The essential agenda
Tormented by racism, demoralised by regional defeatism, Israel's Arabs have a task to accomplish, writes Azmi Bishara
Arab democratic forces in Israel have to start worrying less about worn clichés and more about what to do and how to do it. The task is complex, considering the ongoing regional and international struggle against direct US military hegemony. A process is underway in which economy and culture, among other aspects of life, are used either to justify US hegemony or rationalise submission to that hegemony. The conflict is just as fierce as unpredictable. The quest for US imperial hegemony brings with it a new dynamism, one that aims to control natural wealth -- foremost oil -- for purposes of political and strategic domination. This dynamism involves a blackmail of political regimes. Regime stability is no longer as essential to the US as it was during the Cold War, when regimes were deemed fine so long as they were anti- Soviet.
The US attempt to dress up its policy of hegemony in the guise of democracy must not discourage Arab democratic forces from pressing for democracy. Citizenship rights, equality before law, judicial independence, civic liberties and women rights are democratic principles that must not be abandoned just because American propaganda is using all of the above for its own purposes.
Democratic forces, national and regional, must link their national endeavours to democracy and citizenship. There is a need to defend the rights of the Arab citizen, the rights of the Palestinian people, while maintaining pan- Arab solidarity and furthering the cause of voluntary unity among Arab democratic entities in the future. In the meantime, various forms of Arab unity must be developed. In particular, the Arabs should not accept the dictates America is trying to impose on individual Arab regimes.
The foremost arena of confrontation is Iraq. National and regional democratic forces need to envision a democratic future for post-occupation Iraq. The second arena of confrontation is Palestine. There is a tendency to use increased US influence and Arab official inefficacy as a pretext to diminish Palestinian national rights. This tendency contrasts with the steadfastness of the Palestinians in the face of occupation. This tendency is helping Sharon at a time when his political, security and economic troubles are worsening. Sharon has failed on all security, political and economic counts, and it would be wrong -- particularly for the Arabs -- to reward him simply in order to placate the US.
Palestinian struggle has restructured the relation between the occupier and the people under occupation. But much is needed by way of formulating a unified Palestinian strategy. Such a strategy is not going to materialise in the absence of a joint command. Dialogue alone does not create a joint strategy. This is becoming a matter of life and death at a time when national tasks are becoming more intricate. Sharon's convoluted mix of repression and disengagement is complicating the tasks of struggle. This calls on the Palestinians to be less spontaneous in their reactions.
Anti-racism is the link that binds the cause of Israel's Arabs with that of their brethren in the West Bank and Gaza. The communion of Israel's Arabs with the Palestinian people has not only opened new horizons on the level of national identity and politics but brought much- needed social and economic perspective for the Arab community of Israel; a community that has no economic and social existence outside Israel's production process. Tens of thousands of Israel's Arabs have family ties with their people in the West Bank and Gaza. The other face of the racist segregation wall is a law that denies residence in Israel for West Bank and Gaza inhabitants married to Israel's Arab citizens. The same racist mentality that installed the wall looks upon Israel's Arabs as a "demographic bomb".
Arab democratic forces should spread awareness of racism among Israel's Arabs. These forces should continue to stand by the Palestinian people, resist the wall, and fight against racist segregation politics. Zionist propaganda has infiltrated the political discourse and mood of Israel's Arab community. This propaganda blames both sides for the outcome of the solidarity of Israel's Arabs with the Palestinian people in October 2000. The propagandists claim that Arab leaders are focussing more on the Palestinian people's cause than on the concerns of Israel's Arabs.
Zionist propaganda wishes to score two points: (a) to lower the ceiling of solidarity with the Palestinian people, and (b) to blame racist segregation on Israel's Arab leadership. The propagandists want to create the impression that were Israel's Arabs to give up their national identity and their commitment to justice for the Palestinian people, it would be easier to achieve equality between Israel's Arabs and Jews.
The national movement among Israel's Arabs has been confronting Zionism on the front of citizenship. It has so far succeeded in turning citizenship into a public issue in Israel. This movement should now realise that any concession on the front of national struggle would bring about a regression on the front of citizenship and civic rights. Any transgression on the sentiments of national solidarity with the Palestinian people and the Arab nation is a transgression on national identity; an effort to turn Israel's Arabs into subjects from disconnected sects and diverse clans. The latter would be easier to control, more amenable to unequal treatment.
Solidarity with the Palestinian people is a civil right. Israel's Arab citizens are entitled to take a political stance against occupation. But their campaign for just peace should go hand in hand with their fight against racial discrimination, their interest in daily affairs. Activism is needed. For one thing, it corrects the mistaken notion that the democratic movement cares about big slogans but overlooks local issues. The Arab nationalist movement in Israel should deal with daily concerns as public issues, not as matters that can be resolved a spirit of favouritism, with small-town cronyism, now common in parliamentary life. Civic rights are not favours to be curried, but public issues to be pursued. The exchange of favours in political and parliamentary transactions would only confirm the status of Israel's Arabs as second-class citizens, as people who do not speak the language of rights, who trade in favours and sell out. Opportunism is harmful to the Arab community at large.
The Arab democratic and nationalist forces in Israel should organise Arab citizens and defend their rights, in a comprehensive social and nationalist context. These forces should resist the mounting campaign to demolish homes, fight against discrimination in jobs and wages, and confront police violence against Arabs.
Since the outbreak of the Intifada, Israel has been trying to contain the "Arab demographic threat" through: (a) aborting Arab national resistance at home, questioning its efficacy, and boosting the status of so-called moderate or mainstream Arabs; (b) plotting against nationalist forces with a view to excluding them for the already-restricted domain of political and parliamentary activity; (c) dividing the Arabs into sects, clans and factions, a phenomenon to be seen in municipal elections as well as on the national level; (d) pressuring the Arabs to show loyalty to Israel at the expense of Palestinian rights.
One way of influencing the attitude of the Arab community is the "national service" matter. Sharon has repeated this suggestion and Israel's ruling institution is holding consultations with Arab municipal chiefs about it. No one has so far proved the point of this civic-oriented service or examined its feasibility. For the Zionist institution, national service is a question of ideology -- an attempt to change the mindset of Israel's Arabs. The aim of this move is to limit the scope of citizenship rights and confine it to Israeli nationalism. This is a move meant to divert the Arab community from its pursued strategy of equal citizenship, while promoting an imaginary Israeli nationalism.
The right political frame for Israel's Arab community is one that endorses a state for all citizens, opposes Zionism, embraces civic struggle, demands recognition of the collective national rights of the Arab minority, and maintains a nationalist perspective. The question of citizenry is front and centre of the political and cultural debate. The collective national identity provides the modern framework for organising the Arab community, a framework that transcends clan and sectarian considerations. This is the only framework that may contain the seeds of the one-state, as opposed to the two-state, solution of the Palestinian problem on the long run -- still a possibility. However, the one-state solution cannot be imposed from abroad. It cannot be imposed through a struggle of a secessionist nature -- that would be contradictory.
The Arab nationalist movement in Israel has gotten organised before, during a similar but less complex phase -- the post-Oslo, do-it-Israel's- way, phase. Back then, the above-mentioned concepts gave the nationalist movement a democratic momentum, revitalised it, brought it steady support, enabled it to regulate the pace of discussion among Israel's Arabs, and prompted political parties to adopt a nationalist discourse. Over the past two years, attempts were made to revive the do-it-Israel's-way approach, even without resolving the Palestinian issue: even under rule by the most racist and brutal of Israeli governments. It is no coincidence that this development is coupled with conspiracy and provocation against the nationalist forces and their policy.
The nationalist movement must not count on external nationalist sentiments seeping into the political mood of the Arab community in Israel. It has to promote awareness through rigorous organisation and meticulous work, and in cooperation with the existing organisations that defend the rights of the Arab community. The current phase proves the importance of party action. Without parties, the nationalist movement would have been in dire straits, considering the international situation and the sense of powerlessness it generated.
Under the current political conditions, the nationalist democratic forces cannot put forward a political option without providing a social agenda, without creating a democratic context for social issues. We need democratic institutions. We have to ensure that clans and sects not develop into political organisations. Women's rights and democratic education of the young should also be on the agenda. The Arab community needs to become more involved in public issues. What may seem political powerlessness on the regional level should not lead to demoralisation at home.
The democratic quest is inseparable from the social questions of labour and equality. It involves a rejection of the Thatcherism of the current Israeli government. The leftist democratic movement is not about rhetoric. It is about the bid to end exploitation, consolidate social welfare, and narrow the gap between rich and poor.