Analysis from Israel

Former National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror offered an interesting analysis of last week’s incident in which Israeli Arabs nearly lynched an Israeli Jew in the Galilee town of Taibe. On one hand, he wrote, it’s worrisome that the assailants had no qualms about perpetrating such an attack “in broad daylight in the heart of their city.” On the other hand, the Jew’s life was saved by another Arab resident of Taibe, who “is not afraid to appear in public and take pride in his action, and none of his neighbors has condemned him.” What this means, Amidror concluded, is that “we are witnessing a struggle within Arab society,” between those who want to build a life together with the Jewish majority and those who want only to destroy what has been built.

Nor is the Taibe incident the only evidence of this struggle. Also last week, vandals firebombed an 18th-century synagogue in the northern town of Shfaram. Just a few months earlier, that same synagogue had been lovingly restored by young Arabs and Jews seeking to set “a model for coexistence between our two peoples.” Its very status as an emblem of coexistence made it a natural target for the destroyers.

In this struggle, the destroyers have some obvious advantages. First, as I’ve noted before, longstanding police neglect has ceded control of many Arab communities to the thugs. Second, most national-level Israeli Arab leaders, whether political or religious, are on the thugs’ side: Arab MKs routinely spew incitement from the Knesset, while clerics like the Islamic Movement’s Sheikh Raed Saleh do the same from the mosque. Third, the leaderships of both Hamas and Fatah in the territories are equally inflammatory (on incitement, the two are indistinguishable). Finally, as Amos Harel noted in Haaretz last week, pictures of the slaughter perpetrated by the Islamic State and other groups in Syria and Iraq have recently been flooding local social media networks, thereby encouraging copycat attacks.

But in one of the most encouraging developments of the past few months, a local-level Arab leadership has emerged that openly opposes the destroyers. This has been evident in numerous episodes.

During the demonstrations that followed the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir in July, for instance, some two dozen Arab and Jewish mayors in the Galilee and the Negev banded together to publicly urge calm and restraint, while in Acre, “Arab public officials and community activists stood as a barrier between the demonstrators and the police, pushing back the demonstrators in order to avoid a confrontation,” Haaretz reported. In September, Arab mayors and other community leaders protested in Jerusalem to demand that police crack down on illegal arms in Arab communities – a far cry from the one-time norm of Arab leaders stormily demanding that police stay out of their towns. In June, the Aman Center, an organization that combats violence in Arab society, ran a conference together with the national forum of Arab mayors and other groups on how to improve relations between the police and the Arab community; the center’s head, Sheikh Kamil Ahmad Rayan, said inter alia that Israeli Arabs must start treating police with respect. Last month, when Yom Kippur coincided with the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, the chief imam of Acre’s Al-Jazaar Mosque teamed up with the city’s chief rabbi to pay joint visits to both Jewish and Arab schools the week before and urge students to show respect for each other’s holiday.

In short, an emerging Arab leadership of builders is challenging the veteran Arab leadership, which has long been on the destroyers’ side. Thus Jewish leaders have an obvious interest in supporting the former while combating the latter.

Some local-level Jewish leaders, as the above examples show, are trying to do exactly that. But at the national level, Jewish leaders across the political spectrum are largely doing the opposite.

On the left, Knesset members and civil-society activists often prefer to blame all problems on the government, thereby absolving arsonists like the Arab MKs and the rioters of responsibility, while treating the arsonists as the authentic and legitimate voice of the Arab public. By so doing, they are bolstering the destroyers rather than the builders. On the right, Knesset members and religious leaders too often lash out at all Arabs indiscriminately. By so doing, they are undermining the builders, who need to be able to show their community that a constructive approach will be reciprocated by the Jewish majority.

This isn’t just bad for Israel as a whole; ironically, it’s also bad for each side’s stated political goals. The left claims to champion equality, yet anti-Arab discrimination will never be eradicated as long as many Arabs, including the community’s most visible and vocal representatives, openly oppose the Jewish state’s very existence or publicly support terror; if Israeli Arabs act like enemies, most Jews will inevitably treat them accordingly. The right claims to oppose territorial concessions, yet more territory inevitably means more Arab citizens, and the larger the Arab minority, the more important integrating it becomes.

And if all this weren’t enough, one of the few national leaders who genuinely understands the issue’s importance – President Reuven Rivlin – has managed, in his few short months in office, to so antagonize the very people who need to hear his message most that he’s become useless. True, the left adores him. But as a veteran center-right politician, he was uniquely placed to bring his message of coexistence to the right as well. Instead, judging by the complaints I’ve heard personally from friends and neighbors, he has alienated even the non-extreme right by hurling sweeping insults of the very kind he claims to condemn: Israel is a “sick society”; thuggishness has “permeated the national dialogue”; etc.

So we have a war going on for the soul of Israeli Arab society – one of the most important Israel may ever fight – and our national leadership is at best sitting on the sidelines, and at worst actively abetting the destroyers while undermining the builders. It’s a sad day for a country when its best hope is for people to simply ignore their ostensible leaders.

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post

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In Europe, Israel needs a bottom-up approach to diplomacy

For years, I considered Europe a lost cause from Israel’s perspective and decried the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Euro-centric focus, arguing that it should instead devote more effort to places like Africa, Asia and South America, which seemed to offer better prospects for flipping countries into the pro-Israel camp. But the past few years have proven that Europe isn’t hopeless—if Israel changes its traditional modus operandi.

This has been evident, first of all, in the alliances that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has formed with several countries in eastern and southern Europe, resulting in these countries repeatedly blocking anti-Israel decisions at the European Union level. Previously, Israeli diplomacy had focused overwhelmingly on Western Europe. Netanyahu’s key insight was that conservative, nationalist governments seeking to preserve their own nation-states would have more instinctive sympathy for a Jewish state than the liberal universalists who dominate in Western Europe, and whose goal is to replace nation-states with an ever-closer European union.

But as several recent events show, even Western Europe isn’t a lost cause. The difference is that there, conventional high-level diplomacy won’t work. Rather, the key to change is the fact that most Europeans, like most people everywhere, don’t really care that much about Israel, the Palestinians or their unending conflict. Consequently, small groups of committed activists can exert a disproportionate influence on policy.

For years, this has worked against Israel because the anti-Israel crowd woke up to this fact very early and took full advantage of it. Take, for instance, the 2015 decision to boycott Israel adopted by Britain’s national student union. The union represents some 7 million students, but its executive council passed the decision by a vote of 19-12. Or consider the academic boycott of Israel approved in 2006 by Britain’s National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (which no longer exists, having merged into a larger union). The association had some 67,000 members at the time, but only 198 bothered to vote, of whom 109 voted in favor.

Yet it turns out pro-Israel activists can use the same tactics, as in last week’s approval of a resolution saying anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism by the lower house of France’s parliament. The resolution passed 154-72, meaning that fewer than 40 percent of the National Assembly’s 577 deputies bothered to vote, even though 550 deputies were present earlier in the day to vote on the social security budget. In other words, most deputies simply didn’t care about this issue, which meant that passing the resolution required convincing only about a quarter of the house.

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