Opinion: A growing number of Israeli Arabs advocate for the country against its detractors, often exposing themselves to online abuse, in the belief that a Jewish and democratic Israel is benefiting their own communities
A Rosh Hashanah dinner at Sharaka headquarters in Dubai, The United Arab Emirates, September 2021(Photo: Sharaka)
The tides seem to be turning as Israeli Arabs are increasingly speaking out in support of the State of Israel.
A prime example of this growing phenomenon would be Yoseph Haddad — a staunch Israel defender on social media and abroad in both English and Arabic.
Other Israel advocates include Mohammad Kabiya — a Bedouin from northern Israel who served in an IDF combat unit; and Jonathan Elkhoury — the son of a former officer in the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army who was resettled in Israel after its 2000 withdrawal and dedicates his life to coexistence between Arabs and Jews.
And lest we forget Shadi Khaloull — a Maronite Christian who served as an officer in the Paratroopers Brigade; Dima Tayeh — a Muslim woman from northern Israel and a stalwart Israel supporter who ran in the Likud primaries for a spot on the party’s list for Knesset; and Liana Khatib — a member of the Druze community who works part-time for the Foreign Ministry and every day she isn’t serving as the ambassador to the some Arab nation’s capital is a waisted one despite her lack of training in diplomacy.
They, alongside many others, are standing out in their communities, especially against the backdrop of the racially motivated riots in mixed Israeli cities in May and the endless violence and murders plaguing the Arab sector.
More and more young Israeli Arabs choose to present an alternative to the animosity. Israel is not perfect, many of them have told me, but it provides more equal rights and opportunities not only compared to its Middle Eastern neighbors but also other advanced Western nations.
Their views differ from one another’s substantially and they also have their fair share of criticism which can be scathing at times.
“Don’t call me a Zionist,” one of them asked of me, but added that he does support the Jews’ right to a nation-state.
I’ve seen them in action hither and thither, handling Israel haters around the world. Members of an elite unit, although nobody assigned them to the job. They don’t do this because they’re against the Palestinians or other Arabs, quite the opposite. They realize that recognizing Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with equal rights is the best way to both strengthen Israeli Arabs and promote reconciliation and peace.
Some on the left take offense at these insubordinate Arabs who refuse, G-d forbid, to join their hateful ranks.
This vile bunch want their Arabs in their own image — filled with loathing and resentment, parroting that Israel is an apartheid state. They want their Arabs to lead the Palestinians down a perpetual conflict which only promises more bloodshed.
In their distorted worldview, terrorists are “freedom fighters” and those who oppose terrorism are considered accomplices. Haddad, Kabiya and co. — who help Jews, and especially those on the right, to see Arabs as more than a bloodthirsty enemy — are seen as the problem in their eyes.
Some research institutions have shown positive trends in Arab-Jewish relations in recent years which should be taken with a grain of salt.
According to a 2018 poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), most Israeli Jews supported adding an equality clause to the Nation-State Bill, which enshrines in law Israel’s Jewish and democratic identity.
But that begs the question, would that majority be even greater and more stable if there were more dovish voices like Kabiya and Tayeh’s or more belligerent ones?
Would Israeli Jews be more inclined to back some kind of political compromise if more voices on the Palestinian side condemned terrorism and recognized the existence of a Jewish state or if more voices incited against the Jewish state and called to resist its very being? The answer is clear.
Ha’aretz daily, a bastion of the left, often lends its platform to Arab writers, which is very welcomed, but it feels like all these articles are penned by the same Israel hawk, thereby presenting a skewed portrayal of reality at the expense of those aforementioned pioneers, who may be a minority, but far from marginal.
According to a 2018 poll, they represent 44% of Israeli Arabs who support the existence of a Jewish and democratic state and also 65% of Israeli Arabs who say they’re “proud to be Israeli”, according to a 2019 IDI poll.
“Leaders in neighboring countries have long nurtured the fairytale of the ‘Zionist enemy’,” Mohammad Kabiya says. “And what happened in the meantime? They destroyed their own countries. So what do they want? For us to continue with more of the same?”
Yoseph Haddad told me about the threats he receives for voicing his opinion, but also about all the support.
“There is a coalition of extremists against me,” he says. “Far left, far right and Islamic fundamentalists. But they will not deter me.”
Kabiya, Haddad and others opted for coexistence to help the communities from which they came first and foremost. They are the peace-loving vanguard that realizes that demonizing Israel is not the solution, but the problem itself.
Most of the aforementioned folks also have another common denominator. They all joined Reservists on Duty — a group that aims to fight the mendacious anti-Israel propaganda pervading U.S. college campuses. Soon the organization, funded by Israeli businessman Noam Lanir, will launch another round of recruitments which is expected to include dozens of new members from Israel’s minority groups. They are true patriots, both as Arabs and as Israeli citizens.
These budding cooperations led to the establishment of Atidna — a coalition of grassroots Israeli Arab leaders and prominent members of the Zionist mainstream of Israeli Jews who seek to “build a courageous Arab-Jewish leadership that will revolutionize integration into the State of Israel by developing unique leadership programs aimed at building a strong, independent yet also integrated Israeli Arab community in Israeli society.”
As much as there are those who seek to spread hate, there are those who wish to integrate.
The Abraham Accords that were signed last year, normalizing diplomatic ties between Israel and several Muslim-majority countries, have opened the door for new ventures.
One such initiative is Sharaka (Arabic for partnership) which brings together Israelis and partners from the Gulf. It began on social media and graduated to reciprocal visits to one another’s land. Today, Sharaka has supporters and members in Iraq, Morocco, the Gulf and Egypt.
On the last Holocaust Remembrance Day, they participated in a video conference in which a Holocaust survivor spoke and a delegation of Arabs from Israel and the United Arab Emirates made a particularly successful tour of the United States.
There are Jews who depict Israel as a monster. Alternatively, there are Arabs that present its true colors. There are Muslims in Europe and the U.S. who have mobilized to fight against anti-Semitism and a growing number of Arabs are adding their name in Hebrew to their online presence.
This vanguard is not Israel’s hope, but of the Arab and Muslim world. Jews have been paying visits to their Muslim friends during Ramadan for years. Now Muslims are visiting their Jewish friends for Shabbat dinners thanks to Sharaka.
The left used to talk about brotherhood of peoples and now there are those who put these words into action. They represent the true Arab and Muslim spring. In their view, whoever legitimizes violence against Jews is bound to become its victim.
Take the surging murder rates in the Arab sector for example. Kabiya, Haddad, Elkhoury and co. oppose all forms of violence and in the face of all the abuse hurled in their direction by haters, both Arab and Jewish, we must say to them: Thank you. You are our hope.