Thursday, March 5, 2009

Arabs in Israel

Yesterday I received a letter from the local court in a minor matter that has essentially no impact on my life except as a very minor distraction. Anyway, the letter announced a change of date of some session. Since I don't normally get such letters I had to peer at it closely for about 18 seconds to figure out what they wanted, during which time I noted that it was a bilingual document, Hebrew and Arabic. Now this isn't all that surprising, given that Israel has two official languages, but it occurred to me to glance at other documents regularly sent by the authorities, which I normally don't even see, tho I do look at them. The water bill, for example: bilingual. A recent letter from the National Insurance (Bituach Leumi): Hebrew, with some Arabic at the bottom which includes various contact data. And that's as far as I investigated the matter; the other old bills are at the accountant's.

The Jerusalem Post this morning has an interview with Haneen Zoubi, the first Arab woman ever to have been elected to Knesset by Israel's Arabs. There have been other Arab women elected to the Knesset, but as representatives of Zionist parties such as Labor and Meretz. In 60 years no Israeli Arab party has ever sent a woman to the Knesset, until Ms. Zoubi, now. (The Jewish Orthodox parties often send women to the Knesset; the Haredi including Shas, never).

Ms. Zoubi doesn't much like us, as you'd expect with a representative of the Balad party of Arab nationalists. The founder of her party, Azmi Bishara, exiled himself a year or two ago when the police began investigating charges of treason against him. The allegations were that he had assisted Hezbullah in its war against Israel, the country in which he was a member of parliament; during the war Hezbullah's indiscriminate shelling of northern Israel had killed 10-15 Israeli Arabs, I don't remember the exact number. Rather than prove his innocence Bishara removed himself from Israeli jurisdiction, though apparently he still draws an Israeli pension.

It seems to me some of Ms. Zoubi's declarations are contradicted by her own story:
"In Israel, Arabs - men and women - are virtually excluded from government positions. They don't go to the army so entire areas of post-military jobs, such as the field of high-tech, are closed to them. There are numerous examples."

Born and raised in predominantly Arab Nazareth, the northern city which serves as the unofficial capital for Israel's Arab citizens, Zoubi, a Muslim, grew up amid a large, well-known family. Some members of her extended family have been part of Israel's establishment, including cousin Abd-El-Aziz E-Zoubi, a one-time mayor of Nazareth who, as a representative of the Labor Party, was the Knesset's first minority minister (deputy minister of Health from 1971-1974 ), and Nazareth District Court judge Abd El- Rahman Zuabi, who served as a temporary Chief Justice for nine months, but was not appointed permanently to the bench.
Just for the clarification: being temporarily on the Supreme Court is standard for the worthiest of district court judges as the customary prerequisite for a permanent appointment; many temporary appointments, however, don't turn into permanent ones; there have, of course, been Arabs with permanent appointments to the top bench.

Ms. Zoubi's statement about hi-tech being closed to Israeli Arabs is of course wrong. Hi-tech in Israel is mostly private sector, not public, and entrepreneurs can do whatever they manage to raise money for. Here, for example, is the website of an entire hi-tech enterprise predicated on Arab technicians in the Galilee being cheaper than the ones near Tel Aviv. They're a business, not a charity or NGO; I myself have had a bit to do with them and they seem quite good.

The bottom line, however, is that Ms Zoubi and her rather distasteful party ran in the elections, in spite of a pathetic attempt by some politicians to thwart them, they didn't do very well because not that many voters like them, and now she's in; she's a member of Israel's Knesset.


pqs said...

"Rather than prove his innocence ..."

In a democracy, which Israel is, people don't have to prove their innocence, everybody is innocent until the contrary is proved in court.

Yaacov said...

This is true, but I was referring to something else. Bishara, had he stayed here to face the allegations against him, might have been indicted (and perhaps not), and then might have been exonerated, and perhaps not. He preferred not to clear his name, but rather to abscond, and to draw his pension while living elsewhere. So we don't know if the founder of the Balad party was legally a traitor (actually, since the allegations concerned a time of war, it would have been high treason), or not. He chose to remove himself from the process, to run rather than prove his innocence. And note that he ran to a country from which he can't be extradited.