Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Increased Pressure on Arab Citizens Tests Israel's Commitment to Genuine Democracy

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Increased Pressure on Arab Citizens Tests Israel's Commitment to Genuine Democracy

Article excerpt

ISRAEL'S FRIENDS in the U.S. and elsewhere, not to mention Israelis themselves, frequently describe Israel as the Middle East's only democracy. In many ways, Israel is indeed a democratic country. Its government comes to power through free elections and its free press engages in heated debate. In one key respect, however, its commitment to democracy is less than clear. That relates to its treatment of its Christian and Muslim Arab citizens.

If other countries are to be judged on the basis of how they treat their own Jewish citizens, it may not be wrong to argue that Israel should be judged on the basis of how it treats its non-Jewish citizens.

There can be no doubt that Israel's Arab citizens have been treated in a less than equal manner. A report issued by Sikkuy, a nonpartisan association that promotes equal opportunity for Arab citizens of Israel, declared that "Arab citizens of Israel have not yet attained the expression of full civic partnership, as evinced among other things, in their marginal representation in the civil service, especially in government ministries in Jerusalem...Since the state was established, the Arab population in Israel has grown sixfold but its land reserves have contracted steadily...Public housing does not resemble that offered to Jewish citizens, thus Arab citizens rely almost solely on private land. However, the shortage of private land thwarts further building possibilities...As for services to citizens: the land earmarked for service and public use is only 40 to 70 percent [of] that customarily reserved in Jewish counties...

About 70 percent of the Housing Ministry budget is off-limits to Arab citizens because it is reserved for 'special population groups,' all of which are Jewish. Even the remainder of the budget reaches Arab citizens only in part."

There is recent reason to fear far more than second-class treatment for Arabs in Israel, however. More and more, there appears to be a desire to rid Israel of its non-Jewish citizens.

An article entitled "Israel's Real Demographic Problem" appeared in the September/October 2006 issue of the Jewish journal Midstream. Its author is Eric Rozenman, Washington director of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting (CAMERA).

"Obviously, to be a Jewish state...Israel requires that Jews both comprise a significant majority of its population and identify with Jewish nationalism," Rozenman wrote. "A look at Israeli demographic trends suggests that neither of the above conditions can be taken for granted...In 2004, the total population grew by 1.8 percent, or 121,000 persons. But while the Jewish sector grew at a 1.4 percent rate, the Arab sector expanded by 3 percent (Muslims at 3.3 percent)."

While Rozenman confined himself to identifying what he sees as a problem, others are proposing "solutions." Effi Eitam, a leader of the joint Knesset faction aligned with Orthodox Zionists worldwide, issued a call "to expel the great majority of the Arabs" from the West Bank and "sweep the Israeli Arabs from the political system."

According to the Sept. 15, 2006 Forward, "Eitam made the remarks in an interview [Sept. 11] on Israeli Army Radio, during which he also reportedly described Arab Knesset members as 'a fifth column, a league of traitors of the first rank.' The comments strongly resembled the platform of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach Party commanded three seats in the Knesset before being barred as a racist movement."

A reserve brigadier general and one of the Israeli army's highest-ranking Orthodox officers ever, Eitam is the former head of the National Religious Party (NRP), flagship of the worldwide religious Zionist movement embraced by the Modern Orthodox movement in the U.S.

There can be no doubt that extremism is growing within the Modern Orthodox movement. As international human rights organizations decried the high toll of civilian deaths suffered in the Lebanon war, America's main organization of Modern Orthodox rabbis called on the Israeli military to be less concerned with avoiding civilian casualties of the opposing side when carrying out future operations. …

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