The hypocrisy of the leaders of the Arab citizens of Israel, who are now crying foul over the new Jewish Nation-State Law, has, in the past few days, reached new heights.
These are the same leaders whose words and actions for the past two decades have caused serious damage to relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel, and to the interests of their own constituents, the Arab citizens of Israel.
Israeli Arab leaders, specifically the Knesset members, say they are outraged not only because the law defines Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, but also because the new legislation does not include words about full equality of rights for all citizens.
If there ever was a tempest in a teapot, this is it. It would have been redundant to add those words: the new law does not rescind any previous law or Israel's Declaration of Independence, which already encompass all that. In Israel, there are also other Basic Laws that guarantee equal rights to all. For example, the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, passed in 1992, stipulates:
"The purpose of this Basic Law is to protect human dignity and liberty, in order to establish in a Basic Law the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state."
"Fundamental human rights in Israel are founded upon recognition of the value of the human being, the sanctity of human life, and the principle that all persons are free; these rights shall be upheld in the spirit of the principles set forth in the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel."
Israel's Declaration of Independence from 1948, which obviously is not affected by the new Jewish Nation-State Law, also promises equality to all citizens, irrespective of their religion or color or race. It states:
"The State of Israel will foster the development of the country for all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations."
So, as Israel's pre-existing laws and its Declaration of Independence remain unchanged and guarantee equal rights to all citizens, what exactly is behind the Israeli Arab leaders' fierce attack on the Nation-State Law? Is it really because they are worried about equality or is it something else? The answer can be found in their own statements: they are basically opposed to the idea of Israel being the homeland for the Jewish people. They know very well that the Nation-State Law does not affect the Arab citizens' status and rights as equal citizens of Israel.
Take, for example, the case of Arab Member of Knesset Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Union), who announced this week his intention to resign from parliament in protest over the Nation-State Law. He complained that the Knesset had become a "rubber stamp for racist legislation."
First, Bahloul is the last Arab citizen of Israel who is entitled to complain about discrimination. For decades, he was one of Israel's most popular sports journalists, revered by Arabs and Jews alike. As such, he has always enjoyed a comfortable life in Israel -- one he could never have dreamed of experiencing in any Arab country.
Second, if Bahloul has a problem with a law that defines Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, what is he doing in a party called the Zionist Union? Once you agree to join a Zionist party, you cannot later complain when Israel says it wants to be the homeland of the Jewish people. Does anyone seriously believe that this Arab parliamentarian did not know all these years that Zionism is the national movement of the Jewish people that supports the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland in the territory defined as the historic Land of Israel?
Zouheir Bahloul, an Arab Member of Knesset, is the last Arab citizen of Israel who is entitled to complain about discrimination. For decades, he was one of Israel's most popular sports journalists, revered by Arabs and Jews alike. He has always enjoyed a comfortable life in Israel -- one he could never have dreamed of experiencing in any Arab country. (Photo: Knesset Spokesperson)
Third, it is also worth noting that his Zionist Union party was fed up with Bahloul anyhow, and planning to get rid of him, especially after his decision last year to boycott a Knesset ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. Ironically, the second part of the Balfour Declaration stipulated that the establishment of a Jewish homeland must not "prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine."
The current controversy over the Nation-State law, then, is not about equal rights. Instead, it is about accepting the existence of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. Bahloul boycotted the Balfour Declaration ceremony in the Knesset apparently because he is opposed to the very idea of a Jewish homeland. Otherwise, why would any Arab living in Israel oppose a declaration that openly states that a Jewish homeland must not "prejudice" the rights of non-Jews?
Zionist Union Chairman Avi Gabbay had criticized Bahloul's decision as "extremist."
Bahloul presumably knew he was going to be thrown out of his party, and seems to have decided to use the Nation-State Law as an excuse to quit, and to smear Israel by inaccurately calling it "a state with symptoms of apartheid," and the Knesset a "rubber stamp for racist legislation."
Fourth, note that Bahloul did not immediately submit his resignation from the Knesset. Instead, he said that he will submit his resignation letter when the Knesset returns from its extended summer recess in mid-October. In other words, Bahloul evidently wants to spend a few more months in the Knesset, probably so that he can continue receiving a fine salary and other privileges granted to members of parliament. By postponing his resignation, he is also most likely hoping that someone will come begging him to rescind his decision -- as if he is saying, 'Please hold me back from leaving the Knesset!' Well, Mr. Bahloul, if you are so upset about the law and do not want to be part of the Israeli political system, why don't you just get up and leave now? Why would you want to stay for a few more months in a parliament you accuse of being "racist" against Arabs?
The "dirty little secret" is that even if the words about equality for all citizens were added to the new law, Bahloul and some of his Arab colleagues in the Knesset would still have opposed it. They are simply vehemently opposed to the very idea of Israel being a Jewish state.
Some of them, such as Ahmed Tibi, have consistently called for the transformation of Israel from a "Jewish state" into a "state for all its citizens" or a "state of all its national (ethnic) groups."
Another Arab Knesset member, Jamal Zahalka, recently mocked Jewish symbols and said, "I would rather die than sing the Israeli national anthem." Many Arab Members of Knesset have never accepted Israel's national anthem or its flag, which carries the symbol of the six-pointed Star of David. About the Israeli flag, Zahalka said, "Any flag for me is a rag. It's a piece of cloth. It's a lot worse than a rag."
Arab Knesset member Hanin Zoabi was nothing if not straightforward in voicing her opposition to the definition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. The Jewish people do not have the right to self-determination, she said in October 2017.
"The Jews are not a nationality, so we cannot talk about self-determination for the Jewish people... The Israelis, they can have self-determination, but not as a Jewish State, within a secular democratic state."
It is worth noting here that Zoabi, who hails from a large clan from Nazareth, was suspended from the Knesset in 2014 for incitement after she justified Hamas firing rockets at Israel and the abduction (and subsequent murder) of three Israeli teens by Palestinian terrorists.
It is the likes of Zoabi who have -- and continue to -- cause grave damage to relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel. Their vicious anti-Israel rhetoric and actions are the main reason why a growing number of Jews are beginning to look at the Arab citizens of Israel as if they were a "fifth column" or an "enemy from within."
Some Israeli Arab leaders speak disparagingly about Israel for publicity. They know that no newspaper would ever mention them if they were dealing with issues such as sewage or a shortage of classrooms in Arab schools. However, if they say something bad about Israel or provoke the Jews, they will certainly receive a headline in the press.
The number one priority of Israel's Arab citizens is lowering the high rate of unemployment among Arab university graduates. Israel's Arab citizens want to be fully integrated into Israel. They are fighting for better government services, especially with regards to infrastructure in their towns and villages. But instead of representing the real interests of their constituents, Tibi, Zoabi, Zahalka and others spend their time condemning Israel and identifying with its enemies.
The actions and words of these Arab Knesset members have only served to deepen the rift between Jews and Arabs, at a time when serious efforts are being made by the Israeli government to improve the lives of Arab citizens. For instance, an Israeli parliamentary committee last April announced a decision to allocate 20 million shekels ($5.6 million) to a new program designed to increase the number of Israeli Arabs with jobs in the tech sector. The committee said that the Israeli government has already invested $1.2 billion out of the $4.2 billion allocated to the economic development of Arabs and other minorities as part of a 2015 cabinet decision.
The Arabs in Israel are equal citizens, and the rights they enjoy are far more than what they would enjoy in any other Middle Eastern country. In a poll published in 2016, 55% of Israel's Arab citizens said they were proud to be Israeli citizens. Another poll, published in 2017, found that 60% of the Arab citizens of Israel have positive attitudes towards the state.
Israeli Arab leaders can incite against Israel as much as they wish. Their slander will not change the reality that Israel is the only thriving democracy in the Middle East, and treats its minorities with respect. While minorities are being persecuted and murdered in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Libya and other Arab and Islamic countries, the Arab citizens of Israel are being integrated into the state. They hold high positions in the Supreme Court, the Foreign Ministry, the health sector and even the Israel Police.
The new law has not changed this reality; in fact, most Arab citizens do not even seem to be that bothered about the new law. The majority of the Arabs in Israel continue to wake up in the morning and get on with their lives. They can work anywhere they wish, they can travel anywhere in the country and they will continue to enjoy all the privileges, benefits and freedoms that Jewish citizens do.
Some of the leaders of Israel's Arab citizens, however, have something very different in mind. They want Israelis to give up their wish for Israel to be a Jewish homeland, because they are hoping that one day Jews will become a minority in their own country. For far too long, these leaders have been inciting their constituents against Israel and Jews. If these leaders are so unhappy in Israel, perhaps they should consider moving to Ramallah or the Gaza Strip or any Arab country. Perhaps they would like to resign from the Knesset. Why do they refrain from doing so? Because it is in the Jewish homeland, supposedly so harmful to them, that they and their children can live and thrive.
Bassam Tawil, a Muslim Arab, is based in the Middle East.