A silent Arab Spring is germinating … in Israel
(October 4, 2021 / Jewish newspaper) Good news is never so exciting. It is always more dramatic to sound the alarm about one problem or another. Calling Israel an “apartheid” state, as Representative Rashida Tlaib recently did, is a good example. It’s so inflammatory that it’s guaranteed to garner maximum attention, both from critics and supporters of the Jewish state.
I thought about Tlaib’s accusation last week as I walked the streets of Jerusalem. In a cafe in trendy Mamilla mall, a young Muslim woman wearing trendy jeans and a stylish scarf sat next to my table, ordering lunch and working on her laptop.
“Do you live in an apartheid state? I wanted to ask him. I wondered if she even knew, or cared about, the hubbub that regularly goes on in America around Israel.
Here’s the thing about Israel: You can read a thousand tweets and media comments expressing one opinion or another, but it really helps walking the streets. And when you do, “apartheid” is probably the last word you would want to use to describe this place.
On the contrary, the opposite is starting to happen: more and more Arab Israelis are rejecting the accusation. A vivid example is Yoseph Haddad, an Israeli Arab who defends Israel on social media and abroad in English and Arabic.
“Despite all its shortcomings,” he wrote recently on Ynet, “Israel is not an apartheid state. Not even close.
Haddad, who visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg and met black residents who lived under the regime, said that the use of the apartheid label for Israel “has diminished and lessened the suffering of the South. Black Africans who had been subjected to the evils of apartheid for many years. . “
As I was wondering about the Muslim woman sitting next to me in the cafe, Haddad asks:
“Samer Haj Yehia, the president of Israel’s biggest bank, Leumi, does he live under apartheid? And what about Dr Masad Barhoum, the CEO of Galilee Medical Center, or George Karra, the Supreme Court judge? Are they also living in an apartheid state? And what about Arab doctors, lawyers and police, as well as Arab members of the Knesset and ministers, are they also living in this form of oppression?
The Arab grocer who chats in Hebrew with Jewish buyers; the Arab manager of a hotel in Jerusalem who sent his children to college; Arabs who naturally mingle with Jews of all stripes at Mahane Yehudah market – none of these times I’ve been through is exciting news. They lack the drama of confrontation.
But it is precisely this prosaic reality that has a chance to improve Arab-Jewish relations. These relationships are not driven by big statements or geopolitical strategy, but by answers to simple questions, such as: am I allowed to have coffee here, get a college degree there, hang out in this park, to find a job in this hotel, to vote for this candidate, to take my children to this hospital? These answers, as much as any argument, are the sharpest rebuttal of the apartheid accusation.
As Haddad reminds us of true apartheid: “Black South Africans were not even allowed on the park swings used by white children.
Of course, just like imperfect America, imperfect Israel still has a long way to go in bringing equality and justice to all of its residents, including its minorities. Animosity between Jews and Arabs continues. Many Arab citizens are still bitter about the very existence of Israel, which they commemorate as “Nakba, ”Or disaster.
But if the country aims to be a work in progress, at least it puts its money where its mouth is. For the first time in Israel’s history, an Arab-Muslim party is part of its governing coalition. (It’s like having MAGA and the squad in the same party.) It’s an encouraging sign that the pragmatic needs of the Arab sector, like infrastructure, crime reduction and healthcare, are replacing ideological toxins. that feed the passions but leave the stomachs empty. This would be in line with the new spirit of the Abrahamic Accords, which reshape Israeli-Arab relations around mutual interests.
Feeding passions, however, is what fuels the three-second story wars. That’s why you probably won’t hear about this silent spring through social media or sexy headlines. The story is too slow, too multi-layered, too positive.
It is also real.
“The tide seems to be turning as Arab Israelis speak more and more in favor of the State of Israel,” author and political scientist Ben-Dror Yemini wrote this week on Ynet. Yemini quotes a large number of Arab-Israeli lawyers, including:
“Mohammad Kabiya, a Bedouin from northern Israel who served in an IDF combat unit; Jonathan Elkhoury – the son of a former Israeli-backed army officer in South Lebanon who was resettled in Israel after his withdrawal in 2000 and dedicates his life to coexistence between Arabs and Jews … Shadi Khaloull – a Christian Maronite who served as an officer in the Parachute Brigade; Dima Tayeh, a Muslim woman from northern Israel and a staunch supporter of Israel who ran in the Likud primaries for a place on the party’s list in the Knesset; and Liana Khatib, member of the Druze community who works part-time for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Yemini, who has met many of these advocates, writes that “More and more young Arab Israelis are choosing to present an alternative to animosity. Israel is not perfect, many of them have told me that, but it offers more equal rights and opportunities not only to its neighbors in the Middle East, but also to other advanced Western nations.
Arab defenders realize that the recognition of their rights in Israel is “the best way both to strengthen Arab Israelis and to promote reconciliation and peace.”
Needless to say, these courageous activists face opposition from those who have a vested interest in maintaining a narrative of animosity. When your cause – and your fundraising – depends on portraying Israel as the oppressor and Arabs as the oppressed, the last thing you need is a narrative change.
But on the boardwalks and cafes and hospitals and markets and universities and voting booths and beaches and children’s playgrounds in the only Jewish state in the world, the tale is the complete opposite of apartheid.
Those who profit the most from this reality don’t really care whether Rashida Tlaib hears about it or not. They just want their almond cappuccino to be piping hot.
David Suissa is editor and publisher of Tribe Media Corp and The Jewish Journal. He can be contacted at [email protected]
This article was first published by the Jewish newspaper.