While the Knesset Ethics Committee decided to ban three Arab MKs from parliamentary activity earlier this week following a meeting they held with families of terrorists killed while carrying out attacks on Israelis, the silence of the country’s 1,800,000 Arab citizens was deafening.
There have been a couple of notable exceptions to the Arab Israeli citizenry’s opting out of assuming any responsibility for the outrageous behavior of its chosen representatives.
In late 2015, Nazareth Mayor Ali Salam shouted at Israel’s leading Arab Israeli politician, Ayman Odeh, to leave the city since his party’s MKs were “ruining coexistence” between Jews and Arabs.
Then there’s Arab-Israeli newscaster Lucy Aharish, whose blunt criticism of her Arab-Muslim brethren included an on-air tirade against Arab-Israeli leadership and the culture of victimhood.
However, Salam and Aharish represent a painfully small minority of Arab-Israelis who believe that the best way to solve a problem is to speak up, not silently acquiesce to attacks on Jewish men, women and children.
While a debate rages within Israeli society as to the causes of this widespread sense of alienation, no one can deny that it exists. In response, the Israeli government unanimously approved a five-year plan to invest NIS 15 billion in the development of Arab municipalities in the fields of education, transportation, employment and housing.
However, most Arabs citizens continue to view themselves as colonized Palestinians, repeatedly voting in parliamentarians who work off the same propaganda playbook as Hamas, Hezbollah and the Palestinian Authority.
And Arab Israelis face a myriad of problems. A report recently released by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) stated recently that low rates of employment for Israeli Arab women were harming Israel’s overall economic performance. And a report published in December 2015 by Israel’s National Insurance Institute found that 52.6 percent of Arab families live in poverty.
Why do Arab-Israelis allow their leaders to get away with cheap displays of populism at the expense of serving their constituents?
Israel leadership is partly to blame. Citizenship confers many benefits and requires equally important responsibilities. By not demanding that Arab Israeli elected leaders stop subverting Israel’s right to exist and support the nation’s rule of law, the message that’s sent to Arab Israeli citizens is that fomenting violence is a legitimate form of expression.
More disconcerting is that supporting Israel as a nation whose citizens are united by the shared values of freedom and equality is considered an act of betrayal among large swaths of the Arab Israeli populace.
Similar to corrupt mayors that Israel’s courts have removed after being charged with acts of moral turpitude, parliamentarians who use the power vested in them to undermine Israel’s sovereignty should be indicted on charges of incitement to violence. If found guilty, they should be expelled from the Knesset.
Such strong measures will permanently deny the likes of Hanin Zoabi, Basel Ghattas and Jamal Zahalkaaccess to the bully pulpit. Without parliamentary power and legitimacy, their guerilla chic appeal will rapidly diminish.
Once the demagogues have been banished, Israel’s largest minority group will be compelled to take their destiny into their own hands.
While Arabs are entitled to first-class citizenship, they’re also responsible for preserving this nation’s democratic character so that future generations of Israelis can experience it.
Ultimately, Arabs who view Israeli citizenship as a badge of honor and not a mark of Cain will make for good, loyal citizens.
And every good citizen adds to the strength of a nation.
Read other essays by Gidon Ben-Zvi that have appeared in United with Israel here.