of a Jewish democratic state is derisory because they believe an ethnic Jewish state is intrinsically racist.

This displays a failure to grasp the complexities of Israeli and Jewish identity.

Some 20 percent of Israelis are Arabs with full civil and religious rights.

But Israeli Arabs are not Jewish. And that’s what sticks in the Western craw; Israel is a Jewish state. Its national identity is Israeli and Jewish. So Arabs can only have the first, civic identity, but not the culturally fundamental second one.

This enrages Israel’s Western foes. Last year’s nation-state legislation, which made Israel’s Jewish character into a basic law, was a red rag to those who think Zionism is racism and a Jewish state is illegitimate. They thus misunderstand and traduce Judaism itself, a religion defined around one specific people in one specific land.

This distinction was laid down at the very start in the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which ascribed to the Arabs of the land civil and religious, but not political, rights. That’s because the Jewish people alone were given the right to regard the land of Israel as their national homeland—because they are the only people for whom it ever was.

If Israeli Arabs had equal national rights, Israel would no longer be a Jewish state. Arab Israelis have equal rights over everything except the state’s national identity. As for the Law of Return, that’s not given to Israeli citizens but to Jews, so that they can become Israeli citizens. It is therefore incoherent and absurd to say it’s “racist” to deny it to Arabs.

Far from Israel being a racist state, it’s racist to seek to deny to the Jews alone their right to their own country as the historic nation state of their people.

As for the opposition to annexing the Jordan Valley, just like the entire argument between advocates of “greater Israel” and advocates for a “two-state solution,” this addresses the wrong question. The question is not how best to divide the land. It is how to stop the Arab war of annihilation against the State of Israel.

All Western governments have been suckered by the stupendous propaganda coup—cooked up in the 1960s between the PLO leader Yasser Arafat and the Soviet Union—that transformed the Arab war of annihilation against Israel into the Palestinians’ struggle against supposed Israeli oppression.

Junking that big lie for the truth and stopping that war of annihilation is the one and only thing that will break the Arab-Israel deadlock—and acknowledge the reality that Israeli Arabs are increasingly embracing.

The rest, including how the topography of the Middle East would look after those aggressors are defeated, is commentary.

Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for “The Times of London,” her personal and political memoir, “Guardian Angel,” has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, “The Legacy,” in 2018. Her work can be found at:

Jewish News Syndicate


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