by Doron Matza
While claims of racism have taken over political discourse, this past decade has seen unprecedented efforts by the Israeli government to help the Arab minority integrate economically and socially.
The fuss over "racism" that has flooded the election discourse reflects a denial of and ignorance about the reality of the government's relations with its non-Jewish citizens. This is part of the permanent paradox of Arabs integrating into Israeli society – which has only increased in the past decade – and the political discourse that deepens the rift between Jews and non-Jews in Israel.
Israel was not founded as a state of all its citizens, but as the nation-state of the Jews. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu didn't invent that concept but his government anchored it by passing Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People. The credit for this goes to Theodor Herzl, who in the light of contemporary anti-Semitism stood up for the national rights of the Jews and a sovereign state of their own. The well-known phrase "a land without a people for a people without a land," which was made popular by Zionist activist Israel Zangwill, reflected the aspirations of the Zionist movement. The conflict with the Arabs in the land of Israel, as well as the fact that a minority of them remained in the country after it was established, did not overshadow the goal of a country with a Jewish majority.
The Jewish majority has a notable advantage in shaping the public sphere and the symbols of the state and setting national goals. Although the Arab population in the country were granted equal individual rights and even group rights (the rights to fair representation, language, education and religion), it was on an individual and cultural basis.
For years, groups in the Arab minority, starting with the Al-Ard party in the mid-1960s and up to the people who wrote the Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel document in the first decade of this century, objected to the Jewish majority's dominance and tried to change the existing model, making Israel into a state of all its citizens or a binational state. They believe that only a fundamental change to the system of government will lead to civil equality and close the deep-seated socio-economic gaps between Jews and Arabs in Israel.
However, this past decade has seen a dramatic shift in how the state treats its Arab citizens. The Netanyahu government operated with the worldview of integrating the Arab minority into the national economy, thereby increasing the country's gross domestic product and reducing cultural and economic gaps.
In historical terms, this is unprecedented by any steps taken by any other Israeli government, including the various left-wing governments. The jewel in the crown was a decision in December 2015 to allocate 10 billion shekels ($2.8 billion) for development in the Arab sector. Arab leaders understand the importance of the move. It was no coincidence that Ta'al leader Ahmad Tibi spoke during the 2015 election campaign about Arabs' desire to see the positive trend continue and to sketch out a next-stage plan that would end in 2020.
The actual facts and figures demonstrate a major practical effort to reduce inequality and step up integration of the country's Arab minority. It's a shame that the truth has gotten lost in the political discourse, which only talks about part of the picture.
Doron Matza is a researcher and lecturer on the Israeli-Arab conflict at Achva Academic College and a former member of the Shin Bet security agency.
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