NY Times hypes Arab identity crisis in Israel

Leo Rennert
With Israel in the throes of a debate about mandatory inclusion in national service for ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs, the New York Times runs a front-page article by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, headlined "Service to Israel Tugs at Identity of Arab Citizens."

As is the Times' usual wont, Rudoren presents a selective picture that gives greater prominence to examples of Arab alienation in the Jewish state than to progress toward greater integration.

Tellingly, her first "expert" on the matter is Elie Rekhess, a historian of Arab-Jewish relations, who asserts that Arab leaders are confronted "by the impossibility of this situation of being Arabs in a Jewish state." 

Which leads Rudoren to sum up in the same alarmist vein that Arabs are "citizens of a state whose defining philosophy most find alienating at best, often considered enemies within, with a list of complaints about discrimination in employment, education and housing."

Still looking through a glass darkly, Rudoren ends her piece by quoting several Haifa Arabs who oppose mandatory national service and adds, for good measure, a lament by Hanin Zoabi, a radical Arab Parliament member, that  Israelis "are talking about dividing the burden.  All the country's burdens are on my back.  Six million Jews are living on my land.  We ask Israel to withdraw the definition of a Jewish state, and maybe then it will turn into a democratic country."

It's not that Rudoren's account is uniformly dire about the situation of Arabs in Israel.  Toward the middle of her article, she briefly acknowledges that a dozen members of the parliament are Arab.  And so is one of the 15 Supreme Court justices.  And, lo and behold, Arab participation in national service has increased ten-fold since 2005.

But the overall tenor of the article leaves readers with the distinct impression of a highly alarming situation with dire portends for the future.

Which warrants a few comments:

  • 1. While Syria is plunged into an unconscionable blood bath and an Islamist revolution sows turmoil in the Arab world, the "Arab Street" has remained remarkably quiet in Israel. The misnamed "Arab Spring" has spared the Jewish state. Nowhere in her article does Rudoren point up this remarkable turn of events -- Israel an island of stability in an increasingly volatile and explosive region. In a front-page article about an Arab identity crisis in Israel, why didn't this sharp contrast merit some mention?
  • 2. Rudoren also fails to point out to readers that there's often a big gap between what Israeli Arabs, especially Arab politicians, say, and how they act and go about their daily lives.
  • 3. Nor does Rudoren inform readers that Israeli Arabs enjoy more personal freedom and political and civil rights than Arabs elsewhere, including in Hamas-ruled Gaza and in West Bank areas under Palestinian Authority control.
  • 4. Rudoren reports that most Israeli Arabs now consider themselves "Palestinians." So why, If the Arab situation in Israel is as dire as Rudoren suggests, isn't there an exodus of Arabs from Nazareth to Ramallah? In fact, there's evidence of the contrary -- Arabs on the periphery of Israel moving into closer-in neighborhoods to ensure that they will remain on the Israeli side under a two-state solution. This has been especially noticeable in East Jerusalem, where Arabs on the far edges that might wind up in a Palestinian state have moved to neighborhoods bound to remain part of Israel.
  • 5. And is it up to a New York Times reporter to abet Arab alienation by leading off her article with a vignette about three young "Palestinian" women in Nazareth. Is it up to Rudoren, when writing a "news" article, to jettison the "Arab" label from Israel's Arab population? Arabic is an official language in Israel and Arabs comprise 20 percent of the population. Why blur the distinction between "Arab" and "Palestinian" when referring to Israeli Arabs?

Are there still problems and shortcomings in the lot of Israeli Arabs that require greater efforts to achieve more equality in jobs, education and housing?  You bet.  But Rudoren's article falls short by minimizing Arab progress and by failing to contrast Arab conditions in Israel with far graver and more painful Arab conditions in Arab-ruled countries.

With Israel in the throes of a debate about mandatory inclusion in national service for ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs, the New York Times runs a front-page article by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, headlined "Service to Israel Tugs at Identity of Arab Citizens."

As is the Times' usual wont, Rudoren presents a selective picture that gives greater prominence to examples of Arab alienation in the Jewish state than to progress toward greater integration.

Tellingly, her first "expert" on the matter is Elie Rekhess, a historian of Arab-Jewish relations, who asserts that Arab leaders are confronted "by the impossibility of this situation of being Arabs in a Jewish state." 

Which leads Rudoren to sum up in the same alarmist vein that Arabs are "citizens of a state whose defining philosophy most find alienating at best, often considered enemies within, with a list of complaints about discrimination in employment, education and housing."

Still looking through a glass darkly, Rudoren ends her piece by quoting several Haifa Arabs who oppose mandatory national service and adds, for good measure, a lament by Hanin Zoabi, a radical Arab Parliament member, that  Israelis "are talking about dividing the burden.  All the country's burdens are on my back.  Six million Jews are living on my land.  We ask Israel to withdraw the definition of a Jewish state, and maybe then it will turn into a democratic country."

It's not that Rudoren's account is uniformly dire about the situation of Arabs in Israel.  Toward the middle of her article, she briefly acknowledges that a dozen members of the parliament are Arab.  And so is one of the 15 Supreme Court justices.  And, lo and behold, Arab participation in national service has increased ten-fold since 2005.

But the overall tenor of the article leaves readers with the distinct impression of a highly alarming situation with dire portends for the future.

Which warrants a few comments:

  • 1. While Syria is plunged into an unconscionable blood bath and an Islamist revolution sows turmoil in the Arab world, the "Arab Street" has remained remarkably quiet in Israel. The misnamed "Arab Spring" has spared the Jewish state. Nowhere in her article does Rudoren point up this remarkable turn of events -- Israel an island of stability in an increasingly volatile and explosive region. In a front-page article about an Arab identity crisis in Israel, why didn't this sharp contrast merit some mention?
  • 2. Rudoren also fails to point out to readers that there's often a big gap between what Israeli Arabs, especially Arab politicians, say, and how they act and go about their daily lives.
  • 3. Nor does Rudoren inform readers that Israeli Arabs enjoy more personal freedom and political and civil rights than Arabs elsewhere, including in Hamas-ruled Gaza and in West Bank areas under Palestinian Authority control.
  • 4. Rudoren reports that most Israeli Arabs now consider themselves "Palestinians." So why, If the Arab situation in Israel is as dire as Rudoren suggests, isn't there an exodus of Arabs from Nazareth to Ramallah? In fact, there's evidence of the contrary -- Arabs on the periphery of Israel moving into closer-in neighborhoods to ensure that they will remain on the Israeli side under a two-state solution. This has been especially noticeable in East Jerusalem, where Arabs on the far edges that might wind up in a Palestinian state have moved to neighborhoods bound to remain part of Israel.
  • 5. And is it up to a New York Times reporter to abet Arab alienation by leading off her article with a vignette about three young "Palestinian" women in Nazareth. Is it up to Rudoren, when writing a "news" article, to jettison the "Arab" label from Israel's Arab population? Arabic is an official language in Israel and Arabs comprise 20 percent of the population. Why blur the distinction between "Arab" and "Palestinian" when referring to Israeli Arabs?

Are there still problems and shortcomings in the lot of Israeli Arabs that require greater efforts to achieve more equality in jobs, education and housing?  You bet.  But Rudoren's article falls short by minimizing Arab progress and by failing to contrast Arab conditions in Israel with far graver and more painful Arab conditions in Arab-ruled countries.