Akko resident Lina Makhoul, a Christian Arab, and perhaps a Palestinian according to her own definition, won the second season of the Israeli franchise of "The Voice." Despite what the cynics may say – this is an important and exciting event.
True, her win will not solve our bloody conflict with the Palestinians, and it does not cancel out the unequal allocation of resources to the Arab public in Israel. Her achievement won't bring an end to the calls of "death to Arabs" and will not necessarily prevent future assaults on Arab pedestrians in Jerusalem. But it is indicative of two complimentary trends of great importance:
1. The Arab-Israeli public has not given up. It wants to integrate into Israeli society, with the various economic, social and cultural possibilities it offers its citizens.
2. The Jewish public has not completely blocked the Arabs' path toward integrating into Israeli society. While we are witnessing the systematic exclusion of Arabs from many power centers, in addition to disgraceful displays of racism against them, in show business – and particularly in singing contests such as "The Voice," we can see a certain openness toward the Arabs which is not confined to the cultural realm. This openness can also be detected in healthcare, construction and the pharmaceutical fields.
Only a small number of Jewish Israelis are aware that Arab graduates of medical schools abroad, mainly in Jordan, score higher on the Health Ministry's exams compared with graduates of medical schools in Europe, including Hungary, Italy and Romania. Very few Israelis hesitate to place their health in the hands of Arab doctors, and justifiably so. This example is indicative of the Arab population's vast potential, which can help Israel's economy grow and promote welfare for all its citizens, Jewish and Arab alike.
Leading economists repeatedly mention the need to increase the Arab public's inclusion in the workforce as a means of boosting Israel's manufacturing capabilities and reducing the State's expenditures on stipends and welfare services. Israeli society, and the government in particular, must encourage the integration of Arabs into the market. Towards this end, public resources must be allocated in order to improve transportation, education and professional training within the Arab sector.
The growing need to further integrate Arab citizens into Israeli society obligates us Jews to become less suspicious of them and change the hostile and condescending attitude toward them. The Arab citizens' desire to integrate into Israeli society does not negate their understandable sympathy for their own people's struggle for political independence in the West Bank, and it does not mean they are relinquishing their unique collective identity and demand for full equality in the State of Israel. However, this desire does indicate that they are interested in linking their fate and future with the fate and future of Israeli society. Israeli society's successes will be theirs as well, as will its failures.
By recognizing this desire and supporting it, Jewish Israelis can contribute to the productive integration of Arabs into Israeli society and reduce the tension and hostility between the nations. Supporting this desire must certainly be a part of a new effort - inspired by US President Obama's recent visit to Israel - to achieve peace with our Arab neighbors.
Lina Makhoul chose to sing "Hallelujah" during the final round of "The Voice." The song, written by Jewish American artist Leonard Cohen, carries a message both Jews and Arabs can identify with:
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
Professor Yossi Yona is a lecturer at Ben Gurion University and a Senior Fellow at Jerusalem's Van Leer Institute
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