The state, which was established to correct a historic injustice suffered by a people banished from its country and by persecuted people lacking rights in the Diaspora, was more than 50 years late in applying its moral argument to its own minorities, by allowing them to exercise their full rights and join the establishment as equals. Now we can say that "better late than never."
The time that has passed since Labor Party Chairman Peretz declared Raleb Majadele's appointment as minister should have been devoted to public debate regarding ways to advance Arab-Israeli citizens. Instead, party-poopers from the Left and Right were given an exclusive platform to voice their opinions.
Amir Peretz's "comrades" accused him of making the appointment in order to promote his Labor primaries candidacy, and some went as far as blaming him for a "political appointment." Well, my friends, cynicism indeed knows no boundary, but if you haven't noticed, the appointment of a Knesset member to a ministerial post is indeed, and necessarily, political.
Will the Arab community now reward Peretz by reelecting him as party chairman? We can assume that most honest voters will do that out of appreciation for the person who led the precedent of a Muslim sitting around the government table. Peretz's act was completely legitimate, just as it is legitimate to promote Knesset list candidates on the eve of elections in order to win the support of various sectors. Such appointments are always the result of various interests, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Labor's party-poopers were joined by most (furious) Arab Knesset members. In the last elections, most of the Arab public realized that its "representatives" contributed nothing to advancing its status, while some Arab MKs mostly concentrated on boosting their image in the Arab world through appearances on al-Jazeera and a PR campaign on behalf of the Syrian dictatorship and various terror groups.
A large part of the election campaign, and particularly that of the National Democratic Assembly, was dedicated to threats against voting for Zionist parties. Today they are arguing against the addition of an Arab minister to "this government," and not because of Lieberman. In other words, in their view an Arab minister will be able to serve only when a non-Zionist government is formed in Israel.
'Balance of terror'
Majadele himself is challenged: How will you sit in one government with Avigdor Lieberman, after you fought with all your might to prevent him from joining the cabinet? However, the boost in Lieberman's power is to a large extent a response to the positions articulated by Azmi Bishara and his ilk.
The "balance of terror "between the National Democratic Assembly and Israel Our Home is similar to that of Shas-Shinui, only that in the case of Arab-Jewish relations it is more dangerous. There is no better democratic and moral answer to the unholy alliance between Lieberman and Bishara than that of an Arab minister sitting around the government table along with Lieberman. The latter should now study Jabotinsky's writings regarding full equality for Israel's Arabs and their right to be elected to any public post.
All Arab Knesset members are an inseparable part of the State of Israel's sovereign body, and they are partners, along with Lieberman and all other Knesset members, in shaping this sovereignty. In the various Knesset committees, Arab MKs cooperate with their colleagues from right-wing factions while hiding it from their constituencies. This week, the partnership of Arab citizens in the executive arm too finally materialized. We must not downplay the significance of this symbolic act, which makes every Israeli citizen, regardless of religion, race, or gender, feel more strongly that the government's gates open to him or her.
At the same time, the responsibility placed on the shoulders of the new minister is great, because a government is judged by its performance. Let's hope that he will be wise enough to set modest objectives for himself that can be achieved and will be recognized by the entire public.
At this time we should mention that the first one who sought to appoint an Arab minister, in his first government, was Ariel Sharon. The Labor party chairman at the time, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, was concerned about the electoral price his party would have to pay and demanded the post for himself. Eventually Salah Tarif was appointed to the post.
The Druze district in the Labor party demanded the post for its representative this time around too. This is politically legitimate, but wrong tactically and in principle. This appointment is morally right, and in the long run the appointment of a Muslim minister boosts the chances of integrating minorities, including Druze, into the government later on.
The State of Israel's independence as the Jewish State is also tested by the integration of minorities within it while maintaining their equality and dignity. This independence will reach perfection on the day any decent and worthy person, regardless of whether he is Arab or Jewish, will be naturally accepted for any public post.
The Jewish majority in the country has the responsibility to ensure the Arab minority exercises the rights inherent in its citizenship: Master plans that will provide the right to housing; development, education, and welfare plans that will grant the right to make a living – those are the Israeli government's obligation to the Arab citizens. Delivering on these obligations is the only Jewish, Zionist and humane answer to any attempt, whether genuine or bogus, to undermine the Jewish state.
Rabbi Naftali Rothenberg is a senior fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and the rabbi of the Har Adar community