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Saul Singer

Jerusalem, Israel

Saul Singer, a columnist and former editorial page editor at the Jerusalem Post, is co-author of the forthcoming book, Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle. He has also written for the Wall Street Journal, Commentary, Middle East Quarterly, Moment, the New Leader, and bitterlemons.org (an Israeli/Palestinian e-zine). Before moving to Israel in 1994, he served as an adviser in the United States Congress to the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Banking Committees. He is also on Twitter. Close.

Saul Singer

Jerusalem, Israel

Saul Singer is a columnist and former editorial page editor at the Jerusalem Post. more »

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Arab Radicalization a Critical Test

The Current Discussion: Israel's real "existential question" is whether or not to disenfranchise its Arab minority, says Fareed Zakaria in his column this week. Is he right?


Fareed is right that how Israel treats its Arab minority is a critical test of its democracy and of whether it can maintain its character as a Jewish state. Being a Jewish state, after all, is not just about being the only country in the world with a Jewish majority, but reflecting Jewish values, such as respect for human rights, including minority rights, and treating all citizens equally.

Accordingly, I found the campaign slogan of Avigdor Lieberman's "Yisrael Beiteinu" party -- "no citizenship without loyalty" -- to be repulsive in that he seems to be advocating stripping some Arab citizens of their citizenship. He is even more clearly advocating a land swap between Israel and a future state of Palestine in which Israeli settlements would become part of Israel and some Arab towns in Israel would become part of Palestine.

This land swap idea, however, shows that the standard right-left labels are hard to apply to Lieberman's party, which is firmly for a two-state solution, and even for giving up parts of current Israeli territory, which even left-wingers might fear to advocate.

Also, it is important to note that while some of Lieberman's "solutions" are unacceptable to any real democrat, the problem of Israeli Arab radicalization is real, and has been fueling the growth of Lieberman's party. As Ali Zahalka, the principal of an Israeli Arab school, wrote of his own community's response to the recent Israeli war against Hamas in Gaza:

"We did not cry out in the face of rocket attacks on southern residents that went on for years. We did not cry out in the face of the suffering of our brethren, Gaza residents, who have been brutally repressed by Hamas. Yet we cried out, of all things, in the face of an onslaught against the most radical element in the Arab world."

Writing about the rise of Lieberman's party, Zahalka continued, "Apparently, we got what we deserve. If we, citizens of the State of Israel, which has a Jewish majority, connect to the worst enemies of the State, why are we surprised that this is what we get?"

Imagine, for example, that there was a group of Americans who had openly sided with al-Qaeda after 9/11 and who had protested the war in Afghanistan with chants of, "Death to Americans!" in U.S. cities. Yet this is what happened in Israel during the recent operation of Hamas in Gaza -- protests by Israeli Arab citizens with chants of, "Death to the Jews." At the same time, some Israeli Arab members of the Israeli parliament, no less, repeatedly empathize with terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbullah, questioning the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state.

In this context, what is surprising is not so much the success of Lieberman's party, but the Israeli Supreme Court's repeated decisions to uphold the right of Israeli Arab parties to challenge the fundamental basis of the state they are ostensibly sworn to represent.

Lieberman's political success, moreover, must be kept in perspective. He won 15 out of 120 seats in the Knesset. Even if his party becomes part of the governing coalition, it is certain that government guidelines will not endorse the radically anti-democratic planks of his platform.

The rise of Lieberman does not mean that Israel is becoming a racist society. It is a wake-up call, however, to Israeli Jews and Arabs that allowing Israeli Arab radicalism, often fanned by elected representatives, to grow can create a dangerous political backlash. Despite some affirmative action programs meant to address the problem, discrimination against Israeli Arabs does exist. The best way to ensure that Lieberman's party receives fewer seats in the next election is to address both this discrimination and the self-defeating penchant of Israeli Arab representatives to cheer terrorists and challenge Israel's right to exist.

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