A recent editorial in the Jerusalem Post views with alarm recent statements by some media and political personalities that the Post sees as advocating “ethnic cleansing.” For example, journalist/political consultant Itamar Fleischman remarked on the anti-Jewish riots that took place in several mixed Arab-Jewish cities in May, saying
The bottom line is that we have a situation in which Arabs forgot the Nakba. … And the solution is to remind them of the Nakba. We should tell them as soon as now that if they don’t start to come to their senses, and if they keep trying to murder our children, their next stop is beyond the Jordan River or in al-Yarmuk [refugee] camp in Syria.
Radio host and former MK Yinon Magal said something similar: “if you’ll keep killing Jews, we will exile you again.” And Betzalel Smotrich, MK and leader of the Religious Zionist party, spoke bluntly in response to anti-Zionist comments by Arab members of the Knesset:
I am not holding any conversations with you, you anti-Zionists. You are supporters of terror, enemies. You are [here] due to a mistake because [Israel’s first prime minister David] Ben-Gurion didn’t finish the job and throw you out in 1948.
The Post’s editorial writer said that such public statements “raised a red flag,” and that
The Jewish people should be particularly sensitive to such racist remarks. People who know firsthand the outcome of extreme racism should be the first to cry out when they witness or hear a form of institutionalized racism.
Arabs in Israel should not have to live in fear of possible expulsion. They are not terrorists, and the vast majority of them are ordinary law-abiding citizens who hate violence.
He added that “[t]he best way to quell Palestinian nationalism within Israel is to make Arab citizens feel that they belong.”
While I agree that the vast majority of Arab citizens of Israel are “ordinary law-abiding citizens who hate violence,” I disagree that the comments of Fleischman, Magal, and Smotrich were inappropriate. There is a real issue with the Arabs of Israel – leaving aside the Arabs of Judea/Samaria and Gaza – which is not going away, and can’t be made to go away by telling the Jews not to be “racist.”
What is the issue? First, it has nothing to do with “race,” and accusations of “racism” do not illuminate the problem. In a nutshell the conflict is a national one, over the historical question of to whom the Land of Israel belongs, and over who gets to determine the character of the state that is established here.
I’ve written enough about the competing narratives and I don’t want to go into them here. Obviously I believe that the existence of the Jewish state as the nation-state of the Jewish people is justified. That implies that Jews get to choose the flag, the national anthem, and other symbols of the state. And more practically, they can also choose immigration and citizenship policies that will lead to a continued Jewish majority.
Is this situation entirely “democratic?” That depends on your point of view. Yes, there is a Jewish majority which supports the continuation of the Law of Return for Jews, and does not want to change it to include the descendants of Arab refugees from 1948. But isn’t that law in itself anti-democratic? The Zionist answer to that question is that the Jewishness of the state takes priority over its other characteristics. The state strives to provide equal rights for all its citizens, but not at the cost of giving up its identity as a Jewish state. As a result, Jews in Israel have a different status than non-Jews: they are the owners of the state.
It’s impossible to finesse this issue. I myself wrote that there is no contradiction inherent in the formulation “a Jewish and democratic state,” because all citizens, Jews and Arabs, have full civil and political rights. That is true, as far as it goes. But it’s our country, not theirs.
The Arabs – and I think this includes virtually all Arab citizens of Israel – vehemently reject this, because in their historical narrative, they are the owners, and the Jews “stole” the land from them. Statements to this effect are regularly made by Arab members of the Knesset. So while most Arabs do not take part in violent attacks on Jews and Jewish property as happened in May, the idea that we can prevent such occurrences by “mak[ing] Arab citizens feel that they belong” is fantasy. They will not “belong” unless they are given ownership, and we are not going to do that.
Asking the Arabs to give up their narrative is a fool’s errand, and it would be wrong to try to brainwash them with our version of history, even if as a matter of fact it is correct. And if Israel’s Jews should give up their Zionism – as some on the Left would like – then the Jewish state will have failed, and will soon disappear into the mass of Arab states surrounding it.
What we should say to our Arab citizens is something like this: this is a Jewish state and you are a national and religious minority in it. You have all the civil and political rights of any citizen and will not be discriminated against. This is a free society with a free-market economy where you can live better than in any other country in the region. We will treat you with respect, and we appreciate your contribution to Israeli cultural and economic life.
But we insist that you do not try to subvert our state, help its enemies, or engage in insurrections. There are many other states in the world; some of them are defined as Arab-Muslim states, and some are “states of their citizens.” If you can’t accept the minority status that is available here, then go somewhere else.