Israeli Arabs make plain Israel’s identity

Once apathetic voters, their high turnout in an election and endorsement of a Zionist to form a government reveal a faith in a democracy with equality for all.

AP
Ayman Odeh, leader of the Arab Joint List parties, meets constituents in Nazareth, Israel, while campaigning for the Sept. 17 election.

By force of its impartial civic values, a democracy has a way of elevating the identity of its citizens beyond ethnicity, religion, gender, or even ideology. Sometimes voters, especially the most vulnerable, simply want practical help from elected leaders. In Iraq, the often-suppressed Sunni minority now actively cast ballots. In Turkey, minority Kurds embrace elections despite widespread discrimination. The latest example comes from Israel.

In a Sept. 17 election, the one-fifth of Israeli citizens who are Arab and often demonized by some far-right Jewish leaders went to the polls in near-record numbers. Some 60% voted compared with 49% just five months ago. A coalition of four mainly Arab parties, known as the Joint List, won 13 seats in the Knesset, making it the third-largest grouping in Israel’s 120-seat parliament.

Then on Sunday, in a rare engagement with Israeli democracy, three of the four parties endorsed a Zionist center-right candidate, ex-military chief Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party, as the leader best able to form a coalition government after an inclusive election. The main reason for their endorsement was to end the “politics of fear and hate, the inequality and division.”

To illustrate their potential new role, the leader of the Joint List, Ayman Odeh, tweeted a passage from the book of Psalms: “The stone which the builders rejected is become the chief cornerstone.” The jockeying to form a new government could take weeks.

The four parties are under pressure from grassroots Israeli Arabs to work within the government, especially to oust longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and end the political persecution. At a practical level, crime is rising in Arab-dominated areas. More Arabs now work more closely with the majority Jews in Israel’s workplaces. They seek equality in resources, law enforcement, and other aspects of democratic life. Although some Israeli Arabs verbally support terrorist attacks on Israel, most are tired of being characterized as a domestic threat. A recent poll found a majority identify as Arab Israelis rather than as Palestinians.

As a democracy that also serves as a homeland for Jews, Israel has yet to live up to ideals such as equality among citizens. Yet just as in other democracies also dealing with vulnerable or suppressed minorities, it is often the minorities who most strongly demand inclusion, dignity, and respect. To them, democracy is a way to embrace, not divide.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.