What is holding back Israel’s Arab politicians from the modern age?

Many individual Arab citizens have come face to face on a daily basis with Western civilization. But in the political sphere there is as yet no significant expression of a desire to Westernize and modernize.

By Moshe Arens

Moshe_Arens_cropped-150x150“Western European society was gradually becoming richer, more technically advanced, and militarily more powerful from around the seventeenth century onwards, leaving the Muslim world far behind. [The Muslim world’s} economic activity and political and military institutions fell into decay, compared to their earlier condition…In the seventeenth century the Middle East was a poorer and more disorderly place than it had been a century or two earlier.” Thus writes Elie Kedourie, the great historian of the Middle East, in his book “Politics in the Middle East.”

And so the Arab world has remained, seemingly stuck in the Middle Ages, until now. Despots and autocratic monarchs have ruled with the aid of secret services and the military, women have been suppressed, and science has lagged far behind the West. The Arab world has not advanced into modern times.

During the past hundred years Israel, a Western society, has managed to establish itself in the Middle East. Its survival and astounding development against great odds, under constant challenge by its Arab neighbors, is no doubt due in no small measure to the Western nature of its governance, its institutions and its culture. Within a few decades its military capability, its economy, its science and technology surpassed that of its far more numerous Arab neighbors.

They, rather than attempting to adopt the Israeli model, continued in their ways, believing in the theory that Israel was a “colonial” implant in the Middle East that was destined to disappear, just as the Crusaders disappeared from the area many years ago. For some reason entering the modern age seemed to be beyond the desire or the ability of the Arab rulers, to the detriment of the Arab people, whose only significant progress during those years was a rapidly increasing population, but little else.

It is in Israel that Arabs — Israel’s Arab citizens — have had the opportunity to come face to face on a daily basis with Western civilization: Democratic governance, the rule of law, the thirst for knowledge, equal opportunities for men and women, great institutes of learning and research, and economic progress. Israel’s military prowess protects them from the carnage that is ravaging much of the Middle East these past few years.

They have access to Israel’s universities and have open to them all the opportunities provided by a modern liberal society and a prosperous economy. Most of them live in the modern age and enjoy a standard of living provided by the modern age, far superior to that of Arabs living in neighboring countries. What is their reaction to the modern age? Do they welcome it, reject it, or refuse to acknowledge it?

Many individual Arab citizens of Israel have entered the modern age. They are to be found in increasing numbers as professors in Israel’s universities, as doctors in Israel’s hospitals, as lawyers in Israel’s premier law offices and as accountants in Israel’s large accounting firms. But in the political sphere there is as yet no significant expression of a desire to Westernize and modernize.

The United (Arab) List, fielding 13 members of the 120-member Knesset, a conglomerate of diverse Arab ideological trends, is hardly an expression of a desire to Westernize and to enter modern times. Its Islamic Movement component, not unlike the Islamic Movement in Egypt, seems to want to direct Israel’s Arabs back into the Middle Ages. Its Communist element sees in Communism, a failed ideology, the solution to the problems facing Israel’s Arab citizens. While the Balad component identifies with Nasserist and Baathist pan-Arab ideology, and among its goals is the destruction of Israel.

Are they an indication of the difficulty the Arab world has in entering the modern age? Or is there in Israel a silent Arab minority, or possibly even a silent majority, that unlike the politicians of the United List, welcomes the trend toward Westernization, who take pride in Israel’s achievements, and see in Israel an example for the Arab world to follow?

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