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March 22, 2015 1:01 am

Jewish-Arab Coexistence Against the Odds

avatar by Yoram Ettinger

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The Jerusalem Nature Museum regularly hosts instruction sessions by IDF Emergency Population Instructors of the Jerusalem district. Pictured here is an IDF soldier instructing 5th grade students of the Arabic-Israeli school "Alachuwa." Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The Israeli election shed some light on the increasingly local — rather than national or regional — priorities of the 1.7 million Israeli Arabs. It served to underscore the intensifying Israelization/localization of their self-determination; the widening cultural/ideological gap between Israeli Arabs and the Palestinians; the deep fragmentation within the Israeli Arab sector (despite the current merger between the individual Arab parties); their growing appreciation of Israel’s civil liberties and expanded trust in Israel’s political system; and the gap between the worldviews of a growing number of Israeli Arabs and most Arab Knesset members.

According to a Feb. 17 public opinion survey conducted by Tel Aviv University’s researcher Arik Rudnitzky, a project manager at the Konrad Adenauer Program for Jewish-Arab Cooperation, the most pressing issues for Israel’s Arabs are employment, education, health care, neighborhood crime and women’s rights (43 percent), ahead of enhancing the status of the Arab community in Israel (28.1 percent) and the Israel-Palestinian conflict and negotiations (19 percent).

Moreover, the survey concluded that 61.3 percent of Israel’s Arabs consider the Knesset an effective arena to address their concerns. Only 12.2 percent dismiss the Knesset as a platform for improving the status of Israeli Arabs.

Another Feb. 17 poll, conducted by Stat Net, indicated that 77 percent of Israeli Arabs prefer Israeli — over Palestinian — citizenship, and 64 percent are optimistic about Jewish-Arab relations. In an unprecedented fashion, 60 percent of Arab voters said they would like to see the Joint Arab List (the merged Arab parties, which went on to win 13 seats in the election) joining Israel’s coalition government. While 30 percent would join only a coalition government led by Labor (the Zionist Union), 28 percent would join a coalition headed by either Labor or Likud.

Contrary to most Arab Knesset members, 70 percent of Israeli Arabs care more about their socio-economic status than about solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They are more concerned about the standard of living among Israeli Arabs in the city of Ramle than about the nationalistic aspirations of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Similarly, the 2014 special election for the mayor of Nazareth featured a resounding victory (62 percent to 38 percent) for Ali Salam, who focused on civic challenges in Nazareth, over Ramiz Jaraisy, who highlighted his identification with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.

According to Rudnitzky, the dramatic increase in voter turnout among Arab voters from 56.5 percent in 2013, 53.4 percent in 2009 and 56.3 percent in 2006 to about 64 percent in 2015 reflects the widening interaction and integration between Israel’s Jews and Arabs, and growing Arab confidence in the Israeli political system. This is in contrast to the lowest ever Arab turnout, just 18 percent, in the 2001 election. Current political Arab involvement aims at peacefully coexisting with, rather than confronting, the Jewish majority. In 2015, most Israeli Arabs strive for political and civic national self-determination and improvement of their civic status within the boundaries of the Jewish state. A growing majority of Arab voters appreciate Israel’s democracy, especially when observing the flaming Arab tsunami on Arab streets throughout the Middle East, devoid of civil liberties, replete with violent intolerance towards minorities and each other.

Will the current trend of Israelization and co-existence withstand the tectonic pressures on the Israeli Arab street, fueled by the savage, intra-Muslim rampage from the Persian Gulf through northeast Africa (Islamists vs. secularists; for vs. against equality for women; local vs. national preoccupation; integrationists vs. separatists; civil liberties vs. Shariah, etc.)?

Against the backdrop of 1,400 years of no intra-Muslim peaceful coexistence, and in view of the endemic civic restlessness between majorities and minorities in most Western democracies, one should not underestimate the evolving political, cultural, economic Jewish-Arab coexistence in the Jewish state, one of the world’s leading democracies, which faces constant lethal dangers: daily terrorism and war launched by the brethren of its Arab minority.

This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.

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  • Hershel Barg

    This article is a pleasant surprise.

    At first glance at the title I presumed the article would be about how Jewish-Arab Coexistence IS Against the Odds. In fact, the article discusses how Jewish-Arab Coexistence is OCCURRING Against the Odds.

    Great and encouraging article.

  • Ephraim

    This is astounding! 88% of Arabs would not have a problem with a coalition including Likud? Why will no one share this with the Jew hating world? I will answer my own question, because the Jew hating world does not care about Arabs, only about hating Israel.

  • Jerry Henderson

    It seems Obama and many members of his advisory staff prefer to take the ad lib statements made in the heat of an election to be the legislated and definitive final goal of Israeli Middle East involvement in place of understanding it to be electioneering platitudes uttered to garner votes. Mr. Ettinger has given us an analysis which definitively shows the attitude of the people living within the Israeli DEMOCRACY which the US President seems to deliberately overlook and ignore. Where is his outrage at the anti-Israel statements made by Abbas to his constituency? Where are the PA elections, now five years overdue? If the PA was really a “Partner for Peace,” why have they not renounced their promise to wipe Israel off the map? Why have they re-connected with Hamas, an organization labeled by the US and others as a terrorist organization? My main question is why is the President of the United States scapegoating Israel and dictating terms dangerous to their survival, all the while negotiating with Iran to find a way to let them eventually join the exclusive Murder, Inc. Club of possessors of nuclear weapons? The President and his advisors thought that Yemen was pacified…. SURPRISE! They thought Egypt was pacified under Morsi and the popular democratic election which put him in office! SURPRISE. Mr Obama, you are an intelligent and highly educated man, but you are acting like a spoiled brat whose little brother got a bigger piece of the candy bar. You, and the State Department do NOT have all the answers. Sometimes I wonder if you and they even have all the questions! So, answer this — how will your juvenile punishment of Israel strengthen the role of the United States in the world? How will this enhance the United States in terms of supporting the ONLY democracy in the Middle East? The only country that gives rights to all citizens, the only country which gives full freedom of the press, freedom to gay and lesbian citizens, the only democracy which has an impartial and working judiciary, Au contraire, I believe it only give the lie to the United States being trusted internationally. If you can turn so easily against such a staunch and loyal ally, what do you expect your other allies to think? It is NOT Israel messing up the Middle East, it is you. Shame on you!

  • Helena

    Well written. All I hope is that they don’t get influenced by the propaganda of their “brethren” who say that the reason for all the agony in the muslim lands are due to the jews!

  • This article expresses an extremely hopeful future. I congratulate the Israelis for doggedly continuing to do the right thing by its Arab citizens, regardless of what Mahmud Abbas or the Gazans choose to do. In the end, all people are interested in the same thing: better living conditions for themselves and their children. And Israel offers that to its Arab citizens.Good show!

  • steven L

    The Arabs in the Knesset seem to represent not the Israeli Arabs but the Palestinians who have their own legislature which is not allowed to function. Israeli Arabs should get rid of the “Palestinian” MKs.
    So the US President insists on eliminating Israel!

  • Bibi was called a Racist by Obama for complaining about this.
    Obama gets involved in Israeli Voting Fraud goes up 100% when usually it was 0%. Busing Arabs in Israel to vote, what for? There are voting stations in every village; town and neighborhood are in walking distance for every Israeli citizen. The only reason to use a bus for Arabs is to get them to vote a second time with a new id in a location where they are not known.