Tuesday's riots in Umm el-Fahm and the debate which accompanied them are emblematic of one of the greatest challenges facing not only Israel, but much of the Western world today. Far-Right Jewish Israeli political activists held a peaceful demonstration in the radical Arab-Islamist dominated city of Umm el-Fahm in the Galilee under heavy police protection. Thousands of Arab Israelis supported by far-Left Jewish Israeli political activists reacted with violent rioting. And the media blamed the violence on the peaceful Jewish Israeli demonstrators.
Tuesday's demonstration, which was led by former followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane MK Michael Ben-Ari, Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben-Gvir, was supposed to take place last December after the High Court of Justice upheld the activists' legal right to march through the city. But the police blocked it, claiming they could not guarantee the marchers' security. Only after again being ordered by the court to let the demonstration go forward did the police relent. But they limited the march to the outskirts of the city.
In accordance with the police's guidelines, on Tuesday the marchers were transported to the periphery of the town in bullet-proof buses. Some 2,500 policemen deployed along the Wadi Ara highway and throughout the town to protect them. They were allowed to march holding flags and singing folk songs for a half an hour, and then returned to their bullet-proof buses.
In the meantime, thousands of local residents standing on rooftops and crowding into the streets began rioting. They threw volley after volley of rocks at the Jewish marchers and the police protecting them. They cursed the demonstrators. They cursed the police. In the end, some 15 policemen were wounded by the projectiles – including Deputy Insp-Gen. Shahar Ayalon, the Israel Police's No. 2 commander.
As far as the media were concerned, the fact that thousands of Arabs attacked the police and the lawful demonstrators was a non-story. The fact that these Israeli Arab citizens claimed to be personally insulted and injured because the demonstration "forced" them to set their eyes on their national flag was seemingly understandable. The fact that these Israeli citizens rejected Israel's flag while waving Palestinian and Islamic flags was neither newsworthy nor controversial. No one in the media asked the Arab rioters whom they felt threatened by. No one asked them why seeing Jews marching with the flag of Israel should provoke them to attack.
To the extent the media found a culprit, it was the Jewish demonstrators. They were "provocateurs" who forced taxpayers to spend millions of shekels to deploy 2,500 policemen armed with riot gear to the city. It never occurred to the media that Ben-Ari, Marzel and Ben-Gvir were not the cause of the enormous police presence. They were a danger to no one. The reason the police were forced to deploy so massively was because they believed that the Arabs would attack the Jewish demonstrators. It was the Arabs, not the Jews whom the police feared would break the law. And as it works out, they were right.
THE MEDIA'S coverage of the Umm el-Fahm riot fits into an ongoing pattern. Over the years, the local media have developed a code for reporting on Arabs – whether Palestinian or Israeli or foreign. And it is a bigoted code.
As far as Israel's media are concerned, Arabs cannot be expected to act like responsible citizens. They cannot be required to abide by the law like the rest of the country's citizens. As far as Israel's media and the rest of the political Left are concerned, Arabs are either victims or objects. They cannot be culprits or independent actors. Their will – to the extent they have one – is collective. No individual can be held accountable for his or her actions. And their will is reactive. All Arab actions are but reactions to Jewish provocations.
Many in the US and Europe have expressed surprise and indeed mystification about Avigdor Lieberman and his Israel Beiteinu party's strong third place showing in last month's elections.
And there is good reason for their confusion. Lieberman is not an easy candidate to swallow for either rightists or leftists. Right-wingers find his plan to make the Galilee and parts of the Negev part of a future Palestinian state absurd and wrong. Leftists find his call for all Israelis, including Arab Israelis, to declare their loyalty to the state as a condition for keeping their citizenship absurd and wrong. And yet, due to the 15 Knesset seats he won from both right- and left-wing voters, Lieberman will serve as the foreign minister in the incoming Netanyahu government.
The Israel Left has demonized Lieberman as a racist for his positions on the Arabs. The anti-Israel lobby in Washington is already using their attacks to discredit the incoming government. But the fact is that fundamentally, Lieberman is little different from the Left which demonizes him.
Lieberman is a populist. He owes his popularity to the fact that he properly identified the political radicalization and increasing lawlessness among Israel's Arab citizens as the major domestic issue of our times. Lieberman is unique among politicians from both the Left and the Right in that he is the only one who is willing to confront the issue head on. And it is due to his readiness to discuss this issue that the public rewarded him with 15 Knesset seats.
Like most populists, Lieberman is not a deep thinker. As a consequence, he adopted the bigoted framework of the Left for contending with the challenge posed today by Israel's Arabs. His idea of removing the Galilee from sovereign Israel and attaching it to a Palestinian state in Judea, Samaria and Gaza is based on the Left's bigoted assumption that Israeli Arabs cannot be expected to be loyal to the country or to act as law abiding citizens.
Lieberman's adoption of the Left's prejudiced perspective on Israeli Arabs has engendered a dismal situation where, while the debate has now been joined on the issue of how to contend with Israeli Arab disloyalty and crime, the debate that has developed is nothing more than a dialogue of the deaf.
No one talks about the need to inculcate Israeli values of liberal democracy among our Arab citizens. No one talks about blunting the power of radical leaders such as Sheikh Raed Salah, who heads the Islamic Movement's northern branch, or Arab parliamentarians who openly treat with Hizbullah and Hamas and side with Israel's enemies in time of war. No one talks about empowering Israeli Arabs who are loyal to Israel. That is, no one talks about adopting policies that could actually improve the situation.
AND THIS is a tragedy, because the situation is truly grave. Early this week a Hizbullah-controlled Israeli Arab terror group which calls itself the Free People of the Galilee claimed responsibility for the attempted car bombing at Haifa's largest shopping mall on Saturday night. That bomb, planted in a car trunk outside the mall, was large enough to have toppled the three-story mall and killed hundreds of people. Mercifully, it was discovered before it was detonated.
Since 2001, the same group has claimed responsibility for a string of murderous attacks – mainly centered in Jerusalem. It claimed responsibility for the massacre of eight students at Mercaz Harav Yeshiva last year. It claimed responsibility for the first bulldozer attack in Jerusalem last year in which three people were murdered. And it claimed responsibility for the murder of several individual Jews around the Old City in Jerusalem since August 2001.
Also this week, the Jerusalem District Attorney's office announced that four Israeli Arabs have been indicted for the attempted murder of an American Hebrew University student last month. The four attacked the student as he walked through the Jerusalem Forest on the way to his dormitory. They beat him, stabbed him in the cheek, and tried to slash his throat before fleeing the s
And earlier this month, the police announced the arrest last month of another Israeli Arab on charges of spying for Hizbullah. The arrest of 27-year-old Ismail Suleiman from a village in the Jezreel Valley is the latest in a string of arrests of Israeli Arabs on charges of spying for Hizbullah. Last September IDF Sgt.-Maj. Louai Balut from the Western Galilee, who served as a tracker along the Lebanese border, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for spying for Hizbullah. And of course, former MK and Balad Party leader Azmi Bishara remains on the lam after he fled the country just before being charged with spying for Hizbullah during the 2006 war.
Israel, of course, is not alone in contending with this challenge. Throughout Europe, governments are forced to contend with the fact that increasingly, the greatest threat to the security of their general citizenry comes from their Muslim and Arab citizens. The only difference is that Israel alone is castigated as a racist state simply for suffering from the problem of Muslim extremism.
THIS WEEK, Philip Johnston published a column in the Sunday Telegraph critiquing the British government's new strategy for defending against Islamic terror. Johnston bemoaned the fact that the new plan pays no attention to the fact that most of the terrorists sitting in British jails, as well as the perpetrators of the July 7, 2005, bombings, are British. Whereas the new strategy concentrates on the need to fight terrorists in places like Afghanistan, as Johnston put it, "There was not a single mention of the undeniable truth that the extremists who will actually carry out atrocities live among us and need to be confronted here and now."
Johnston argued that rather than ignore the problem of increased extremism among Britain's Muslims "in the interests of 'community harmony,'" the British government should actively engage in "an unequivocal and enthusiastic espousal of British values of tolerance and liberal democracy."
That is, to contend with the growing radicalization of British Muslims, the government in London should end its policy of appeasement of radical Muslim groups, which is based on the bigoted assumption that Muslims cannot be expected to either abide by the laws or to integrate into wider society. Britain should instead embrace its own identity as a liberal democracy and require its citizens to abide by liberal democratic norms.
In Britain as in Israel and indeed throughout the free world, those norms are based on the understanding that the ability of a society to remain a free society is contingent on its citizenry's recognition that there can be no civil rights without civic duties. The Umm el-Fahm riots serve as yet another warning of this fundamental truth.
Here in Israel we face the same choice. Either we encourage our Arab citizens to fully accept both the rights and duties of citizenship or we continue – through either populism of cowardice – to facilitate their rejection of our society. If we embark on the first path, we will safeguard our national identity as a Jewish liberal democracy. If we remain on the second path, we will imperil our lives, our way of life and our national existence.