Distorting Israeli Arab Reality

The co-existence of Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel has long been a model for the potential for democratic pluralism to take root in the Mideast. But rather than publicize this encouraging fact, the major media outlets have repeatedly distorted the status of Israel’s Arab community.When Arab players on Israel’s national soccer team scored key goals in recent international matches, AFP turned a positive news story on its head with this highly editorialized line:

Israeli by nationality, Palestinians at heart, Israel’s 1.2 million Arabs, descendants of those who remained on their land after the Jewish state was created in 1948, are treated as second class citizens.

And here’s the latest: An op-ed column denouncing Israeli policy toward its Arab minority was published in the Los Angeles Times (May 11) and The Christian Science Monitor (May 17). The author, Aaron David Miller, laments ‘the predicament of Israel’s own Arab citizens’, claiming:

The status of Israeli Arabs, without access to military or national service, and constantly under suspicion as a potential fifth column, is indeed nation-dividing. Israel risks becoming a preferential or ethnic democracy much as the US was in the 1950s and before, when millions of African-Americans suffered from discrimination. (emphasis added)

Let’s address Miller’s two claims separately:


Soldiers from an IDF
Arab Bedouin unit

Miller’s first claim ? that Israeli Arabs lack ‘access to military or national service’ ? is patently false. While Arab Israelis are not generally required to serve in the IDF, many (especially from the Druze and Bedouin communities) proudly volunteer to do so, and have served with great distinction.

In fact, both the LA Times and Christian Science Monitor have recognized Arab service in the IDF on their own pages. As noted by Snapshots, the LA Times published a correction of a similar error in Feb. 2004, stating that ‘In fact, although they cannot be drafted and most choose not to serve, Israeli Palestinians can enlist in the service‘. And the CSM published an in-depth article on Arab Israelis in 2002 that noted:

As Arab citizens of Israel, the villagers aren’t required to serve in the army. They go by choice… almost every family in the village has a member in the local military cemetery.

Indeed, a recent study indicated that the number of Arab volunteers to the IDF ? including Muslim Arabs ? is growing. Given both media outlets’ prior recognition of this fact, the error can only be ascribed to sloppy editorial review, which should be acknowledged and corrected.

[ UPDATE 5/22: Both papers have issued corrections: LA Times correction , CSM correction]

Comments to LA Times: letters@latimes.com
Comments to Christian Science Monitor: click here

(Hat tip: Mediacrity)


Durham, NC bus station

Miller’s second maneuver likens the status of Arab Israelis to that of African-Americans in the US before the civil rights movement. This, too, is an irresponsible distortion.

Though the government of Israel has officially recognized some policy shortcomings toward its Arab minority, it’s ludicrous to compare that to the discrimination suffered by African-Americans during that period in American history. Consider:

? As opposed to the U.S., the foundational document of the State of Israel upheld the principle of civil equality ? despite the fact it was drafted during a state of war with surrounding Arabs:

[The State of Israel] will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex… We appeal, in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months – to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the building of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions. (Israeli Declaration of Independence, 1948)

? Eleven Israeli Arabs currently serve in Israel’s Knesset, including two in the dominant Likud party.

Israeli Supreme Court
Justice Salim Joubran

? An Arab Justice, Salim Joubran, hol
ds a seat on the Israeli Supreme Court.

? The Israeli government is currently implementing a 4-year, 4 billion shekel plan to develop infrastructures in the Arab sector.

? Israeli Arabs attend and lecture in every Israeli university. In fact, prominent Arab academics such as Sari Nusseibeh were outspoken against the recent boycott of Israeli universities by the UK’s Association of University Teachers.
[Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Nusseibeh has Israeli citizenship.]

? Even diplomatic positions are open to Israeli Arabs, who have held key posts in Atlanta (Consul-General), South America, Finland (Ambassador) and elsewhere.

? Israeli Arabs consistently state that they’d prefer to remain in Israel rather than join a future Palestinian state. A May 2001 survey found that just 30 percent of Israel’s Arab population would agree to the Galilee Triangle being annexed to a future Palestinian state. By February 2004, according to the Haifa-based Arab Center for Applied Social Research, that figure had reached 90 percent preferring to remain in Israel.

HonestReporting encourages subscribers to monitor the media for ongoing distortions of the status of the Arab minority in democratic Israel.

Thank you for your ongoing involvement in the battle against media bias.



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