Israel Must Demand Loyalty from its Arab Citizens

Two days after the Israeli government approved a 15 billion-shekel budget to improve Arab Israeli towns, and cities’ infrastructure and welfare, an Arab-Israeli terrorist randomly shot and killed 3 Israelis and wounded 7 in Tel Aviv. Most Israeli Arabs, who constitutes 21% of the Israeli population, do not take arms against the Jewish state, but they almost never condemn or speak out publicly against the continuous anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish campaign of terror and incitement to violence by their Palestinians brethren and leadership. 

Since 1967, a majority of Arab Israelis have chosen to identify themselves as Palestinians, Arabs, or Muslims but never as Israelis, unless they want to receive a right or a benefit from the state or need to complain about alleged victimization and discrimination. The time has arrived for the Israeli people and the Israeli government to demand from Israeli Arabs that they show their loyalty to the state by willingly participating in national service and publicly condemning anti-Israel terror and incitement as a precondition to receiving further state benefits and privileges.     

Israeli Arabs enjoy many benefits and rights from the country but almost never volunteer to share the burden of responsibilities and duties that most Israeli Jewish citizens must bear. The sole legal distinction between Jewish and Arab citizens is that the latter are not required to serve in the Israeli army in order to spare Arab Citizens the need to take up arms against their Arab brethren, but they can volunteer. Some Muslims, such as the Druze and Bedouins, do volunteer for military duty. Many individuals such as Ultra-Orthodox Jews voluntarily perform national service but few Arabs do. Arab society looks at members of their community who give back to the state as wearing a badge of shame and treachery.

Arab Israelis always demand socioeconomic equality to Jews but have seldom been willing to declare their national pride, gratitude, and dedication to the prosperity and survival of the country which gives them so much. To many Arabs, the symbols of the state mean little or nothing. On Independence Day, the most important date in the Israeli calendar, Jews dance in the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. For the Arabs it is a day of mourning when they demonstrate and burn Israeli flags. It is the date they call Naqba Day, meaning “the disaster”, which they perceive as the day they lost their lands to the Jews. They look at the establishment of Israel as a disaster but never as the day their luck changed when they became citizens of the only democracy in the Middle East and began receiving democratic individual rights and liberties. They use their Israeli passports to travel freely in the world, but most refuse to sing the Israeli anthem or to display Israeli flags. Instead, they proudly display the Palestinian flag. Perhaps most memorable, was the occasion when Justice Salim Joubran, an Israeli Arab judge who serves on the Israeli Supreme Court, chose not to sing Israel ‘s national anthem at an official ceremony in 2012.

Reality shows that successive Israeli governments have absorbed Arabs into the democratic political system to an extent which does not exist anywhere else in the Arab world. Israeli Arabs have a higher degree of education, a higher degree of medical care, and a higher standard of living than Arabs anywhere else. The life expectancy of the Arabs in Israel has grown over the past 60 years from about 52 years to over 70 years which is similar to that of the Jewish population. Arabic, like Hebrew, is an official language in Israel and every street and sign inside Jewish Israel is written both in Hebrew and Arabic and all students in elementary schools must learn it. Arabs in Israel have equal voting rights and in fact it is one of the few places in the Middle East where Arab women may vote. Arabs currently hold 17 seats in the 120-member Knesset, the Israeli Parliament. Moreover, there have been remarkable improvements in the economic and educational situation of Israeli Arabs due to government affirmative action policies. Such policies, which include wage  subsidies, have significantly increased the number of Arabs women and men employed in government agencies, high tech, and the rest of the private sector as well as and the number of Arabs students and faculty in colleges.  

However, despite all those efforts, many Jews are wondering if and when the Arabs will ever choose to be an integral part of Israeli society. Many wonder whether they can be trusted and whether they can they be fully loyal Israeli citizens as long as they refer to themselves as Palestinians and Arabs. Reality shows that Arabs choose to live separately in all but a handful of cities and choose to study at different, Arab only, elementary and secondary schools funded by the Israeli government, which put an emphasis on Arab history and Islamic religion and is used to cultivate anti-Israeli resentment. The street signs and store signs in their cities and neighborhoods are mainly in Arabic and English and rarely in Hebrew. Every time there is a war, terrorist incident, or Intifada, many Arabs support Israeli enemies and protest in the streets. Most Arabs use their democratic voting rights repeatedly to vote for Arab parties and political candidates to the Israeli parliament which incite boycotts, divestment and Palestinian violence against the state. During the recent wave of terror, for example,  Knesset member Hanin Zoabi has called for a “real intifada” against Israel and compared Israel and its government ministers to the Nazi regime. Their Arab members of parliament seem to be preoccupied with inciting the Palestinian issue and the Arab sector chooses to support their efforts.

It is a mistake to believe that the Arabs in Israel will choose to identify themselves with the State of Israel on their own volition, if the remaining socioeconomic gaps with the Jews were to be diminished. It seems that even if they achieve economic equality, they will still choose to stay separate from the Jewish state and be on the outside looking in both emotionally and morally.

In the Book of Exodus, Moses does not strike the Nile himself, remembering how it harbored him as an infant. He was grateful. Many Jews ask, when will the Israeli Arabs be grateful and proudly give back to Israel?

Shoula Romano Horing is an Israeli born and raised attorney. Her blog: