By Alan Caruba
Prior to the Israeli elections, Ali Zahalka, the principal of an elementary school in Kfar Kara, Israel, wrote about the rise of Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of an Israeli political party who has become a pivotal figure in determining who will be the next Prime Minister.
Taking note of Lieberman’s increased political power, Zahalka said, “Apparently, we got what we deserve. If we (Arab), 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?”
In December 2006 I attended a luncheon in New York sponsored by the Middle East Forum. Avigdor Lieberman was the speaker and I wrote a commentary that asked, “Who is Avigdor Lieberman?” because I suspected few Americans had ever heard of him and because a great many Americans, Jewish and gentile, follow events in Israel closely.
At the time, I wrote that, “Lieberman is staring at the glacial destruction of Israel by demography; the way populations grow or decrease. For Israel, the numbers do not bode well.” By 2005, the Arab population was 16% and today it is 20%.
Zahalka warned against anti-Israeli radicalism. “This extremism climaxed with the ‘Death to the Jews’ chants during Operation Cast Lead,” the decision by Israel to respond to months, if not years of rockets from Gaza. It was an effort to destroy the tunnels through which munitions were smuggled into Gaza. Hamas leaders, however, found safety in bunkers or in Damascus while Palestinians bore the brunt of the short military action. When it ended, Hamas declared they had achieved a victory and, in the Arab world, they had. It was a PR victory.
Zahalka’s fear of Lieberman’s party gaining more seats in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, came true.
In my January 2007 commentary, I noted that Lieberman wants Israel’s Arabs to take a loyalty oath or lose voting privileges in national elections and the right to hold national office. He wanted to expel Arab politicians in the Knesset and to impose a “permanent resident” status on Arab Israelis to deter their influence on the future of Israel.
The Arab population of Israel is not just a political or demographic question, but rather an existential one that asks whether a nation created to be the homeland for Jews can exist if its Arab population continues to grow and, as citizens, play a growing role in its affairs?
Considering the serious divisions that exist between the liberal Democrat Party and conservative Republican Party in the United States, can you imagine an Israel that must address divisions between its Arab Muslim population and its majority Jewish one? These are more than merely political divisions, they are religious and cultural, and they occur in a nation literally surrounded by Arab nations, most of which deny Israel the right to exist.
Zahalka has good reason to fear the future for Israel’s Arab population, but mostly because it has acted in ways that give rise to genuine fears about their loyalty as well as their growing numbers.
The fact is that Israel’s Arabs enjoy more actual freedoms than any of their counterparts elsewhere in the Middle East. They can and do serve in the Knesset. Some even serve in its judicial system as judges. However, it must also be said that, where they gather, they tend to drive out both Jewish and Christian populations. Bethlehem, for example, is now nearly bereft of Christians.
Zahalka made reference to “radical Arab parties” in Israel and pleaded for “the opportunity to integrate as citizens with equal rights.”
What Lieberman knows and what exists wherever there are large minority populations anywhere, is that they do not integrate.
France has seen Muslim riots of great ferocity. In England, Muslims continue to press its parliament for separate but equal rights to impose Sharia courts and to make all manner of other demands. In the Netherlands they are threatening that nation’s traditional tolerance.
So, yes, Avigdor Lieberman, a politician who has been a part of the former Olmert administration and who continues to press for limits on Israel’s Arab population, is emerging with growing political power at the same time Israel appears to remain deeply divided over its future as some hope for some accommodation with the so-called Palestinians while others conclude they cannot and will not accept a peaceful co-existence.
If Iran makes good on its many threats to destroy Israel, the irony and tragedy will be that its Arab population will die along with its Jewish population. They should heed the call to integrate, to show their loyalty, before it is too late to have a nation called Israel.