Israeli Arab MKs Don’t Always Represent Israeli Arabs

Most Jewish citizens, having little direct contact with Arab citizens, inevitably base their opinion of the views held by Israel’s Arab population on Arab MKs’ speeches.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on December 14, 2010.)

The Israel Democracy Institute’s annual publication of “Auditing Israeli Democracy – 2010” contains interesting and revealing information regarding the attitude of Israel’s Jewish citizens to its Arab citizens.

But while the recent polling results that appear in the publication are revealing, they are not really surprising: 86 percent of Israel’s Jewish citizens believe that decisions of major importance for the state must enjoy the support of a Jewish majority, while 62 percent of Israel’s Jewish citizens believe that as long as Israel is engaged in a conflict with the Palestinians, Arab citizens’ opinions on matters of security and foreign policy should not be taken into account.

These views are certainly not in accord with the norms of modern democracies, where the views of all citizens, regardless of ethnic or religious background, carry equal weight in national elections and parliamentary votes on all issues up for decision. This has also been, and continues to be, the practice in Israel for the past 62 years.

When matters relating to security or foreign policy were brought to a vote in the Knesset in the past, the majority was generally large enough that Arab Knesset members’ votes were not decisive. But still fresh in our minds is the Knesset’s no-confidence vote on the Oslo accords in 1993, a vote the Rabin government probably could not have won without the cooperation of Arab Knesset members. It was a reminder that under certain circumstances, the Arab vote could turn out to be a tie-breaker.

Do the polls conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute indicate that a majority of Israel’s Jewish citizens have not really absorbed the basic precepts of democratic government? That something is amiss in the education of our youngsters, and that if only greater stress were to be put on teaching democratic principles in our schools, this seeming aberration in the views of so many of our citizens would in time disappear?

Before we reach that conclusion, let us listen to the speeches of our Arab Knesset members. Without exception, they are hostile to the State of Israel, accuse the Israel Defense Forces of war crimes and are supportive of Israel’s enemies – Hezbollah and Hamas. Most Jewish citizens, having little direct contact with Arab citizens, inevitably base their opinion of the views held by Israel’s Arab population on these speeches. If these are the views of the Arab public’s representatives, they reason, they must surely reflect the views of Israeli Arabs.

The demonstrative appearance of MK Hanin Zuabi on the ship organized by a group of Turkish terrorists, and the frequent visits by Arab Knesset members to countries that are at war with Israel, only reinforce this view. Add to that the nefarious activities of the northern branch of the Israeli Islamic Movement, a Siamese twin of Hamas, which preaches hostility to Israel and prays for its destruction, and one can begin to understand that many of Israel’s Jewish citizens believe that giving Israeli Arabs the opportunity to decide on Israel’s future would be tantamount to committing national suicide. Even a fervent belief in the principles of democratic government may not be enough to neutralize such sentiment.

This raises the question of whether a majority of Israel’s Arab citizens really support the views espoused by Arab members of Knesset. Since the percentage of Arab Knesset members is considerably lower than the percentage of Arabs among Israeli voters, it is certain that not all Arab voters vote for them; many distribute their votes among the other parties.

But do all those who do vote for them identify with their views, or do some vote for them for lack of another alternative – an Arab party that wants to further equality of opportunity for Israel’s Arab citizens but does not support Israel’s enemies? There would seem to be room for such a party, as well as for greater Arab participation in Israel’s other parties. In any case, the Israel Democracy Institute could provide an important service by polling Israel’s Arab citizens on these questions.

In the meantime, what is clear is that the Arab MKs, by their incessant attacks on Israel and their support for Israel’s enemies, are doing a great disservice to the establishment of harmony between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens. And such harmony is a necessary condition for the integration of Israel’s Arab population into the fabric of Israeli society.

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