Last week I attended a fascinating symposium on PALESTINIANS IN ISRAEL—THE ARAB MINORITY AND THE JEWISH STATE, based on the new book by Dr. Dan Schueftan, Director of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa. The symposium was held at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies. On the panel, responding to the book was Dr. Yitzhak Reiter, of Ashkelon College and a researcher at the Jerusalem Institute, Prof. Shlomo Avineri, an old friend and a retired professor of Political Science at the Hebrew University, and Minister of Intelligence, MK Dan Meridor. Below are some of the highlights of this symposium, from my point of view.
Prof. Avineri congratulated the author of the book for calling Israeli Arabs “Palestinians”, as they preferred to be called these days. This has been the case since the Six Day War in 1967, when the Arabs in Israel began a long process of “Palestinianization”. Among other things, he pointed out the discrimination against Israeli Arabs, where as citizens of Israel, they are regularly humiliated by extra hours of questioning at the airport which should not be necessary, since they are citizens of Israel. He asked Minister Meridor to comment on this.
Minister Meridor responded to this and to many other matters regarding the status of Palestinians who are citizens of Israel. First, he said that the situation at the airport was problematic and that he was looking into the matter personally, but could not divulge the details of this at this public forum. Most important of all, he pointed out that the way we the Jewish majority treat the Arab minority is first and foremost a moral matter. It is our responsibility to treat them fairly, as we would have wanted to be treated in our own history. It is our responsibility to treat Palestinians in Israel fairly and to provide them with a sense of belonging in our society. There are many things that we as a country still need to do, he said, such as fair distribution of resources, and equal opportunity in the job market. “It should be forbidden for us to do to others what others did to us in our history”, he said.
I wish Dan Meridor was running for Prime Minister, instead of so many of the others currently in our “unity” government who do not speak with the clarity of vision and the importance of our moral responsibility to minorities in our midst. It was refreshing and inspiring to hear him speak.
In addition to MK Meridor, Prof. Yitzhak Reiter attacked the two main theses of Prof. Shueftan’s book, i.e. that the Palestinian leadership in Israel is leading their people to a dead end and that the Arabs themselves are responsible for the fact that they don’t have jobs–because of their culture. Rather, he said that there are big gaps between what Israeli Palestinian leaders say as opposed to what their people want. He criticized Prof. Sheuftan’s book for being written from a security perspective, and said that there are many other ways to look at the situation of Palestinians in Israel. Perhaps if we treated them equally, then they would not be a security threat? Perhaps if we found a more proper balance in the way that we relate to them, and not just look at them as a security threat, then they might integrate better into Israeli society. I couldn’t agree more!
Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish
Director, ICCI and JCJCR