Israeli television host Yaron London’s comments about Arab culture (earlier this week, he referred to Arabs as “wild men” and called Arab culture “a failure”) spoke to a truth with which we are all familiar. It’s not just me saying it; Arabs say it all the time, all over the world.
If you ask any one of them during a casual conversation, even the biggest hater of Israel will tell you honestly that they prefer a conflict with Jews to a conflict with other Arabs, which would naturally result in brutal, unchecked bloodshed. The Arab citizens of Israel will admit that they prefer the Israeli government to an Arab one, even if from their comfortable positions at Israeli universities they prefer to call it “the occupation.”
I’m not thrilled to agree with London; if only I could tear down his remarks. If only I could feel pride in and a connection to Arab culture without any hesitation. My “Arabness,” the language, the music and the tradition, are an inseparable part of my identity, and I would like to be proud of and feel connected to them. But—and I’m saying this carefully—I feel shame.
The Arab world, from its governments that are tainted by corruption and tribal alliances to the man in the street, who exists on a basis of ignorance and violence, does not attempt to keep any of this a secret. Anyone with eyes in their head can point out these flaws, which require a fundamental reform in thinking to address. You don’t need to be an intellectual or a seasoned TV personality to understand that.
So I embrace my Israeli identity: I am an Israeli Arab because it’s important to me to distinguish myself from the wider Arab culture. It’s important to me to turn my back on what is happening in Syria and what happened in Lebanon, and from the story of Egypt’s tragic fall. Because when I’m Israeli, I can feel proud sometimes.
I recently saw archived material from the First Lebanon War. Despite the fact that stories about invasion and war don’t exactly warm the heart, I am filled with pride to hear and see Lebanese residents, including Palestinian refugees who have lived in Lebanon since 1948, express faith in Israel soldiers and ask them for protection from other actors in the civil war.
The truth, which the entire Arab world already acknowledges, that the Israeli army is the more humane and considerate than the Arab armies, fills me with pride. I am Israeli and these are my values. Valuing human life, liberty, dignity and people’s ability to support themselves are values that I would want to see expressed in my name, from Israel to the rest of the Middle East and beyond.
I will leave the question of why the Arab world looks and acts like it does to the Arab citizens of Israel to answer. We have an opportunity to build shared values with the Jews, ones that will make us stand out from the putrid swamp of the rest of the Arab world. We owe that to ourselves, not to anyone else—and should do so proudly, standing straight, with our heads held high.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.