Bassem Eid: Israel ‘The Best Place To Be an Arab’
The “apartheid” that isn't.
Bassem Eid is a Palestinian living in Israel who has had an extensive career as a human rights activist. His initial focus was on human rights violations committed by Israeli armed forces, but for many years he has broadened his research to include human rights violations committed by the Palestinian Authority (PA), and the Palestinian armed forces, on their own people. He founded the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group in 1996, which closed in 2011, for lack of any cooperation from the Palestinian Authority. He now works as a political analyst for Israeli TV and radio.
Bassem Eid is one of a handful of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs – another is Khaled Abu Toameh — who dare to tell the truth about Israel, which means they seldom get their articles republished abroad in the mainstream media which wants only damning stories about the mistreatment of Arabs by the Jewish state. His latest piece, titled “Israel – The Best Place To Be An Arab” — on how Arabs actually fare in Israel, as opposed to how they are said to fare by, inter alia, the UN General Assembly, the UN Human Rights Council, the E.U., Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Roger Walters, and many others – is here: “Israel – the best place to be an Arab,” by Bassem Eid, Times of Israel, December 22, 2021:
Although Israel is the world’s only Jewish state, it is home to a free and thriving Arab community. For decades, anti-Israel activists have decried Israel as an illegitimate state which represses Arabs and Muslims. Israel has been incorrectly labeled as a state for “settler colonialism” and apartheid. These baseless claims could not be further from the truth.
Researchers have conducted surveys to shine a light on the true treatment of Arabs living in Israel. According to these surveys, there is a growing trend of Israeli Arabs ditching their former Palestinian identity and starting to identify more heavily with their Israeli nationality. This switch in national identity is great news for everyone who holds a stake in the Middle East. It proves that Arabs have been able to call Israel home, while Israel is able to maintain its Jewish majority. Despite being the world’s only Jewish state, Israel is a welcoming, diverse country that boasts a thriving Arab population.
Arabs in Israel are in ever-greater numbers describing themselves as” Israeli Arabs,” or simply as “Israelis,” jettisoning their self-identification as “Palestinians.” They are identifying with the Jewish state as their country, too. An outstanding example of this was the recent remark of Mansour Abbas, the head of the Arab party Ra’am, and a member of the Israeli government, who has announced that Israel was founded as a Jewish state, and will remain a Jewish state. Mansour Abbas declared that it is the responsibility of Arab leaders in Israel not to try to undermine the state, but rather, as loyal citizens, to work on improving the lives of the people they represent, by focusing on bread-and-butter issues, obtaining for Israeli Arabs as much economic help from the government as they can, including improvements to infrastructure – roads, schools, sports stadia, hospitals — in Arab towns and neighborhoods, as well as providing more vocational training, access to universities, and preparation for jobs in Israel’s booming high tech sector.
Arabs make up 20% of Israel’s 8.8 million people population. Israel’s Arabs have been integrating into society and live in every corner of the country. Israel’s Arabs enjoy the same freedoms as their Jewish neighbors. Contrary to anti-Israel talking points, Israel’s Arabs live and work side-by-side with Jews, Christians, Armenians, and all others who call Israel their homes. As they do in other western democracies, Arabs can vote in elections, own businesses, work, speak, and worship freely, wherever in Israel they call home. In the recent Israeli elections, Ra’am, a pan-Arab party, became a part of Israel’s governing coalition. These results could not be more clear: Israel, a heterogeneous society, is among the leading nations in the Middle East. Israel’s Arabs have taken notice.
Israeli Arabs enjoy complete religious freedom, as well as legal equality with Israeli Jews. They exercise the same freedom of speech in Israel that we take for granted in the advanced West, but that is not guaranteed anywhere in the Muslim and Arab lands. Bassem Eid did not have the space to dilate upon the preposterousness of the charge of “apartheid” that is so often leveled at Israel, so let’s expand on his rebuttal. Arabs sit in the Knesset, serve on the Supreme Court, go abroad as ambassadors representing Israel. They do not only “own businesses” but can rise high in Israel’s largest corporations. The chairman of the largest bank in Israel, Bank Leumi, is an Arab. Jews and Arabs not only work together in offices and factories, but own businesses — such as restaurants — together. The Israeli government has established special training programs to prepare Arabs to enter the field of high tech; in the Start-Up nation, Jerusalem is determined not to leave any segment of society outside the new economy. Arabs and Jews study together in universities and graduate programs. Arabs and Jews are treated in the same hospitals, by both Jewish and Arab doctors and nurses. Arabs and Jews play on the same sports teams and in the same orchestras. There is only one difference in the treatment of Arabs and Jews: Jews must, while Arabs may, serve in the IDF. Increasing numbers of Israeli Arabs, especially Christian Arabs, are doing just that.
Arabs, no matter how long they have been Israelis, are increasingly supportive of their home country. According to a 2019 survey by Dahlia Scheindlin and David Reis, two leading progressive pollsters, 51% of Israel’s Arabs identify themselves as “Arab-Israeli” and 23% identify as “Israeli”. The survey went on to indicate that 76% of Israeli-Arabs went on to say that, within Israel, Jewish-Muslim relations are overwhelmingly positive and that 58% want to continue to advance coexistence and improvement of relations between Muslims and Jews.
According to the 2019 survey, half of Israeli Arabs identify as “Arab Israeli” while another quarter identify, simply and tellingly, as “Israeli.” Both answers signal the increased willingness of Arab Israelis to see themselves as a recognized and organic part of the Israeli body politic. Only a quarter continue to hold themselves aloof, in describing themselves as “Palestinians.” The same survey revealed that 76% of Israeli Arabs believe thatJewish-Muslim relations in Israel are “overwhelmingly positive.” This is not what Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch wants you to believe. Nor does the kangaroo court of the U.N. Human Rights Council, where Israel is perennially in the dock. Nor do the Israel-baiters in our major media, The New York Times or The Washington Post, who depict an Arab minority that is constantly mistreated and justifiably resentful.
Bassem Eid again:
What was even more shocking from the Schenindinlin-Reis poll were outcomes regarding one of the most contentious issues in the Israel-Palestinian conflict: control of Jerusalem. The survey, conducted by SFHA, a Palestinian news outlet, indicates that 93% of Arabs [1,116 out of 1,200], none of whom are Israeli citizens, would prefer that Israel retain control over the city. Of the 1,200 Arabs surveyed, 79 said that they refused to give up their Israeli identification documents. Only 5 out o 1200 polled said that they wanted Israel to give up control of East Jerusalem to the P.A., and furthermore, said that they would be willing to give up their Israeli identity cards, which allow them free movement throughout the Jewish state.
The data speaks for itself: Muslims and Jews are living coexisting. The biggest winners? The Middle East and human rights. This is very good news for the evolving Middle East: an Israel in which Arabs feel empowered is a powerful thing. When Muslims and Jews coexist in peace, the region wins. When Israel was founded, it was created to be a place, not just for the Jewish people, but for all who sought to make the Holy Land a better place and to raise families in peace. Arabs have always been a welcome part of this equation. The only bad news is that anti-Israel activists will not cease in their quest to divide Muslims and Jews over the issues relating to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Nevertheless, the sentiments reflected in these surveys will make Israel stronger and a better place to live for Arabs and Jews. Disproving rhetoric spewed by the anti-Israel mob will allow Israel to become a place of harmony. I look forward to watching Israel evolve into a place where the children of Isaac and Ishmael work and live peacefully. This evolution marks a rare point of light, illuminating a world in need of it.
It’s true that as Israeli Arabs feel more and more that they have a. political stake in the country, through their Knesset representatives, and even more, through Mansour Abbas, the head of the Ra’am Party, who has joined the coalition government, they are less likely to be alienated from the broader society and the state, and to treat that state as an enemy. Bassem Eid and Mansour Abbas speak for the many Israeli Arabs who do not want to destroy the Jewish state, but do want to elect representatives to the Knesset who can fight for better conditions for their constituents, which means money for hospitals, schools, roads, subsidized housing, and jobs programs, including retraining Israeli Arabs for jobs In high tech.
It’s true that when the State of Israel was declared on May 14, 1948, the Israelis held out the hand of peace to all the Arabs, but especially to the Arabs living inside what on that date became the Jewish state. Still, I think Bassem Eid exaggerates when he claims that “when Israel was founded, it was created to be a place, not just for the Jewish people, but for all those who sought to make the Holy Land a better place.” Is this true? Or is this his own hopeful, but not quite accurate, spin on the history of Israel’s founding?
No matter what answer we give to those questions, as an articulate Palestinian who chooses to live in Israel-ruled Jerusalem, Bassem Eid has performed a service in his ridicule of all those claiming that Israel mistreats its Arab citizens. He has reminded us that there is no “apartheid” in Israel, and that three-quarters of the Arabs in Israel consider themselves to be “Arab Israelis” or, simply and tellingly, “Israelis.” He has also brought to the public’s attention — it can’t happen often enough – to the recent poll of Palestinians in Jerusalem, 93% of whom want to continue living under Israeli rule, rather than under that of the Palestinian Authority. Bassem Eid, like that other defender of Infidels, Othello, can deservedly claim, with articles such as this, that “I have done the state some service.”