Ahmed Tibi: Jews and Arabs must fight Israel’s racism together

By Ahmed Tibi, Haaretz – 22 Dec 2010

Ahmed Tibi

Ahmed Tibi

Something evil is occurring in Israeli society. Racism and xenophobia are consuming its enlightenment and tolerance, and democracy is becoming more and more endangered. Phenomena that had been on the sidelines are now moving to the forefront. Blatant racism against Israel’s Arab citizens, and hostility to foreigners in general, phenomena that are usually deeply repressed in the collective soul of people and which enlightened governments are careful to lock in a psychological basement are now being released in a murky thrust. Hatred and fear are being reinforced. This is a frightened and insecure society.

Between the rabbis’ letter, the growing public standing of Avigdor Lieberman, loyalty oaths, incitement against Arab officials and the flood of racist laws, the 18th Knesset is the most racist of all time. To the current parliament’s credit, it’s likely that the next one will be worse.

All of this is not happening in a vacuum. The public space and the social atmosphere have been ripening for this dark attack. The Democracy Index – the flagship project of the Israel Democracy Institute – shows that a majority of the Jewish public supports the stifling of minority voices.

Moshe Arens blamed the collapse of Israeli democracy on Arab Knesset members (Israeli Arab MKs don’t always represent Israeli Arabs, Haaretz, Dec. 14). Thus even a “liberal rightist” like Arens, when he came to analyze the society of which he was a leader for many years and investigate the sources of racism bubbling up in that society, ignored the truly damaging elements and preferred to revert to cheap attacks and incitement against elected representatives of the Arab public.

The prolonged occupation, the bloody struggle, the oppression and the contemptuous treatment of Arabs and their rights did not exist in Arens’ analysis. Nor did the continuing exclusion of Israel’s Arab citizens or the lack of Israeli Arab representation in the civil service (just 6.7 percent). Arens did not touch on the inherent discrimination or lack of planning for Arab towns nor the general distance of Arabs from benefits that only the majority enjoys. Arens takes none of these into account. He only repeats the mantras spoken by vegetable sellers in the market.

I am not a spokesman for all Arab lawmakers and I refuse to see us as one entity. There are 14 Arab Knesset members and each has his or her own color, character, style, agenda and emphases. There are some who have made achievements and some who have not; there are those who have earned the public trust and those who have yet to accomplish this. It is only the public that will judge us at the end of the day. But we are all elected public representatives who are no less legitimate than any Jewish MK.
Arens’ sweeping generalization was shameful and not befitting to his style.

I’m not saying that we’re completely perfect, but one must remember that political discourse is dynamic and symbiotic. Therefore a comment, even when it is harsh or in bad taste, is just a comment. We must not forget that we sit in the Knesset as a right not a privilege. Time and time again we’ve been elected by a general public Arens said we don’t represent. A contradiction, it seems to me, and not appropriate for an empirical rationalist like Arens. Some of us are very popular in our public.

Trends of alienation and despair are evident in Israel’s Arab population, and in this reality it is easy to foster separatism and segregation. Many of my colleagues and I try to be a responsible national leadership that grits its teeth and looks to both the near and far future. We cling to the word “democratic” of the phrase “Jewish and democratic”, even when from day to day it seems we have less to hold on to.

Israel’s government ministers are more dangerous, in my view, than the rabbis who cling to the idea of “Jewish”; and from that idea of “Jewish” allow the same dark halakhic ruling to rear its head.

The struggle against racism must be a joint Jewish-Arab effort, just as it was when thousands demonstrated in Tel Aviv on Human Rights Day. As Martin Luther King said, there is no path to peace and equality; peace and equality are the path.

Ahmed Tibi is the deputy speaker of the Knesset, and a member of the Ta’al party.

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