The modern history of the Middle East is filled with ideological intellectuals who aimed for great political ideas but instead produced some of the world’s cruelest dictatorships and militaristic regimes — the Baathists in Iraq, the Islamists in Iran and the pan-Arab socialists in Libya, among others. These intellectuals, detached from the reality and experience of their peoples, were an integral part of their countries’ revolutions, and it was they who tragically became the first victims of the oppression their revolutions unwittingly produced.
Terrifyingly, this history seems to have been lost on some Israeli Arab intellectuals. They have produced a report, “The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel,” that is supposedly based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but is simultaneously loaded with extreme Palestinian and Arab nationalistic symbols. This kind of anachronistic initiative, like all the Arab world’s previous well-intentioned revolutions, can produce only more bloodshed.
These Israeli Arab leaders and intellectuals should remember the first two civil wars fought in the Holy Land, in 1937 and again in 1948, if they want to help prevent a third Arab-Jewish war. The Arab arguments then were based on an uncompromising and violent ideology, and tragedy resulted for both Palestinians and Jews. The Israeli Arab arguments now are emphasizing differences rather than similarities, laying the foundation for separation instead of planting the hope for integration.
A majority of Israeli Arabs support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and want to remain part of Israeli society. The true issues for Israeli Arabs, therefore, are integration and equal opportunity, not nationalistic goals. And the only way for minorities to achieve equal rights is to share responsibility for building mutual trust with the majority — which, as America’s civil rights movement showed, can be achieved through only nonviolence and dialogue.
Martin Luther King Jr. repeated two messages in almost every speech he delivered: He called on his own people to remain committed to nonviolence, and he assured the white majority that blacks do not pose a threat and only want to enjoy the democratic principles upon which American democracy was founded. Moreover, King did not hesitate to criticize the weaknesses and mistakes of his own community.
Unfortunately, we do not see King’s example being followed today in the words and actions of many Israeli Arab intellectuals and leaders. Some of them take their people’s thirst for equality and color it with pan-Arab nationalism or, even worse, extreme Nasserist ideology that long ago disappeared from the Arab world. They reach out to other Arab countries and use them as loudspeakers to call the bluff on what they deride as the “supposedly democratic Israeli system” — but conveniently ignore that there is a total freedom and democracy vacuum in the Arab countries giving them a platform.
Other Arab leaders in Israel lead extremist Islamic movements, the kind that are banned in many Arab countries. The leaders of these movements do not seem to care that most Israeli Arab Muslims are quite moderate, or that at least one-third of Israeli Arabs are not Muslim at all. In essence, the Islamic state that they propose as the replacement for Israel is neither suitable nor desirable for the vast majority of Israeli Arabs.
Every Arab intellectual in Israel who claims to be moderate and truly committed to preventing future violence and catastrophe must openly and repeatedly declare that the end goal of equality for their people is full integration into the State of Israel. It is the integration effort that will bring Israeli Arabs the equality they deserve — not premature and divisive ideas like changing the flag, changing the national anthem, declaring cultural autonomy or canceling the law of return for Jews.
As Israeli Arabs become more integrated into society, the Jewish majority will feel more at ease tackling some of these symbolic demands. And as Israeli society as a whole becomes more integrated, Jews and Arabs will better be able to distinguish each community’s real needs from superficial ideological ones.
In the meantime, the role of the Israeli Jewish majority — and, for that matter, the American Jewish community — is to fully engage and encourage the integration of moderate Israeli Arab communities into the State of Israel. It is nothing short of tragic that communities which have enthusiastically sought integration — such as the Circassians, the Druze, and some Bedouins and Christians — are often ridiculed by extreme Arab intellectuals and leaders for their supposedly unrewarded sacrifice for the state.
I know from my own personal experience — and from the success of my Druze, Muslim and Christian colleagues in Israel’s Foreign Ministry — that integration and equality are real possibilities in Israel. The challenge before us today is to make this success possible, democratically and without violence, for every member of Israel’s moderate minorities.
Reda Mansour, an Israeli Druze diplomat, serves as Israel’s consul general in Atlanta.