The Craziness Stops at Israel’s Borders – Almost

Like the rest of us, Israel’s Arabs do not like to be offended, but most of them can take it without flying off into a wild rage. They have undergone a gradual process of modernization.

Moshe_Arens_cropped-150x150By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on September 23, 2012.)

From Tunis to Khartoum to Cairo to Jakarta the Muslim world has erupted in a rage against America. The attacks on American embassies, the killing of U.S. personnel, the burning of American flags, all accompanied by chants of “Allahu akbar,” seem like craziness to Western eyes. Who can explain this phenomenon sweeping across the Islamic world, a phenomenon that seems to have been sparked by an idiotic video on the Internet but is obviously rooted in deep feelings of hate and resentment?

This craziness seems to have stopped at Israel’s borders, or to be precise, it almost stopped there. There was some of the not-unusual stone-throwing on the Temple Mount after Friday prayers, the northern branch of the Islamic Movement (which should have been outlawed years ago ) demonstrated in front of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv (which should have moved to Jerusalem years ago ), the Islamic Movement was unsuccessful in organizing a protest among the Negev Bedouin, and there was a small demonstration in Acre.

But nothing serious. Why was Israel spared, even though it has a sizable Arab population, many of whom are devout Muslims? This is an intriguing question that may very well relate to the gradual process of modernization that Israel’s Arab population has undergone.

Fouad Ajami, the renowned American Middle East expert, himself a Shi’ite Muslim Arab born in Lebanon, addresses the question “Why is the Arab world so easily offended?” in a recent article in the Washington Post. According to him, “Modernity requires the willingness to be offended … [and] “that willingness is something the Arab world, the heartland of Islam, still lacks.” According to Ajami, “There is an Arab pain and a volatility in the face of judgment by outsiders that stem from a deep and enduring sense of humiliation. A vast chasm separates the poor standing of Arabs in the world today from their history of greatness. In this context, their injured pride is easy to understand.”

From this vantage point we can understand why the Arab population in Israel has not been caught up in the fanatic frenzy sweeping the Arab world. For the past 64 years living in Israel, a modern democratic country, they have undergone a gradual process of modernization, and if you like, Westernization. And like the rest of us, they do not like to be offended, but most of them can take it without flying into a wild rage.

There is no mistaking it. Day by day the number of young Israeli Arabs assuming positions in the Israeli economy – as pharmacists, physicians, accountants, lawyers, engineers and salespeople – is increasing. The number of Arab youngsters volunteering for national service and even for service in the Israel Defense Forces is going up. Although some of their politicians may not like it, they are gradually becoming an integral part of the Israeli economy and Israeli society. And they are undergoing a process of modernization, the modernization that is so slow in coming to the Arab world.

The Israeli government should make a determined effort to speed this process along. It is beneficial to Arabs and Jews alike. The IDF has a crucial role to play here. It is unfortunate that after a few weeks during which military service for all dominated the public discourse, the subject seems to have been forgotten at the moment. It is as relevant today as it was then and needs to be rejuvenated. There can be no real integration without equal service for all.

And maybe, just maybe, as the process of integrating Israel’s Arab minority into Israeli society gathers momentum, the transformation of Israel’s Arab society will radiate out to the Arab population in the neighboring areas and help propel the Arab world into the modern age.

Translate »