Same Ends, Different Means

The Israeli Arab drafters of the “future vision” and Avigdor Lieberman would be greatly chagrined to be viewed side by side, but the contrasting proposals offered by both do have a common denominator.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on February 13, 2007.)

Among the many recent proposals for changing the structure and nature  of the State of Israel, two stand out in particular. One is “The future vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel,” which calls for the establishment of a “consensual democracy” in place of Israel’s current parliamentary democracy while doing away with Israel as a Jewish state. The other is Avigdor Lieberman’s proposals for putting Arab population centers of Israel outside the borders of the state, thus depriving them of their right to vote in Israel and replacing parliamentary democracy with a presidential executive system.

Both parties would surely be greatly chagrined to be viewed side by side, but actually the two contrasting proposals do have a common denominator.

While the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, author of the future vision proposal, wants to make Israel less Jewish and Lieberman is looking for ways to make it more Jewish, both are suggesting structural changes by means not considered legitimate in modern democracies – the committee by creating power sharing along ethnic lines (like L ebanon), and Lieberman by stripping some citizens of their rights based on ethnic considerations. Neither is looking to integrate Israel’s citizens in a common society, but rather prefers separation of Jews from Arabs, either by rent or by physically changing Israel’s borders based on ethnic considerations.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that some Arab citizens not serving in the IDF should feel alienated from Israel and maybe even sympathetic toward Israel’s enemies. The proposals of the monitoring committee, made by citizens whose sons do not participate in the defense of Israel, are not likely to benefit Israel and may not even be intended to do so. But it must be understood that citizenship involves not only rights, but also obligations, and that the most important obligation of citizenship is participation in the defense of one’s country.

But more than that, the division of Israelis into two types of citizens – those whose sons are prepared to risk their lives in the defense of the country and those whose sons are not – is an obstacle to integration and serves to distance the two populations. The benefits rightly given to those who have served in the army and the many employment opportunities open only to them has become a source of complaints of discrimination by some of Israel’s Arab citizens.

The solutions we ought to be looking for should be in the realm of further integration of Israel’s citizens and not their separation. Not separation of the type proposed by the monitoring committee and not of the type proposed by Lieberman.

Israel’s founders wanted the state to be a haven for Jews facing persecution. This mission forms the basis of the Law of Return, and is reflected in our national anthem and the Israeli flag. It is by any measure a noble cause that has been carried out with considerable success since the establishment of the state in 1948. Is it impossible for Israel’s Arab citizens to feel that they are partners in this mission, to take pride in rescuing the remnants of the Jewish people after the Holocaust and not to see in this rescue effort an act of discrimination against Israel’s non-Jewish population?

These are questions that the monitoring committee has no doubt pondered, and from its vision of the future it is clear that not only does the committee not wish to partake in this effort, but also considers it an affront to Israel’s Arab population. This view may be shared by members of the fundamentalist Islamic movement in Israel, a subversive movement antagonistic to Jews and Christians, as well as by those who profess no loyalty to the State of Israel and do not hide their support for Israel’s enemies, like Hezbollah and Hamas.

But this view is certainly not shared by all of Israel’s Arab citizens. Most of those Israeli Arabs who serve in the army, sharing the burden of defending Israel against its enemies, seem to have no difficulty going into combat under the Israeli flag and singing Israel’s national anthem. They, no doubt, take satisfaction in being Israelis, in living in a democracy, in the considerable material and educational advancement of Israeli Arabs since the establishment of the state, and maybe even in Israel being a haven to Jews in need of a haven.

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