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Palestine and Israel

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No to Israeli Historical Pandering and No to "Nakba"

August 26th 2007

Abraham Foxman Color cropped
Abraham H. Foxman

As a member of the executive committee of the Jewish community interagency task force on Israeli Arabs, the Anti-Defamation League believes that it is very much in the interest of Israel and the Jewish people to ensure full equality for Israel’s Arab citizens. This is for pragmatic, moral and diplomatic reasons. To get there requires leadership and responsibility on both sides, Jewish and Arab.

Thus Israel’s Or Commission to investigate the Intifada delineated many areas of practical discrimination, such as funding for the Arab sector, which needed attention by the Israeli government. On the other side, Israeli Arab intellectuals produced a document entitled “Future Vision” which reinforced many of the Or Commission findings but also, disturbingly, asserted that true equality could never exist without the state giving up its “Jewishness” in its symbols and other practical laws and regulations.

It is in this context that one needs to examine the recent decision of the Israeli Ministry of Education to include in the curriculum of Arab schools a reference to the belief in the Arab world that Israel’s founding was viewed as a “Nakba,” that is, “a catastrophe” for the Palestinians. Is this a legitimate recognition by the government of Israel as part of the effort to make Israel’s Arabs comfortable as equal citizens? Or is this self-destructive political correctness which rather than make Israeli Arabs more at home will reinforce beliefs that the future demands a distancing by the descendants of the founders of the state from its original meaning and purpose?

In my view, the Education Ministry’s decision clearly falls into the latter category. There are many steps that need to be taken in areas of community funding, job training and employment to improve the situation. But this kind of historical pandering is not one of them. 

After all, what does the notion of a “Nakba” mean?  First, it rests on the idea that the very creation of the Jewish state was an illegitimate act, that the UN decision to partition Palestine into two states, following the Balfour Declaration, the creation of Trans-Jordan, the British Mandate, the Peel Commission, and the Holocaust, had no validity, that indeed the Jewish people had no right in its historic homeland.

This view, as much as it is held in the Palestinian and Arab world, should never be given any legitimacy because it is not only the source of the ongoing war against Israel but it is at the root of the suffering of the Palestinians for all these decades. What has made Israeli Arabs different from their Palestinian brethren is that they have lived in Israel as if the creation of the Jewish state was legitimate, even if they didn’t believe it to be so, and for the state to suggest otherwise in its own curriculum is to encourage different and destructive kind of thinking.

Secondly, the use of the “nakba” terminology is a step in the direction away from responsibility and toward illusion and blame, the twin illnesses which have haunted the Palestinians for decades. What the Palestinians call “a catastrophe” in 1948 was largely self-inflicted by the Palestinians themselves, supported and encouraged by the Arab world.  There would have been no war had the Palestinians accepted the UN two-state solution of 1947. There would have been no refugee problem had the resolution been accepted. Indeed, there would have been a much larger Arab minority within Israel. The real catastrophe is not what they blame the Jews and the world for, but rather the decision and leadership of the Arabs. And, as noted, those self-destructive errors first made in 1947-8 have been repeated ad infinitum ever since, causing pain to Israel, but far greater pain and suffering to the Palestinians.

It is therefore neither moral nor helpful to Israeli Arabs nor to relations between Jews and Arabs to inject the kind of thinking that has been so destructive in the region into the heart of an Israeli school curriculum. At a time when the region is facing a huge struggle between extremists and moderate elements and where, as a result, the Arab League is even talking about normalizing relations with Israel, it is foolhardy to give any credence to the most retrograde notions about the legitimacy of the Jewish state.

Let us all work for true equality between Arab and Jew in Israel without falling for false and counterproductive initiatives.
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Abraham H. Foxman is National Director of the Anti-Defamation League and the author The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and The Myth of Jewish Control to be published in September by Palgrave Macmillan.  This article originally appeared in Hebrew in Israel HaYom.


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