Ben-Dror Yemini
Ben-Dror Yemini
Photo: Motti Kimchi
Yamina legislator Nir Orbach

Arab participation in Israeli politics is vital for our future

Opinion: Netanyahu sycophants, who once praised Ra'am chair Mansour Abbas, now attempting to paint him as terror backer; but, growing Arab Israeli middle class is seeking assimilation in political system and they're not going anywhere

Ben-Dror Yemini |
Published: 06.17.22, 23:43
"The experiment has failed," Yamina legislator Nir Orbach proclaimed after the coalition was unable to pass the divisive bill extending Israel's sovereignty over West Bank settlements. He blamed Arab MKs for undermining the bill, and claimed they cannot participate in a ruling coalition.
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  • Orbach had since taken a further step to ensure those who blocked the legislation by refusing to offset the Arab vote – the right-wing opposition – will soon assume power.
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    הועדה המסדרת ניר אורבך
    הועדה המסדרת ניר אורבך
    Yamina legislator Nir Orbach
    (Photo: Knesset spokesperson)
    But, being a national minority in a nation state is a relentless challenge, especially when it feels discriminated against and oppressed. Compared to other nations in our regional neighborhood, the assimilation of the Arab minority in Israel can be described as relative success story.
    Yes, there were outbreaks of intercommunal rioting in 2000 and in 2021, but since 1948, there has been no armed uprising of Israeli Arabs, and despite the crime wave plaguing the country's Arab sector, Israel is not Syria or Yemen, where being a minority is not a pleasant experience.
    And indeed, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, in the 55-69 age group, there is only a 17% gap between Israel's Jews and Arabs when it comes to high school diplomas. In the 35-44 age group, the gap stands at 0.7% and in the 25-34 age group, 1% more Arabs complete their high school education than Jews.
    The bureau also finds that in the 10 years between 2009 and 2019, the percentage of Arabs with bachelor's degrees has risen by 6%, and with master's degrees has even doubled.
    A study conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute finds higher education figures in the Arab sector have grown 10-fold since 1960s. For instance, 46% of all doctors who have completed their medical education in 2020 were Arab or Druze Israelis – much greater percentage-wise than other sectors of the population.
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    Arab students during protest
    Arab students during protest
    Arab students during protest
    (Photo: Mamdeich Teriaki)
    Economic gaps between the sectors are still high, but are also on the decline.
    But, the positive statistics end when it comes to the political arena.
    Arab political leaders have up until now been mostly combative in their positions, seemingly preferring conflict over assimilation, and questioning Israel's right to exist as a Jewish and Democratic state.
    Enter Mansour Abbas, the leader of the Islamist Ra'am party.
    He presented a different rhetoric and offered a partnership rather than alienation. And though some may be skeptical over his motives, he has remained consistent, despite the challenges from inside his own party.
    "Abbas is making the left-wing media nuts," claimed a Netanyahu supporter, when the then-prime minister was wooing the Islamist party leaderin the hopes of achieving a parliamentary majority.
    "Mansour Abbas is a new and inspiring voice," said another Likud member Galit Distel Atbaryan. "He does not boycott Zionist parties. Netanyahu has done well to extend his hand to him, and Abbas extended his in return," she said.
    But when Netanyahu's partners from the far-right vetoed establishment of a coalition with the Islamist party, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett swooped in and formed a government with the Arab faction, knowing they would be willing to cooperate.
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    פעילות מפלגת רע"ם לקראת הבחירות
    פעילות מפלגת רע"ם לקראת הבחירות
    Ra'am MKs campaign in Bedouin city of Rahat
    (Photo: Courtesy )
    This was not an experiment - as some have said. While there are Arab leaders who still spread hate, there is also a growing Arab Israeli middle class that is part of Israel's business, technological, medical and cultural makeup - and they are here to stay.
    For Arab Israelis who wish to see assimilation include the political system - the road is still long and winding. Efforts by right-wing politicians, however, to push Abbas and those like him back to the position of "supporters of terror," will not succeed in eliminating them from the political field.
    We, as Israelis, will have to choose whether to side with common sense or succumb to the propaganda of the enemies of integration, personalized by the Joint List and the far-right.
    This coalition may fall in days, weeks or months, but the "experiment," which Orbach claimed had failed, was not a political matter, but a national one. Lest we become a failed state.
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