Is­rael’s Arabs, liv­ing a para­dox

Eth­nic mi­nor­ity re­sent Ju­daism but value na­tion’s eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion - By Daniel Pipes Re­viewed by Wil­liam F. Gavin

Can Arabs, who make up one-fifth of Is­rael’s pop­u­la­tion, be loyal cit­i­zens of the Jewish state? With this ques­tion in mind, I re­cently vis­ited sev­eral Arab-in­hab­ited regions of Is­rael (Jaffa, Baqa al-ghar­biya, Umm al-fahm, Haifa, Acre, Nazareth, the Golan Heights, Jerusalem) and talked with main­stream Arab and Jewish Is­raelis.

I found most Ara­bic-speak­ing cit­i­zens to be in­tensely con­flicted about liv­ing in a Jewish polity. On the one hand, they re­sent Ju­daism as the coun­try’s priv­i­leged re­li­gion, the Law of Re­turn that per­mits only Jews to im­mi­grate at will, He­brew as the pri­mary lan­guage of state, the Star of David in the flag, and men­tion of the “Jewish soul” in the an­them. On the other hand, they ap­pre­ci­ate the coun­try’s eco­nomic suc­cess, stan­dard of health care, rule of law and func­tion­ing democ­racy.

These con­flicts find many ex­pres­sions. The small, un­e­d­u­cated and de­feated Is­raeli Arab pop­u­la­tion of 1949 has grown ten­fold, ac­quired mod­ern skills and re­cov­ered its con­fi­dence. Some from this com­mu­nity have ac­quired po­si­tions of pres­tige and re­spon­si­bil­ity, in­clud­ing Supreme Court Jus­tice Salim Joubran, for­mer am­bas­sador Ali Yahya, for­mer gov­ern­ment min­is­ter Raleb Ma­jadele and jour­nal­ist Khaled Abu Toameh.

But these as­sim­i­lated few pale be­side the dis­con­tented masses who iden­tify with Land Day, Nakba Day and the Fu­ture Vi­sion re­port. Re­veal­ingly, most Is­raeli-arab par­lia­men­tar­i­ans, such as Ahmed Tibi and Ha­neen Zuabi, are hot­heads spew­ing rank anti-zion­ism. Is­raeli Arabs have in­creas­ingly re­sorted to vi­o­lence against their Jewish co-na­tion­als.

In­deed, Is­raeli Arabs live two para­doxes. Although they suf­fer dis­crim­i­na­tion within Is­rael, they en­joy more rights and greater sta­bil­ity than any Arab pop­u­lace liv­ing in their own sov­er­eign coun­tries (think Egypt or Syria). Sec­ond, they hold cit­i­zen­ship in a coun­try that their fel­low Arabs ma­lign and threaten with an­ni­hi­la­tion.

My con­ver­sa­tions in Is­rael led me to con­clude that these com­plex­i­ties im­pede ro­bust dis­cus­sion, by Jews and Arabs alike, of the full im­pli­ca­tions of Is­raeli Arabs’ anoma­lous ex­is­tence. Ex­trem­ist par­lia­men­tar­i­ans and vi­o­lent youth get dis­missed as an un­rep­re­sen­ta­tive fringe. In­stead, one hears that if only Is­raeli Arabs re­ceived more re­spect and more mu­nic­i­pal aid from the cen­tral gov­ern­ment, cur­rent dis­con­tents would be eased; that one must dis­tin­guish be­tween the “good” Arabs of Is­rael and the “bad” Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza; and a warn­ing that Is­raeli Arabs will metas­ta­size into Pales­tini­ans un­less Is­rael treats them bet­ter.

My in­ter­locu­tors gen­er­ally brushed aside ques­tions about Is­lam. It al­most felt im­po­lite to men­tion the Is­lamic im­per­a­tive that Mus­lims (who make up 84 per­cent of the Is­raeli Arab pop­u­la­tion) rule them­selves. Dis­cussing the Is­lamic drive for ap­pli­ca­tion of Is­lamic law drew blank looks and a shift to more im­me­di­ate top­ics.

This avoid­ance re­minded me of Turkey be­fore 2002, when main­stream Turks as­sumed that Mustafa Ke­mal Ataturk’s rev­o­lu­tion was per­ma­nent and as­sumed Is­lamists would re­main a fringe phe­nom­e­non. They proved very wrong. In the decade af­ter Is­lamists demo­crat­i­cally rode to power in late 2002, the elected gov­ern­ment steadily ap­plied more Is­lamic laws and built a neo-ot­toman re­gional power.

I pre­dict a sim­i­lar evo­lu­tion in Is­rael, as Is­raeli-arab para­doxes grow more acute. Mus­lim cit­i­zens of Is­rael will con­tinue to grow in num­bers, skills and con­fi­dence, be­com­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously more in­te­gral to the coun­try’s life and more am­bi­tious to throw off Jewish sovereignty. This sug­gests that as Is­rael over­comes ex­ter­nal threats, Is­raeli Arabs will emerge as an ever-greater con­cern. In­deed, I pre­dict they rep­re­sent the ul­ti­mate ob­sta­cle to es­tab­lish­ing the Jewish home­land an­tic­i­pated by Theodor Herzl and Lord Bal­four.

What can be done? Le­banon’s Chris­tians lost power be­cause they in­cor­po­rated too many Mus­lims and be­came too small a pro­por­tion of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion to rule it. Re­call­ing this les­son, Is­rael’s iden­tity and se­cu­rity re­quire min­i­miz­ing the num­ber of Arab cit­i­zens — not by re­duc­ing their demo­cratic rights, much less by de­port­ing them, but by such steps as ad­just­ing Is­rael’s borders, build­ing fences along the fron­tiers, im­ple­ment­ing strin­gent fam­ily re­uni­fi­ca­tion poli­cies, chang­ing prona­tal­ist poli­cies, and care­fully scru­ti­niz­ing refugee ap­pli­ca­tions.

Iron­i­cally, the great­est im­ped­i­ment to these ac­tions will be that most Is­raeli Arabs em­phat­i­cally wish to re­main dis­loyal cit­i­zens of the Jewish state (as op­posed to loyal cit­i­zens of a Pales­tinian state). Fur­ther­more, many other Mid­dle East­ern Mus­lims as­pire to be­come Is­raelis. These pref­er­ences, I pre­dict, will stymie the gov­ern­ment of Is­rael, which will not de­velop ad­e­quate re­sponses, thereby turn­ing to­day’s rel­a­tive quiet into to­mor­row’s cri­sis.

As au­thor Kath­leen Ri­ley makes clear in her well-re­searched and cap­ti­vat­ing dual bi­og­ra­phy, the book’s ti­tle may say “Fred & Adele,” but it is Adele As­taire’s name that should come first. Yes, dur­ing their danc­ing part­ner­ship Fred was never any­thing less than mar­velous. He re­ceived well-de­served ac­co­lades not only for his in­spired danc­ing, but for his fine singing (“with a mere sem­blance of a voice” said one ad­mir­ing critic) and comedic act­ing as well. But ever since child­hood, when they first formed the act that would some­day make them a the­atri­cal phe­nom­e­non, it was big sis­ter Adele (two years, eight months older than Fred) who was the star, the one au­di­ences paid to see and crit­ics were ea­ger to praise.

She was cute, and her danc­ing was eas­ily as good as Fred’s, but it was her in­de­fin­able but un­de­ni­able star qual­ity, her “dare-devil spon­tane­ity,” “care­less ex­u­ber­ance” and “in­tu­itive” and “im­pro­visatory” artistry, that made her a sen­sa­tion. Fred was a work­horse, prac­tic­ing rou­tines for long hours, al­ways think­ing of how the act could be im­proved.

Adele learned the rou­tine, cracked a joke, went on­stage and just did it. She gave the au­di­ence savvy, sassy, show-biz piz­zazz and they ate it up. We all know how great a per­former Fred was be­cause we have seen his movies. But since Adele never made a movie, it might be use­ful to quote some of her ador­ing crit­ics:

“[She is] a fig­ure come out of De­gas to a gal­lop­ing rag­time tune . . . [she] has will­fully wan­dered into the ab­surd world of mu­si­cal com­edy, but you feel it is not her nat­u­ral el­e­ment. She should be danc­ing by glow­worm light un­der en­tranced trees on a mid­sum­mer eve with a rout of elves, af­ter drink­ing rose-dew.”

Ah, they don’t write re­views like that any more. Although Ms. Ri­ley does not say so, Adele must have been like Louis Armstrong, an­other em­bod­i­ment of the Jazz Age. Both fig­ures en­ter­tained not only by great vir­tu­os­ity but with an in­fec­tious spirit of pure joy.

If there is any­thing Ms. Ri­ley, an Ox­ford-ed­u­cated clas­si­cal scholar and mod­ern the­ater his­to­rian, does not know about the Astaires, it is prob­a­bly not worth know­ing. They were born in Omaha to Fritz Auster­litz, an Aus­trian im­mi­grant who had un­ful­filled dreams of suc­cess, and his wife, Jo­hanna, known as Anna, an in­de­pen­dent­minded woman whose love and guid­ance helped her chil­dren over many ca­reer rough spots. (She also chose their stage name.)

The book fol­lows their progress: pre­co­cious tal­ent, en­hanced by good dance teach­ers, lead­ing to a child’s act in vaude­ville (but not as head­lin­ers), Broad­way, and then, from 1923 to 1933, an un­prece­dented se­ries of the­atri­cal tri­umphs, in­clud­ing three hit shows writ­ten for them by their friends Ge­orge and Ira Gersh­win.

Broad­way au­di­ences ad­mired them, and London au­di­ences pos­i­tively adored them with irrational ex­u­ber­ance. They be­came friends with the Prince of Wales, hob­nobbed with the up­per crust, and en­joyed ev­ery aris­to­cratic minute of it. They had a few set­backs along the way, but their ca­reer was one in which ev­ery the­atri­cal cliche ap­plied: They were the toast of two con­ti­nents, they were a class act, they stole the show, and they made it all look easy.

This is usu­ally the point in a re­view in which the critic goes into the “and yet” mode. It goes some­thing like this: “And yet, de­spite their suc­cess, there was a dark side to their re­la­tion­ship, with bit­ter sib­ling ri­valry and ter­ri­ble fam­ily se­crets tor­ment­ing them.” But noth­ing of the sort hap­pened. They had spats, es­pe­cially about Fred’s choice of women, but they loved each other, be­lieved in each other, worked well to­gether, en­joyed their suc­cess with undis­guised glee, and were, in the slang of the 1920s, as happy as clams.

In 1933, Adele mar­ried Lord Charles Cavendish, son of the Duke and Duchess of Devon­shire, and left show busi­ness. Some crit­ics felt that Fred, with­out Adele, would be less than great. They were, as we know, wrong. He brought with him to the movies that same spirit of joy that his sis­ter fairly ra­di­ated on­stage.

Speak­ing of joy, en­ter­tain­ment to­day, in ev­ery medium, has many qual­i­ties to com­mend it: ex­cite­ment, creativ­ity, shock value (if that is what you like), high stan­dards of pro­fes­sion­al­ism, tren­chant crit­i­cism of so­cial ills and a va­ri­ety of out­lets for artis­tic en­deav­ors. But what is lack­ing is the sense of joy the Astaires brought to their work, that fine, care­less rap­ture that blesses us with its pres­ence, a sec­u­lar form of grace.

To­day, we are of­fered a su­per­abun­dance of anger and se­ri­ous­ness of pur­pose, and many of our en­ter­tain­ers have tal­ent to burn. But if you want sheer joy these days, you have to rent or buy a DVD of, say, “Top Hat” or “Shall We Dance” or “Swing Time,” watch Fred and Gin­ger dance, and once again, find you are sur­prised by joy, as au­di­ences once were by Adele and Fred.


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