Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

An Arab-Israeli diplomat who is proud to be an Israeli

 


By Dr. Norman

Berdichevsky 

Many observers of the Israeli scene are convinced that the extreme views of the elected Arab Knesset members and scenes of violent demonstrations, stabbings and other acts of terrorism are the only true measure of the Arab minority community’s rejection of any accommodation of living peacefully and harmoniously with the Jewish majority. To do so is a common error in the mistaken and often ignorant understanding of Arab culture and the realities of Middle Eastern politics.

George Deek is a young Christian Arab from Jaffa and Israel’s vice ambassador to Norway who addressed a gathering hosted by the Norwegian group “With Israel for Peace” in Oslo on Oct. 27, 2014. His speech is being characterized as “the best speech an Israeli diplomat ever held” and made waves for many people who had no idea that Israel has had several prominent non-Jews in its diplomatic corps. His speech revealed how the conflict has been frozen into a perverse intransigence by Arab extremists. It is all the more impressive because Deek’s family was refugees in 1948 and were readmitted to Israel with full citizenship rights.

“How come the displacement of the Jews from the Arab world was completely forgotten, while the tragedy of the Palestinians, the Nakba, is still alive in today’s politics?” Deek asked in his speech. “It seems to me to be so, because the Nakba has been transformed from a humanitarian disaster to a political offensive... The Nakba day was set on May 15th—the day after Israel proclaimed its independence... By that the Palestinian leadership declared that the disaster of the Nakba is not the expulsion, the abandoned villages or the exile—the Nakba in their eyes is the creation of Israel. They are saddened less by the humanitarian catastrophe that befell Palestinians, and more by the revival of the Jewish state. In other words: they do not mourn the fact that my cousins are Jordanians, they mourn the fact that I am an Israeli.”

Deek’s entire speech deserves to be heard by all.  (http://homespunvine.com/an-incredible-speech-by-arab-israeli-diplomat-george-deek/ )

Deek is typical of a growing number of highly educated Israeli Arabs who are fluent in Hebrew as well as Arabic. He and many other Israeli Arabs do not make headlines—they are ignored by the media. Professor Sammy Smooha of Haifa University who previously had been extremely pessimistic about Jewish-Arab coexistence interpreted a recent poll in a more favorable light showing that the acceptance of Israel by Israeli Arabs actually increased markedly between 2012 and 2013. Just over a year ago, Israeli Channel 10/Nana reported (in Hebrew) that a poll’s surprising result bucked conventional wisdom. The research showed that between 2012 and 2013 there was an increase in the percentage of Israeli Arabs recognizing Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state, and Israel’s right to maintain a Jewish majority. Similarly, the percentage of Arabs who define themselves as “Israeli Arabs” without a Palestinian identity has increased. Of course, all those statistics were gathered before the most recent outbreak of violence by Israeli Arabs as a consequence of the Israeli incursion into Gaza.

Nevertheless, the most recent polls also confirm that a majority of Israeli Arabs if faced with the inevitability of a change in citizenship would not vote for a transfer or change making them Palestinians citizens. Such a state without any Jews would rapidly become another Syria! These were the very words uttered by the moderate Bedouin Arab candidate in the last Knesset election, Aatef Karinaoui from the Negev town of Rahat who formed the first demonstratively pro-Israel Arab party, for the Knesset elections of January, 2013.

The obvious signs of brutality and the violation of human rights in Gaza by Hamas, in Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen where the “Arab Spring” triumphed and the growing instability in Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan have not been lost on Israel’s Arab population who have begun to critically rethink their role in the country following a near collapse of Arab nationalism. The latter has given way to the vision of a triumphal radical Islamism and the stated goal of restoring the caliphate, a view certainly not embraced by many Christian Arab, Druze and Circassian segments of the population who understand that cooperation and coexistence in Israel is an essential and inevitable part of any desirable future peaceful scenario. Nevertheless, for the media, any incident of anti-Jewish hostility manifested by Israeli Arabs gets exaggerated visual coverage in an absurd over-representation compared to inter-ethnic or inter-religious turmoil anywhere else in the world. Jewish-Arab cooperation on the other hand extends to thousands of enterprises on every level from garages, restaurants, sports teams including Israel’s national soccer team, the Egged bus cooperative, the trades and professions, in the police, sports, courts, and diplomatic corps.

The concept that speakers of Arabic today constitute one nation has never matched reality and has been repeatedly demolished by sporadic but numerous civil wars in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Morocco, Algeria and among various Palestinian factions. For most Israelis except the extreme ultra-Orthodox for whom the term “Jewish” will always be defined in religious terms, Jewish identity has been decided in a national sense once and for all and in only one place—Israel, not Uganda, Argentina, Birobidzhan, affluent American suburbs or ultra-Orthodox Jewish Diaspora neighborhoods. Several prominent Jews who have served as foreign minister or secretary of state of their countries, such as Henry Kissinger and Hector Timmerman of Argentina, have taken rigid hard line positions against Israeli interests and have provoked the intense criticism of their fellow Jewish citizens at home.

They are the reverse of a George Deek—a Christian Arab and proud Israeli defending his country, the land of his birth and those of his ancestors. Both Kissinger and Timmerman are undeniably “Jews” and yet loyal to the nation they owe allegiance to and not Israel. This was the normal situation in most of the past 2,000 years of history and has not changed. It is no less true that there are also “Arabs” and “non-Jews” who are Israeli citizens and loyal and patriotically serve their homeland such as Deek and are ready to defend it with their lives, even if faced with considerable animosity from family, friends, neighbors and the media.

Israeli Arabs like Deek have made considerable progress in their careers and education through mastery of Hebrew and most would be loath to give up this advantage in a monolingual, monocultural, monoreligious Palestinian Arab state. 

Dr. Norman Berdichevsky is a former Instructor in Modern Hebrew and Judaic Studies, UCF (2010-2013).

 

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