Our Democracy is Being Tested
Dr. Amir Fuchs delivers the following message: While Israeli security forces must fight terror using all legal means available to them, Israeli leaders have another and no less important role: to maintain the democratic character of the state. This is especially the case when it comes to equality, minority rights and defending the innocent from acts of revenge and/or lynching.
Israeli democracy is being tested during these difficult days. Security incidents and emergency situations are the true test of every democracy. While Israeli security forces must fight terror using all legal means available to them, Israeli leaders have another and no less important role: to maintain the democratic character of the state. This is especially the case when it comes to equality, minority rights and defending the innocent from acts of revenge and/or lynching.
The Arab-Jewish divide has deepened in recent days and is now at the center of this conflict. Racism and hatred are blossoming with calls for harsh and violent responses to recent terror against the entire Arab minority – call for military rule, for firing Arab workers, and, of course, there is one slogan that has become almost viral: "Hating Arabs is not racism, it is a value."
We must remember: Israeli Arab citizens will still live here when the current escalation subsides. As President Reuven Rivlin aptly spoke, "We are destined to live together." In days like these, it is vital we remember the words of our Zionist leaders, including leaders who positioned themselves to the right of center, on the correct way to treat Arab Israeli citizens of Israel:
Ze'ev Jabotinsky, known as the father of the Revisionist Zionist movement, understood that the only way to ensure stability in the land of Israel (and the forthcoming state) was by ensuring that Arabs had economic and cultural prosperity and were fully and equally integrated with the state.
In the words of Jabotinsky: "All of us, all Jews and Zionists of all schools of thought, want the best for the Arabs of Eretz Israel. We do not want to eject even one Arab from either the left or the right bank of the Jordan River. We want them to prosper both economically and culturally. We envision the regime of the Jewish Palestine as follows: most of the population will be Jewish, but equal rights for all Arab citizens will not only be guaranteed, they will also be fulfilled." (“Roundtable with the Arabs,” in Writings: On the Way to a State (Jerusalem: Eri Jabotinsky, 1959), p. 245.)
Former Prime Minister Menachem Begin – who took part in forming the state and for many years was a leader among the opposition – had a similar approach. Begin was among the leaders who protested against the military rule of Arabs in the first years of Israel. In a series of speeches in the Knesset called to halt the use of emergency orders, but rather to give equal rights to Arab citizens of the country as a means of bringing peace.
In the words of Begin: "Some say that it is impossible for us to provide full equal rights to Arab citizens of the state because they do not fulfill full equal obligations. But this is a strange claim. True, we decided not to obligate Arab residents, as distinguished from the Druze, to perform military service. But we decided this of our own free will and I believe that the moral reason for it is valid. Should war break out, we would not want one Arab citizen to face the harsh human test that our own people had experienced for generations. . . . We believe that in the Jewish State, there must be and will be equal rights for all its citizens, irrespective of religion, nation, or origin. (M. Begin, in a Knesset address explaining the reasons for proposing repeal of the Emergency Regulations, February 20, 1962.)
And in this context, we should likewise remember what is written in our own Declaration of Independence, the most integral document of the Jewish state. This is a promise that our founding fathers took upon themselves to keep:
"The State of Israel …will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations."
Yes, today we are being tested. Now is a test on Israeli democracy and on the values of the Jewish state. We must decide if they are values of hatred or equality, values of rule of law or rule of the mob. We must pass this test – there is no other choice if we want to continue to exist as a Jewish and democratic state.