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The vote last week in the Knesset to raise the electoral threshold from 2% to 3.25% has been interpreted by some as an effort to exclude small Arab and Jewish left-wing parties in which 12 Arabs currently sit as MKs. Whether this is true or not, the bill raises the issue, once again, about the status of Israeli Arab citizens in the state of Israel.

MK Esawi Frij, the only Arab member of the left-of-center Meretz party, told me when my synagogue group met with him in the Knesset last October that he believes that Arab Israeli citizens (now 20% of the Israeli population) are loyal tax paying members of Israeli society and are not treated equally. I asked him if he would ever want to serve as a soldier in the IDF – “Sure” he said, “but only after there are borders between Israel and Palestine.” He added, “Israel is my country. I am an Israeli!”

Surveys indicate that when a state of Palestine is created most Israeli Arabs would prefer to stay in the state of Israel and be Israeli citizens.

Many articles in the Israeli press report and opine, as Mr. Frij told us, about the unequal allocations of Israeli state money to Israeli Arab communities in education, social services, business, and industrial investment. These reports leave this pro-Israel American Zionist to conclude that a genuine civil covenant that gives Israeli Arabs their full rights in the state of Israel has not been fulfilled.

It is not enough to say, as many Israel apologists reflexively proclaim, that Israeli Arab citizens have it better and are safer than they would be anywhere else in the Arab and/or Muslim world. In the context of Israeli democracy, whether such statements are true or not, they are irrelevant. If Israel is to live up to its own civil covenant with its citizens, then corrective action must be taken to move Israeli Arabs from second-class to first-class citizenship.

Fifty percent of all Arab families and two-thirds of Arab children live under the poverty line, and many Arab students drop out of school for economic reasons. Yarden Kof of Haaretz reports that the Arab Israeli school system is inferior to the secular Jewish school system, and that Arabs have less access to pre-academic preparatory programs than Jews. She describes 14 specific barriers that Israeli Arabs face in obtaining a college education, ranging from financial challenges to inadequate public transportation. Because the Israeli Arab community does not serve in the IDF they are automatically excluded from consideration in other programs as well.  (http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/.premium-1.530660)

According to another Haaretz writer, Meirav Arlosoroff, one quarter of all Israeli school children are Arab, and in five years the Arab population

“is expected to grow at a relatively fast rate of 3%, much lower than the 4.3% figure for the Haredi population, but much faster than the 0% increase of non-religious Israeli Jews. That means that both the Haredi population and Arab population represent increasingly large numbers of the Israeli overall population – and no one has been dealing with the Arab children.”  (http://www.haaretz.com/business/.premium-1.578944)

Israel essentially has within it two separate states, one Arab and one Jewish, and there is a huge gap between these two populations in their standard of living, income, quality of education, and employment rate. On the one hand the Jewish state of Israel is a developed Western nation, and on the other the Arab state of Israel is a Third World Country.

Professor Eran Yashiv, head of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Public Policy, and Dr. Nitza Kasir of the Bank of Israel’s Research Department, conducted a survey and concluded that it would be good business for Israel to close that gap. They say that the

huge price the State of Israel pays for being two countries within one state… loses [Israel] tens of billions of shekels because of the employment and educational backwardness of Israeli Arabs. …if Israel would succeed in closing the gap from which the Arabs suffer, the state would benefit form an additional NIS 40 billion through 2030 and some NIS 120 billion by 2050..[It is estimated] that some NIS 8 billion would be necessary to invest in the next five years in the Arab Israeli community and that the annual return on that investment would be 7.3%.” (http://www.haaretz.com/business/.premium-1.529415)

From the perspective of advancing Israel’s democracy, her commitment to equality of opportunity for all her citizens, and towards the development of her economy, Israel would be well-served to focus more of its efforts on raising the standard of living of its Arab citizens.

For more information see:
In Israel, Arabs get less” – http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/1.579540)
Ignoring Arab education imperils Israel’s future” – http://www.haaretz.com/business/.premium-1.578944
Upper Nazareth mayor: No Arab school here as long as I am in charge” – http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/upper-nazareth-mayor-no-ara-school-here-as-long-as-i-am-in-charge.premium-1.494480
Israeli Arabs face extensive barriers to getting college education, report says” – http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/.premium-1.530660
Study: Integrating Israeli Arabs into the labor market would provide major economic boost” – http://www.haaretz.com/business/.premium-1.529415
Closing the gap between Israel’s Arabs and Jews” – http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.529703
Discrimination against Israeli Arabs still rampant, 10 years on” – http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.550152