- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 22, 2010

While confronting threats abroad, Israel faces a challenge closer to home — the increasing radicalization of its Arab minority, according to a new report.

The report notes several public opinion trends in Israel’s Arab sector since 2003 that reflect a growing alienation from the state and its Jewish majority:

• Support for the proposition that “Jews in Israel are a people who have a right to a state” has declined from 75.5 percent to 60.8 percent while support for “two states for two peoples” has plummeted from 88.8 percent to 65 percent.

• Those who list Israeli citizenship as the most important aspect of their personal identity have dwindled from 29.6 percent to 19.8 percent, while those who identify primarily with the Palestinian people have gone from 18.8 percent to 32 percent.

• The number who believe that “despite its shortcomings, the regime in Israel is a democracy for the Arab citizens as well” has fallen from 63.1 percent to 50.5 percent while the minority that supports using “all means, including violence” to achieve political ends has jumped from 5.4 percent to 13.9 percent.

The report is the latest installment of renowned Haifa University sociologist Sammy Smooha’s annual “index of Arab-Jewish relations” and shows a continuation of some hostile attitudes among the Jewish majority, including that only 66.9 percent of Jewish Israelis support preserving the right of Arab citizens to vote.

In the context of ethnic conflict, the report states, “Arabs and Jews are bound to have a basic distrust in each other.” But there are degrees of distrust. Matters have gone from bad to worse since the collapse of the peace process in 2000 and the wars and terrorist attacks that followed.

“By any account this was a lost decade for coexistence between Arabs and Jews,” Mr. Smooha said in the report. “The situation worsened and bodes badly for the future of their relations.”

Given the blood ties between Israel’s Arab citizens and their Palestinian brethren in the West Bank and Gaza, Mideast experts see an important parallel.

“The Israelis face two Palestinian problems,” said Aaron David Miller, who has advised several presidents on the Arab-Israeli conflict. “The first issue — the question of occupation — deals with where they are. The second — the status of the country’s Arab minority — deals with what they are.

“Sixty-plus years after its creation, Israel — where it is and what it is — is still not collectively accepted, clearly by the outside world, but by a vast number of its own citizens,” he said.

In turn, those citizens feel less welcome, particularly after the 2009 Israeli elections, which saw a collapse in the standing of left-wing Zionist parties (and of historical Arab support for them) and the rise of the Yisrael Beiteinu party of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who campaigned on an explicitly anti-Arab platform, with slogans like “Only Lieberman Understands Arabic” and “No Citizenship Without Loyalty” (a reference to the party’s proposal to strip the citizenship of those who do not sign an oath of loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state).

“This is, for us, the worst Knesset since the establishment of the state of Israel,” said Jafar Farah, director of the Mossawa Center, one of many Israeli nongovernmental organizations that advocate for Israeli Arabs. “Twenty-three laws have been submitted in one year by Knesset members that further the discrimination against our community.”

However, the Knesset members from Israel’s Arab parties have not been shy about showscasing their hostility to the Jewish state. Freshman MK Hanin Zuabi, who last year expressed support for Iran’s quest for a nuclear bomb, is facing criticism for taking part in the Gaza-bound flotilla.

The former head of her party, Azmi Bishara, is a fugitive from Israeli charges that he spied for Hezbollah. Years before Helen Thomas told Jews to “go home” to Poland and Germany, Bishara told a Lebanese audience much the same thing. “Return Palestine to us,” he said, “and take your democracy with you. We Arabs are not interested in it.”

At the time, it seemed Bishara was out of step with his constituents; whether that is still so, given reports like Smooha’s, is no longer clear. And, for that, there is blame to go around.

The conflict between Arabs and Jews, Mr. Miller said, “has never been one hand clapping. It really takes two peoples who don’t understand one another terribly well or, alternatively, understand one another all too well.”

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