Friday, July 24, 2009

Israel Slights Arab Israelis

Israel has decided to remove references to its founding as "al-nakba" or "the catastrophe" in its Arabic textbooks, which is the common word for Israel's founding in the Arab world, especially amongst the Palestinian diaspora. Israel is also considering removing street signs in Arabic and English that list Israeli place names and substituting Arabic and English transliterations of Hebrew names. While it is understandable that a country would not refer to its founding as the catastrophe, the proposed street sign change seems designed only to offend Israel's Arab minority. Both moves would serve to increase tensions in the already fraught relationship between the Jewish majority and Israel's Arab minority.

These actions underscore the inherent contradiction between Israel's claim to be both a Western-style liberal democracy and a Jewish state. It also shows the extent to which Israel does not share America's values of secularism and equality. Sixty-five years after Brown v. Board of Education, Israel maintains a "separate but equal" society, in which Arab citizens do not serve in the military and have their civil law cases tried in separate courts, in addition to widespread social discrimination. Israel is a Jewish state, and a Jewish democracy, but it is not a secular one and these two actions highlight how its values are very different from America's.