A Call to Israel’s Arabs

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The response of the the Israel Democracy Institute to The Future Vision of Palestinian Arabs in Israel document and two additional documents published by Adalla and Mossawa at around the same time.

About two weeks ago, a document was published under the auspices of the National Committee of the Heads of Arab Local Authorities in Israel, and the chairperson of the Arab Sector Monitoring Committee, Mr. Shawki Khatib, entitled The Future Vision of Palestinian Arabs in Israel. Two additional documents were published around the same time by two Arab-Israeli organizations, Adalla and Mossawa. We, Senior Fellows at the Israel Democracy Institute and members of the Institute's Board of Directors, wish to respond to these documents, as they have aroused deep concern among us regarding the nature of the relationship between Jews and Arabs living in the State of Israel.

First of all, we wish to emphasize the severe anguish we feel in light of these documents. These papers deny the very nature of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. We reject this denial and its implication that there is an inescapable contradiction between the state's Jewish and democratic nature. The documents present another repudiation, albeit more indirectly, of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in Israel, including an indirect call to rescind the Law of Return. These documents delineate a bi-national model for our country, in which the Arab public demands, and rightly so, that the right of Palestinians to self-determination in a sovereign state alongside Israel be realized. Nonetheless, the rejection of the vision of two separate states for two peoples concerns us, as does the double standard applied to Jewish self-determination and Palestinian self-determination.

For some time now, the seam that lies between the Jewish majority and the non-Jewish minority has been tenuous and fragile. For many years the chances that this minority would integrate into Israeli civil society have been small indeed. The reverse of such integration, alienation from Israeli society, has been influenced in the past and continues to be influenced by the deepening inequality between Jews and Arabs, and its serious ramifications – unusually high poverty and unemployment rates; discrimination in education; a serious rupture in the faith that the Arab minority has in Israel's institutions and leaders, who do not carry out recommendations and commitments; and the ongoing conflict between the country in which Palestinian Arabs live, Israel, and their nation. However, if the authors of these documents intended to trigger dialogue on crucial issues, including how to run a state based on mutual respect and equality, we suspect that this positive intention will not be realized and that these documents may even hinder future relations between Jews and Arabs.

We, the Senior Fellows of the Israel Democracy Institute and members of the Institute's Board of Directors, find these documents to be promoting separatism and attempting to deny the legitimacy of the Jewish people's right to self-determination. This approach undermines the desire to create a common foundation of mutual respect and good will. This would be an impediment to the legitimate claims of the Arab public including participating in the government, assuming senior-level government positions, and receiving greater autonomy in education. Linking the call to change the nature of Israel's national character with the legitimate and justified call for civil equality jeopardizes both the common goal of coexistence in the Jewish and democratic State of Israel and the genuine chance of promoting equality. Moreover, the contents of the above mentioned documents are liable to encourage anti-democratic tendencies that, unfortunately, already exist among the Israeli public. What this will ultimately generate is a polarized discussion—a surefire recipe for deepening the rifts and the mutual hostility, fear, and mistrust. We are standing at the precipice of a perilous dialogue between those who deny Israel's right to exist and those who want to expel Arabs from their land.

The paper written by the Monitoring Committee apparently derives from its level of despondency with the model of a "Jewish and democratic" state. The proposal it includes signifies a lack of faith in the possibility that based on this model we can generate a change in the state's attitude towards its non-Jewish citizens. We, Jews and Arabs alike, believe in the ability of the Arab minority to integrate into our shared country, and as a result, we must perceive the battle against this despondency as a shared and achievable goal. Given this situation, we thus call upon the Arab public and its leaders to work together with its allies in the Jewish public, to develop a model for a relationship that encourages integration and working together to build a civil society; a model based on equality and tolerance, mutual respect, and appreciation; a model that does not ignore reality, nor the justice of the other side. Within this model we must do everything in our power to do away with discrimination and neglect of minorities—such phenomena are an anathema to the Zionist vision. We will create a model that recognizes the rights of those who belong to minority groups to preserve and promote their language, their culture, their heritage, and whatever makes them a unique, national, ethnic group; a model that encourages camaraderie and mutual responsibility among Israelis from a variety of national and ethnic backgrounds.

We, the senior fellows of the Israel Democracy Institute and members of the Institute's Board of Directors, suggest that our proposal for a Constitution by Consensus be seen as the basis and the framework for the model described above.  It includes all of the components mentioned, and they are derived from the heading, "a Jewish and democratic State of Israel, which grants equality to all of its citizens." We reach out to you, Israeli Palestinian Arabs, to walk alongside us on the path towards establishing an egalitarian society in this country we share.


Dr. Arye Carmon is Former President and Founder of the Israel Democracy Institute.

This article was originally published in Hebrew in Yedioth Ahronoth on January 4, 2007.