By Yosef Goell - August 13, 2001
While our attention has understandably been focused on the murderous acts of terrorism perpetrated by the Palestinians against our civilian population in Jerusalem and elsewhere, it is essential that we take heed of no less ominous developments among the leadership of the Arab population of Israel proper.
During the changeover of the leadership of the Monitoring Committee of the Israeli Arab Leadership in Israel two weeks ago - in which Dr. Shuaki Hatib of Yafet a-Natzra replaced Muhammad Zeidan of Kafr Manda - a subcommittee of leading Arab intellectuals submitted a program that calls for the committee to adopt as its central goal the "restructuring of the Arab community in Israel as a national minority."
For some time now we have been hearing arguments among Israeli Jewish intellectuals as to whether Israel should define itself as "the state of the Jewish people, with rights for its ethnic minorities" or "the state of all its citizens." Among the Israeli Arabs, however, a growing number of political leaders and intellectuals have for some time been demanding official recognition as a national minority.
This is the first time that an official body purporting to represent the Arab populace has come out with such a demand. What is of special importance is that the subcommittee that submitted the program consists of representatives of the Islamic right, the mainstream Palestinian nationalists, and the Communist left. This is the first time leaders of these disparate groups have united in this way around a central defining goal.
The operational agenda that would grow out of the adoption of the proposal would call for "a struggle for internal self-organization alongside the struggle against the institutions of the state and their racist leadership, which for the past 53 years has prevented us from realizing this basic right."
To some of us, the difference between an "ethnic" and a "national" minority may sound like a piece of semantic quibbling. It is not. "National" entails demands for a far-reaching grant of territorial and political autonomy, which in most cases leads to a violent irredentist campaign for total separation.
Granting such a demand would mean turning Israel into the blood-drenched equivalent of Bosnia, Kosovo, and now Macedonia. It should be fought tooth and nail, beginning with issuing a clear warning to the Monitoring Committee that if it adopts the proposed program, all official contacts with it by state institutions will be severed.
It bears repetition: Israeli Arabs, despite being subject to continuing nagging official and unofficial discrimination, are still the best-off Arab population in the Middle East. This is true in regard to basic democratic rights, basic life chances such as infant and maternal mortality, longevity, health services, education, and the like. All this has been achieved as a result of the policies of all Israeli governments during 53 years in which the Jewish State of Israel has been engaged in a war of existence with the Arab and Palestinian kinsmen of its Arab minority.
It is fully legitimate for the Arab minority to organize to fight for improving the status and material welfare of its members. In such a struggle, they should be joined by Israeli Jews concerned with the issue of social justice in a Jewish state, which for the first time in over two millennia is confronted with having its own minorities.
But it is totally illegitimate for such a minority to demand recognition as a national minority. That would constitute the beginning of a slippery slope that may eventually to a second nakba, the national catastrophe that Arab intellectuals have called the tragic outcome of the 1948 War of Independence, which their misguided leadership imposed on the Jewish community of Mandatory Palestine.
The first step in such a severing of official recognition should be the preparation of legislation, under which Arab political parties calling for such a demand would be declared illegal and their representatives in the Knesset and in local government ousted from office. The democratic ethos should not include a penchant for national suicide.
Additional light on these developments was shed by Uzi Benziman in last Friday's Ha'aretz. Commenting on the recent joint declaration by political and intellectual leaders of the Israeli peace camp and in the Palestinian Authority, which called for an urgent return to negotiations and end to the violence of the past 10 months, he notes that the signatories did not include even one Israeli Arab.
Benziman speculates that the reason may be that the joint declaration calls for negotiations that would recognize the "striving of both the Jewish and the Palestinian peoples for national independence." That would, in effect, constitute official Palestinian recognition of the right of the Jewish people to have its own independent state, contradicting the demand for defining Israel as the state of all its citizens.
©2001 - Jerusalem Post