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Though a narrow but growing majority of Israeli Arabs now express pride at being Israeli, the overwhelming majority of Jewish Israelis view them as a threat. The perception is reinforced by Israeli Arab leaders, secular and religious, who refuse to recognize the state’s legitimacy and openly support terror.
And yet, comprising 21% of Israel’s population, Israeli Arabs are integral to Israel’s future. They are upwardly mobile and increasingly powerful; with 15 MKs, the Joint List is currently Israel’s third-largest party. Christian Arabs, especially, are on average better educated and more affluent than Israeli Jews. During the Corona crisis, the courageous role fulfilled by Arab physicians and nurses proved crucial. Is there a way, we must ask, for Israeli Arabs to be seen not as a danger but as an opportunity? Can Jewish Israelis ever embrace their Arab neighbors as full-fledged countrywomen and men?
The answer is yes, but only if Israel makes a strategic policy decision that I call The New Deal. Simply put, it means that the state will not merely condemn discrimination and inequality but publicly declare war on it. This means robustly fighting racism in the classroom and workplace, in the media, and in politics. It means setting as a national goal the full social, economic, and education integration of Israeli Arabs into mainstream Israeli society by 2048.
But that is only one side of the New Deal. The other requires Israeli Arabs to accept their minority role in a Jewish nation-state and view themselves as citizens of that state not only with equal rights but duties. It does not mean that Israeli Arabs have to give up their Palestinian identity and to express solidarity with Palestinians throughout the Middle East—no more than an American Jew has to surrender love for Israel in order to be loyally American. Yet it does mean condemning terror, supporting Israel’s efforts to defend itself, and rejecting anti-Israeli boycotts. It means obeying Israeli laws outlawing polygamy, smuggling, and unauthorized building.
Becoming fully Israeli also means national service. This can begin with service within the Arab community itself, enhancing security and the quality of life, but military roles should not be ruled out. The old excuse that Arabs cannot be asked to fight Arabs ended with the Arab Spring. There is no reason why Israeli Arabs cannot defend their state against ISIS, Syria, or Iran. British Jews salute the Union Jack that has not only one but three crosses on it and historically have fought and died for that flag. Israeli Arabs can feel the same way toward the Magen David.
The New Deal is, in fact, already happening and need only be accelerated. In contrast to the past, when Israeli Arabs protested against the presence of police in their villages, now they protest in favor of a greater police presence. And, as the recent elections showed, Arab politicians are harnessing their newfound power not to delegitimize the system but to influence it. These trends offer opportunities that must not be missed and which, if catalyzed by policy, can make Israel 2048 a truly cohesive state.
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