Newspaper article International New York Times

Israel's Irresponsible Arabs

Newspaper article International New York Times

Israel's Irresponsible Arabs

Article excerpt

The Arab leadership must remember that their community has a stake in coexistence with the Jewish majority.

The northern Israeli city of Nazareth witnessed an incredible confrontation on Oct. 11. Two Muslim men, both leaders in the Arab Israeli community, had a verbal duel in the public square. And the stakes for their community could not be higher.

Knesset member Ayman Odeh, the head of the third-largest party in Israel's Parliament, the United Arab Party, was there for a TV interview. He was standing on the sidewalk, adjusting his earphone, when a white car suddenly stopped beside him. From that car, to Mr. Odeh's visible astonishment, the mayor of Nazareth, Ali Salam, began raging at him: "Go away ... get out of here ... you've ruined this city ... what are you doing to us ... you've burned the whole world."

Mr. Odeh's usual manner is relatively mild. He does not use much provocative language. But as the head of the United Arab Party he bears responsibility for its policies. And its policy of confrontation with the Jewish majority agitated Mr. Salam. It "ruins our future, and ruins coexistence," the mayor said the next day.

These are volatile days. Stabbing and shooting attacks on Jews continue, and some of them have been carried out by Arab citizens of Israel. This puts Arab Israelis in an especially stressful position. They are Israeli and also Palestinian. Their state is engaged in a battle against their people, and they are a minority within a Jewish majority. This majority is on edge; its members see suspects everywhere and fear the next attack.

Israeli Jews have little patience for blunt dissent or provocation, and little patience for nuance. This is an ugly truth. Too many Israeli Jews, upon encountering an Arab -- be he a pharmacist or a supermarket cashier or a cab driver -- are thinking: Will he pull a knife? Does he intend to kill me?

In an opinion poll published earlier this month, 92 percent of Jewish Israelis said they would feel "unsafe" walking in a predominantly Arab city like Nazareth. Eighty percent said they would feel unsafe even in a mixed city -- like Haifa, Acre or Lod, where both Jews and Arabs live.

No wonder Nazareth is empty of Jews, as Mayor Salam complained. A third of Israeli Jews, according to the poll, believe that most Israeli Arabs "support the current wave of terrorism." Another third believe that "some of them" do.

Why wouldn't they think so when most Arab Israeli political leaders are busy arousing the anger of their constituents against the Jewish majority rather than trying to calm the situation? Arab Knesset members use harsh language against the authorities. (One shouted at Israeli policemen, "You have no place here.") They engage in verbal provocation (such as referring to suicide bombers as heroes), and in provocative acts (such as trying to reach Jerusalem's Temple Mount when they know it is closed to all). …

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