To our Arab-Israeli siblings: Thank you – opinion

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The Jerusalem Post  15/09/2021



To our Arab-Israeli siblings: Thank you – opinion

First, apologies for the sweeping headline. I don’t want to treat all Israeli-Arabs as one – that’s usually the job of Israel’s left-wing opponents and far-right racists. Both clump all Arabs together to sharpen the Jewish-Arab divide.

And before anyone declares “Israeli-Arab” an imposed “colonialist” label, the Jewish People Policy Institute’s 2020 Pluralism Index found that 51 percent of Israeli minorities calls themselves “Israeli-Arabs,” only 7 percent call them “Palestinian,” and 23 percent call themselves “Israeli.”

Still, allow me to specify….

To those Israeli-Arabs who shunned the Palestinian prison-breakers and to those who aided the search for these killers…. Shukran! Todah! Thank you!

To those Israeli-Arabs from the Ra’am party – and their voters – who helped bring an overdue change to Israel’s government and finally stopped treating the Knesset as the Jerusalem branch of the UN or SIB – the Society of Israel-Bashers – instead embracing it as a functional legislature which can help their constituents pragmatically…. Shukran! Todah! Thank you!

To those Israeli-Arabs who are Coronavirus heroes – and more broadly, those who make up 17 percent of Israel’s doctors, 24 percent of Israel’s nurses, and 47 percent of Israel’s pharmacists — proving that the Republic of Medicine trumps any conflict…

Shukran! Todah! Thank you!

To those Israeli-Arabs who have spent the last year using their Arabic mastery, their cultural fluency, and their patriotic vision to bring alive the Abraham Accords by bridging between Jews and Arabs in the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco.… Shukran! Todah!

Thank you!

To the 466,000 Israeli non-Jews who aren’t Israeli-Arabs but are often treated as such by bigodiots — bigoted idiots – and especially to those heroic Bedouin, Druze and Circassians who serve in Israel’s army, including the Druze officer who commanded my son… Shukran! Todah! Thank you!

In short, to most of Israel’s 1.98 million Arabs who are loyal citizens, law-abiding people seeking good, middle-class, lives…

Shukran! Todah! Thank you!

Clearly, Israeli-Arab identity is multi-dimensional and sometimes deeply-conflicted. In his sadly-unappreciated book, What is a Palestinian State Worth?,  the Palestinian philosopher Sari Nusseibeh notes that one of Israel’s harshest Israeli-Arab attackers, MK Ahmad Tibi, once bristled when an al-Jazeera reporter asked if his village Taybeh would join the new Palestinian state he champions. Tibi wants a Palestinian state for others but resented a fellow Arab’s suggestion that he abandon his Israeliness!

Too many partisans treat identity as a mirror, statically reflecting their political perspective – or offering a reverse image. But identity is a diamond. Most Israeli-Arabs feel some solidarity with the State of Israel – within limits; some solidarity with Palestinians – within limits; and some solidarity with the broader Arab cause – within limits. True, managing these different facets is complicated. But the diamond’s sparkle isn’t about smoothness – it comes from but from just the right little cuts in the stone.

Totalitarians oversimplify identity, democrats bathe in its messy brilliance.

Israel’s goal as a multicultural Jewish democracy is not to create a new nation of de-Arabified Arabs or de-Judaized Jews. Israel is an identity wonderland, embracing different identities not sterilizing them. Yes, Israel administers four education systems for our four domestic tribes – Religious Jews, Secular Jews, Ultra-Orthodox Jews, and Israeli-Arabs. That respects most people’s democratic desires. True, Israel needs to work harder on a common core curriculum, so all grow up with basic skills and a common language – but most Israelis appreciate the genuine, creative, diversity of community, culture, and thought resonating throughout Israel.  

Irina Nevzlin, who chairs the reopened, renewed, Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot, explained this idea effectively in her 2019 book The Impact of Identity: The Power of Knowing Who You Are . In emerging from Communism’s dictatorial, sanitized, anti-Semitic identity vacuum after the Soviet Union collapsed, she writes, “I realized that strength and resilience come from truly understanding and connecting to what makes you, you…. You are stronger when you know who you are and are connected to your ethnic heritage.”

Our Identity Wonderland is not Disneyland. Scars of the May riots in Lod, Acre, and elsewhere remain visible – and hidden. But this new government can build on the positive, especially if it lowers crime, eases Arabs’ building-permit process, and continues the educational and employment progress Likud facilitated too, while treating every Israeli citizen respectfully.

Israel-Arabs are not the Holy Land’s only identity-jugglers. Saturday night, having finished praying in my Ashka-sephard, Sabra-Oleh, neighborhood minyan, I attended an enchanting open-air concert. David D’Or, a descendant of Libyan Jews, sang in Breichat HaSultan – the (Ottoman) Sultan’s Pool – with Avraham Tal of Algerian-Moroccan descent, Amir Benayoun of Moroccan descent, Idan Amedi of Kurdish descent, and Ehud Banai – a multi-generational Jerusalemite of Persian descent. This chorus of bare heads, baseball caps and various-sized kippot — who range politically from left to right – belted out traditional “Slichot” – penitential prayers.

This was the real Israel, not the Israel of the political punchline, the toxic Tweet or the simplistic slogan. It’s a complex, dimensional Israel. Here, people live brilliant diamond-like identities, integrating their Jewish or Arab and democratic, immigrant/ethnic-origin, Zionist, traditionalist, and very Israeli selves in rich and surprising ways.

Under Jerusalem’s stars, flanked by the Old City’s Walls, these musical identity-magicians transformed partisans’ “v.”s into “ands.” The crowd was religious and  non-religious – not versus; Mizrachi and  Ashkenazi – not versus. The songs created an old-young identity symphony, with traditional words set to modern melodies, modern songs echoing traditional tropes, and super-hip Israelis singing ancient prayers – with the entire audience joining.

This year, may we continue turn “v.s” into “ands” — with our Arab brothers and sisters too. 


Recently designated one of Algemeiner’s J-100, one of the top 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life,” Gil Troy is the author of the newly-released The Zionist Ideas , an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology The Zionist Idea, published by the Jewish Publication Society and a 2019 National Jewish Book Award Finalist.. A Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University,and the author of nine books on American History, his book, Never Alone: Prison, Politics and  My People,  co-authored with Natan Sharansky was just published by PublicAffairs of Hachette.



Copyright © 2021 Prof Gil Troy, All rights reserved.

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