The Arab constituency in Israel

Quietly, almost without notice overseas, Arabs have become the biggest single constituent group in Israel's Labor Party. The party of David Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, Moshe Dyan, Abba Eban, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Ehud Barak now finds that Israeli Arabs outnumber Kibbutz members, the traditional base of the socialist—leaning party which once dominated domestic Israeli politics.

What does this portend for Israel? Is this the fifth column that some have feared — choosing the ballot box and not bullets to change Israeli society and foreign policy? Will even more Jews migrate away from Labor to Likud or the Shinui Party, as they find themselves in an increasingly uncongenial environment? Once such negative momentum starts it would be hard to stop.

If Arabs come to positions of power in the Labor Party they can be, given the nature of the Israeli political system, obstructionists regarding policies they disfavor (say towards the Palestinians or the Syrians). Holding together a ruling coalition in Israel often means conceding important points to adamant constituent groups, even when those points are opposed by a clear majority of Israelis.

At some point the Arab bloc within Labor may even demand a single state comprising Israeli and the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Then they would naturally demand the democratic franchise for the entire region, thereby killing Israel as  Jewish state by democratic means.

But the alarmist position may not be justified — now or in the future. There are reasons to be mildly optimistic.

This rise of the Labor Party's Arab bloc is partly just a reflection of the fact that the kibbutz movement is all but kaput in Israel, as the economy has changed and socialism with a capitalist face has emerged. Forged out of na´ve Nineteenth and Twentieth Century European socialist ideals, and toughened by the extreme circumstances in the early days of settlement, kibbutzniks were willing to sacrifice privacy, family ties, and personal wealth for the cause of building a New Society and New Man in Eretz Yisrael.

But no longer. The communal dining halls and child—rearing experiments are abandoned and the population of the remaining kibbutzes plummets, as the opportunities of a more capitalistic Israeli economy beckon. Former socialists are leaving the Labor Party, in a dynamic similar to some Americans leaving the Democratic Party as their wealth increases and they become suburbanites. Kibbutz members have declined from 16 % to 10% of Labor Party membership, while Arabs have risen to 22%.
 
Israel's Arabs may be role models for Arabs in other nations who aspire to practice democracy. In an era that has seen Muslims rise up in Europe, Iraq, Pakistan, and elsewhere, the one area where they could easily have brought the greatest turmoil is Israel. A huge percentage of the population is Arab. If you believe the propaganda, they nurse historic grievances and feel deeply for their brethren in the West Bank and Gaza.

Yet they have not risen en masse against other Israelis. Why? Could it be that they realize they have it so much better working with Jews in a democratic Israel than they ever would have had living under an Arab dictatorship? That, among the region's Arabs, Israel's Arabs enjoy more freedom, health, a higher standard of living, and more hope than any other group of Arabs in the entire region?

There is no question that Labor under current leader Binyamin Ben—Eleazer has been going around Arab villages and "buying" their votes. And you can see the difference: Arab villages connected to the establishment look quite different. They have nice—looking schools, paved roads, and all the benefits of jobs and influence familiar to residents of Chicago neighborhoods enjoying the favors of the Daley Machine.

Because the right—leaning parties are not in a position to host Arabs due to their rhetoric and agenda, Labor is doing the necessary work of integrating them into politicial society. Even if redolent of machine politics, this process is not necessarily a bad thing. Israel's Arabs could go to one of the three Arab—Israeli parties, or even go to Meretz. But going with a party which is often in coalition with more right—leaning parties is a good sign.

Israeli Arabs can open businesses, go to college, speak their minds freely, and have careers. In other words, they are citizens of the modern world. Let's just hope the Israeli economy keeps booming, because this preoccupation with the normal activities of democratic citizens in modern economies helps keep the cauldron from boiling over, and offers a beacon of hope to the rest of the Arab world.

Quietly, almost without notice overseas, Arabs have become the biggest single constituent group in Israel's Labor Party. The party of David Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, Moshe Dyan, Abba Eban, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Ehud Barak now finds that Israeli Arabs outnumber Kibbutz members, the traditional base of the socialist—leaning party which once dominated domestic Israeli politics.

What does this portend for Israel? Is this the fifth column that some have feared — choosing the ballot box and not bullets to change Israeli society and foreign policy? Will even more Jews migrate away from Labor to Likud or the Shinui Party, as they find themselves in an increasingly uncongenial environment? Once such negative momentum starts it would be hard to stop.

If Arabs come to positions of power in the Labor Party they can be, given the nature of the Israeli political system, obstructionists regarding policies they disfavor (say towards the Palestinians or the Syrians). Holding together a ruling coalition in Israel often means conceding important points to adamant constituent groups, even when those points are opposed by a clear majority of Israelis.

At some point the Arab bloc within Labor may even demand a single state comprising Israeli and the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Then they would naturally demand the democratic franchise for the entire region, thereby killing Israel as  Jewish state by democratic means.

But the alarmist position may not be justified — now or in the future. There are reasons to be mildly optimistic.

This rise of the Labor Party's Arab bloc is partly just a reflection of the fact that the kibbutz movement is all but kaput in Israel, as the economy has changed and socialism with a capitalist face has emerged. Forged out of na´ve Nineteenth and Twentieth Century European socialist ideals, and toughened by the extreme circumstances in the early days of settlement, kibbutzniks were willing to sacrifice privacy, family ties, and personal wealth for the cause of building a New Society and New Man in Eretz Yisrael.

But no longer. The communal dining halls and child—rearing experiments are abandoned and the population of the remaining kibbutzes plummets, as the opportunities of a more capitalistic Israeli economy beckon. Former socialists are leaving the Labor Party, in a dynamic similar to some Americans leaving the Democratic Party as their wealth increases and they become suburbanites. Kibbutz members have declined from 16 % to 10% of Labor Party membership, while Arabs have risen to 22%.
 
Israel's Arabs may be role models for Arabs in other nations who aspire to practice democracy. In an era that has seen Muslims rise up in Europe, Iraq, Pakistan, and elsewhere, the one area where they could easily have brought the greatest turmoil is Israel. A huge percentage of the population is Arab. If you believe the propaganda, they nurse historic grievances and feel deeply for their brethren in the West Bank and Gaza.

Yet they have not risen en masse against other Israelis. Why? Could it be that they realize they have it so much better working with Jews in a democratic Israel than they ever would have had living under an Arab dictatorship? That, among the region's Arabs, Israel's Arabs enjoy more freedom, health, a higher standard of living, and more hope than any other group of Arabs in the entire region?

There is no question that Labor under current leader Binyamin Ben—Eleazer has been going around Arab villages and "buying" their votes. And you can see the difference: Arab villages connected to the establishment look quite different. They have nice—looking schools, paved roads, and all the benefits of jobs and influence familiar to residents of Chicago neighborhoods enjoying the favors of the Daley Machine.

Because the right—leaning parties are not in a position to host Arabs due to their rhetoric and agenda, Labor is doing the necessary work of integrating them into politicial society. Even if redolent of machine politics, this process is not necessarily a bad thing. Israel's Arabs could go to one of the three Arab—Israeli parties, or even go to Meretz. But going with a party which is often in coalition with more right—leaning parties is a good sign.

Israeli Arabs can open businesses, go to college, speak their minds freely, and have careers. In other words, they are citizens of the modern world. Let's just hope the Israeli economy keeps booming, because this preoccupation with the normal activities of democratic citizens in modern economies helps keep the cauldron from boiling over, and offers a beacon of hope to the rest of the Arab world.