Seventy-five years ago, Israel’s Declaration of Independence established the “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.”
Whether Israel has fulfilled this dream lies at the heart of Daniel Gordis’s latest book Impossible Takes Longer. Reading it, I couldn’t help but wonder about the role of pro-Israel advocacy in answering this question. How is our generation helping to fulfill Israel’s promise? What can we do to improve the lives of all its citizens? How can we cultivate more diverse allies and advocates?
Yoseph Haddad’s recent lecture at the University of California San Diego, “Life as an Arab in Israel,” gives us a unique perspective. A member of Israel’s 20% Arab minority, Haddad delivered a wakeup call to a packed audience of mostly pro-Israel Jews: We cannot continue to advocate for Israel with 100% passion but advocate for only 80% of its population.
Pro-Israel advocacy often touts Israel’s democracy and diversity. But the rhetoric falls short of allyship with its many minorities, most notably Israel’s Arab citizens.
Haddad’s experience at the Israel House in San Diego’s Balboa Park Multicultural Center says it all. Among its vibrant displays about Israel, not a single one is dedicated to its Arab sector. Placards of prominent historical figures honor Jewish Israelis exclusively while entirely ignoring leading Arab Israelis—such as Ra’am Party leader Mansour Abbas, former Supreme Court Justice Salim Jourban or Israel’s soccer team captain Bibras Nathko. For Haddad, a proud Arab Israeli and hasbara warrior, “this [situation] is widespread” but unsurprising.
Understandably, many pro-Israel advocates are Jewish. Israel was established as a Jewish state by design, enabling the rebirth of the Jewish nation in its indigenous homeland. While Israel is indeed a Jewish majority state, it is also home to Arabs, Christians, Druze, Bedouin and other minorities. Israel’s story cannot be told without them.
Pro-Israel advocacy is usually silent about this reality, even though it is essential to understanding both Israel’s social fabric and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Gordis’s book presents an important perspective on the intricacies of the Arab-Jewish relationship in Israel: “Today’s Israeli Arabs are members of the very same communities that sought to destroy the state as it arose.” In fact, “Who ended up as an Israeli Arab citizen and who ended up a Palestinian refugee was more a matter of accident than anything else.”
Nonetheless, despite legitimate security concerns, Israel’s Declaration of Independence encouraged Israel’s Arab inhabitants to “preserve peace and participate in [its] upbuilding,” promising “full citizenship and due representation.”
Seven decades later, while integration remains challenging, over three generations of Arab Israelis have come to identify as “Israeli,” while their brethren in Judea, Samaria and Gaza identify as Palestinian. As recently as 2021, however, Arab Israeli gangs rioted in mixed Arab-Jewish cities and others have collaborated with Palestinian terrorists. Radical Jews countered with their own violence. Clearly, this showed the insufficient integration of Arab Israelis into the country’s social fabric.
There are numerous obstacles to such integration, but harmony between Arabs and Jews—often ignored—has always existed. I witnessed this firsthand during my grandfather’s stay at Hadera’s Hillel-Yaffe hospital. A loving team of Muslim and Christian Arab nurses worked alongside Jewish counterparts in attempts to save his life. Indeed, Arabs constitute almost half of Israel’s medical license recipients and over half of its dentists and pharmacists.
While not required to serve in the IDF, Arab Israelis are increasingly volunteering: 606 Muslim Arabs joined the IDF in 2020 compared to 436 in 2018. “Israel’s military isn’t the JDF, the Jewish Defense Forces,” Haddad pointed out. “It’s the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces.” His decision to serve in the IDF was unflinching, as it is for many other Arab-Israeli soldiers like Mohammad Kabiya.
Advocating for Israel’s Arab community helps fulfill Israel’s promise of equality and diversity. It plays a vital role in shaping the perspectives of inexperienced audiences—those just forming opinions about Israel. Arab Israelis can help publicize the work of organizations like Road to Recovery, a nonprofit that provides Arab-Israeli translators to help Jewish Israelis escorting Palestinians to medical care in Israel. Similar organizations can be instrumental to Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding, but are too often ignored.
Foundations like Haddad’s Together Vouch for Each Other seek to ameliorate conditions for Israel’s Arab community and smooth its integration into Israeli society. These efforts can inspire Arabs inside and outside Israel to promote Arab participation in Israel’s high-tech industry and augment their voices in Israeli politics.
Like all countries, Israel is an imperfect society that may never entirely live up to the dreams of its founders. As Haddad mentioned, discrimination and factionalism will remain forever. But building peace while garnering support from non-Jewish communities can help mend these rifts.
We can no longer say that we care about Israel while advocating only for Israeli Jews. Telling the Arab-Israeli story and recognizing the community’s contributions is certain to encourage more Arab Israelis to advocate for Israel. We need many more hasbara champions like Haddad who promote partnership between Jews, Arabs and other non-Jewish minorities.
Gordis writes, “Today [Israeli-Arab organizations] are too numerous to count. That is a sign of tremendous promise; now Israel needs to extend the promise even further.” Our role as pro-Israel advocates is to help fulfill this mission. Allyship with the Arab-Israeli community is the place to start.
We must begin by reaching out to existing Arab Israeli organizations seeking partnership. We must also connect with individual Arab Israelis—to listen to their stories, explore their memories and those of generations past, understand their religious traditions and learn about their opportunities and challenges in Israeli society. Publicizing these stories through all forms of media will only benefit our advocacy. Let’s step it up.