Sunday, January 28, 2007

Fun With Inclusiveness

The Israeli government is set to welcome its first Muslim cabinet member. The entire cabinet, with the exception of the somewhat mentally unstable Avigdor Lieberman, approved the appointment of Raleb Majadele to the post of "minister without portfolio" (whatever the hell that means). Majadele is a member of Israel's Labor Party, the junior partner in the coalition currently headed by Ehud Olmert's Kadima (Forward) Party. Labor, incidentally, is headed by defense minister Amir Peretz, who seems to be getting a lot of the blame for Israel's bungled, heavy-handed mission into Lebanon this past summer.

The appointment of Majadele to this post is a symbolic gesture, though a symbol of what I'm not sure. A symbol of a renewed dedication to inclusiveness by Israel towards its Muslim minority? Possibly. Israel has had success incorporating its Druze minority into the fabric of the state, and I see no reason why the same couldn't be done for the Muslims. Though the continued inclusion of Lieberman - someone so virulently anti-Arab that he makes Glenn Beck look warm and fuzzy - in the cabinet can't be comforting to those who want to see anti-Arab discrimination in Israel fall by the wayside.

(Aside: I have enough problems with Joe Lieberman. I don't need another crappy Lieberman to deal with. Seriously, Avigdor Lieberman and Tom Tancredo should sit down together. They'd have a lot to talk about. They could have lunch, have a couple of drinks, and discuss their plans to sodomize their respective countries. They'd have lots of fun. OK, rant over.)

Perhaps Labor is starting a push for getting rid of some of Israel's discrimination against its Arab minority, but it seems to me that such a movement would need the cooperation of the Arab Israelis themselves. As far as the Post article is concerned, the Arab parties have yet to engage in the capital derectalization necessary to launch an effective anti-discrimination movement - they denounced the appointment of Majadele as "giving a seal of approval" to Israel's discriminatory policies. Kids, it may be a symbolic gesture, but that's better than no gesture at all. It means they recognize the existence of a problem.

I've said it before on this blog and I'll say it again - the separate party thing just ain't working for the Israeli Arabs. They'll only see real change if they attempt to participate in mainstream Israeli politics instead of isolating themselves. So kudos to Majadele for having the courage to ditch the self-defeating ethnic parties and work his way near the top of one of the mainstream parties (of which there are an abundance in Israel). A more inclusive Israel will result when his compatriots follow suit.

And finally, a big raspberry to Esterina Tartman, one of Lieberman's drones in the Knesset, who said of Majadele: "We need to burn this plague out of our midst and God willing, the Lord will help us with that." I hear Hamas head Ismail Haniyeh is thinking of suing Ms. Tartman for plaigiarism.

Incidentally, does this make Israel the first Western country with a Muslim cabinet member? If so, that's hilariously ironic. I know we've had a couple of Lebanese Christians (former Energy Sec. Spencer Abraham being the most prominent in my mind), but I don't know about practicing Muslims. Someone with more knowledge on this than me, let me know.


Ben said...

I'm really curious what that fellow Michael from Israel has to say about this. I hope he's still reading your blog.

Michael said...

I do read Jeff's blog, and I am glad that someone is interested... prob'ly Jeff is, too...

As to inclusion of Arabs into Israeli society:
I think Jeff hit some excellent points in his discussion, especially the ineffectiveness of the Arab parties in addressing discrimination issues and the proposed solution (for the Arabs to vote with the mainstream parties).

One reason why Arab discrimination has never really been addressed at the gov'tmental level is the scattering of the Arab vote, primarily among 4 or 5 notably disloyal Arab parties (remember, several Arab MKs visited Syria and Hamas during the Lebanon War). Another reason is the apathy of Arab voters... turnout in the last election was about 70%, but among Arabs it was far less. They feel the system doesn't listen to them, so they don't see a need to participate, and then they aren't heard, etc...

Jeff mentioned the Druze as an example of a non-Jewish community that is heavily integrated to the State. There are two others: the Bedouin and the Circassians. All three groups decided, as communities, in the early 1950's, to make themselves draft eligible and support Israel as a Jewish state. All three groups (as well as Arab Christians) experience (or at least report) less discrimination than the larger Arab Muslim community.

So it comes down to this: the Arab Muslim community (about 15% of the population) feels disconnected from the state of Israel. An extreme manifestation of this is the active disloyalty of the Arab political parties.

Is there discrimination? Yes. Everyone here knows that. My personal thought is that the gov't should approach it as a civil rights issue. Issues that need to be addressed are unequal infrastructure in Jewish and Arab towns (Arab towns are not as well off), unequal law enforcement (the cops will sometimes simply not arrest Arabs to avoid calls of discrimination), and unequal opportunity (due to draft exemption, Arabs can't enter certain professions, and are not eligible for certian benefits), and unequal schools (Arab schools are usually not as good, and sometimes teach the PA line). This is not a comprehensive list.

Some possible solutions that I see are:

1st Enforcing bituach leumi for the Arab population. This is the national service that religious Jews and conscientious objectors can do in lieu of Army service. It counts toward the draft. Requiring it of the Arab community will help to give them a stake in the state, and open up educational benefits to them.

2nd Bring city services in Arab towns to the same standard as Jewish towns: I'm talking waste collection, sewer services, parks, playgrounds. Make the towns look nicer.

3rd Equalize law enforcement. Last fall, a crowd of Arabs in Akko attacked a small group of Jews worshipping outdoors on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah; the police declined to prosecute them, but did punish the Jewish soldier who fired a rifle into the air to disperse the crowd. As long as law enforcement is not equal, the only result will be resentment on both sides.

4th Equalize curriculum and funding among all schools in the state. Do not permit Arab schools to teach a "Nahkba" curriculum ('nahkba' is Arabic for disaster, and is how the palestinians refer to Israel's creation). Obviously, such a curriculum does not enhance loyalty. I don't mind if Arabs go to Arabic schools, and study in Arabic (I have not yet met a non-bilingual Israeli Arab), but it is disturbing that a separate school system is teaching disloyalty. That needs fixing.

Again, this is not a comprehensive list, but just some of my own ideas. Israeli Arabs have some positives, too:

The highest average levels of wealth and literacy among Middle Eastern Arabs;

Access to the best health care among Middle Eastern Arabs;

Israel's official bilingual policy (Arabic is an official language; Arab MKs can and do read statements into the Knesset record in Arabic)

Freedom of worship (Israel is the only Middle Eastern country with this as a policy)

Some professions (consruction, and several related contract trades, for example) are heavily represented by Arabs, and are quite lucrative

So it is a mixed bag of issues. There is discrimination, and it needs to be addressed. There are loyalty issues, and those need to be address (internally, within the Arab community: as the Druze, Bedouin and Circassians did 55 years ago).

I've been rambling on pretty long... As a disclaimer, in the last election I did not vote for a mainstream party; I chose an Ethiopian-immigrant party whose main focus was on civil rights issues.

Hope all this helps...