“A person who, with intent to assist an enemy in war against Israel, commits an act calculated to assist [that enemy] is liable to the death penalty or to imprisonment for life.”—Clause 99(a), Israel’s Penal Code, on treason.

I admit. I was totally mistaken.

Although I have long been skeptical as to the much-vaunted “loyalty” of Israel’s Arab citizens to the Jewish state, believing that, by and large, they harbored a latent yet smoldering disloyalty that one day would erupt, I recently have been on the cusp of changing my mind.

Misplaced optimism

I began to believe that a certain awareness of the tremendous advantages they enjoyed living in Israel, rather than in one of the neighboring countries, was beginning to percolate into their collective consciousness. There seemed to be growing signs of this, both in the sphere of my own personal experience, where I have day-to-day interaction with Arab Israelis, and in the sphere of the public discourse, where the term “the growing Israelization of Arab-Israelis” became an increasingly common term in the media coverage of the Arab sector in the country.

I live between two Arab villages, one relatively prosperous, the other not so much. Residents of both village, with whom I converse frequently, work in my community.

In the nearby shopping mall, much of both the staff, who are efficient and polite, and the clientele, are from Arab villages in the area. In my contacts with my Arab neighbors, I got the impression that they were undergoing a growing integration into Israeli society, which I seem to have mistaken for a growing identification with Israeli society.

Perhaps what was misleading is that today, in many ways, Arab Israelis look more like Jewish Israelis—except, of course, for those (Arabs or Jews) who don religious attire (Islamic or ultra-Orthodox). Their meticulous personal grooming, the brands of their clothing, their choice of footwear, the cars they drive, their leisure activity all created a false sense of similarity and diminishing differences between “them” and “us.”

A rude awakening

However, the riots, the ambushes, the stoning and near lynching of Jews by Arabs provided a rude awaking from the nascent illusion of increasingly harmonious coexistence—as did the ransacking and torching of a synagogue!

Indeed, it was mayhem not born of socioeconomic grievances, but of inimical ethno-nationalistic affiliation with Israel’s foes, bent on eradicating it as a Jewish nation-state. It was not socioeconomic despair that drove the Arab mobs to tear down the Israeli flag and replace it with that of the enemy, under whom their socioeconomic plight would be considerably worse—by orders of magnitude.

Indeed, the socioeconomic predicament of Arab-Israeli society is a poor explanation for the widespread violence that pervades it. After all, the Jewish ultra-Orthodox society is also afflicted with a similarly low socioeconomic status. Both occupy the bottom rungs of the socioeconomic ladder in Israel.

However, in both societies, it is their own cultural mores—large families, a single breadwinner—rather than systematic discrimination that accounts for much of the depressed economic levels in both societies. Yet, among the ultra-Orthodox, one does not encounter anything approaching the intra-communal violence or the amassing of deadly weapons that one finds among Arab Israelis.

Accordingly, if socioeconomic conditions in the ultra-Orthodox community are not caused by structural bias against it, nor have they produced the same rampant crime, why should this be assumed to be the case among the Arab Israelis?

Perfidy paraded?

Over time, there have been repeated examples of the reticence—indeed refusal—of Arab citizens of Israel, no matter how preeminent their standing in society, to accept—never mind respect—the symbols of Jewish sovereignty.

Thus, an Arab Supreme Court justice refused to sing the national anthem at official events, claiming that the words, underscoring the Jewish nature of the state, were inappropriate for an Arab citizen. Recently, at the swearing-in of the current Knesset, several Arab members made a show of the difficulty they have in pledging their allegiance to Israel and to its laws.

In recent years, one Arab Knesset member after another has been more than brazen in expressing overt identification with a chilling range of Israel’s enemies—from Assad’s regime in Syria through the Hezbollah in Lebanon to the terror organizations in Gaza and Judea-Samaria—with one being imprisoned for aiding and abetting convicted terrorists, and another being forced to flee the country for aiding Hezbollah in times of war. (See here for a partial catalog.)

Murderous “martyrs”
Such display of alienation—indeed, aversion—to their own state is not confined to select elites within Arab-Israeli society. Indeed, when Arab Israelis perpetrated lethal acts of terror, they were feted as heroes by their kinfolk, who collaborated in hiding them from Israeli authorities. When two of them were eventually located and killed, they were given huge funerals, where they were enthusiastically eulogized by approving mass processions—and lauded as “martyrs for Al-Aqsa” for gunning down two Israeli policemen (from the Druze community) at the Temple Mount.

The unavoidable conclusion from this dismal record is that Israel has been enormously—and ill-advisedly—tolerant its Arab citizens, allowing blatant and barefaced displays not only of disloyalty but of equally brazen identification with Israel’s enemies—even in times of ongoing hostilities.

Seen in this context, the current revolt is clearly aimed at changing the very essence of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, annulling the very foundation for its establishment and transforming the rationale for its continued existence.

Accordingly, the situation can no longer be seen as one centering on the question of individual rights, but of collective survival—and it must be treated as such.

It cannot, and must not, be sugarcoated.

Time for a sea change 

The well-known dictum that “Democracy is not a suicide pact” may not be new, but it was never more apt than it is for Israel today.

No democracy can survive a situation in which an entire sector of the population not only rejects the basis for its inception and existence, but significant segments thereof embrace those seeking its destruction. Indeed, almost the entire Arab electorate voted for parties that overtly reject Israel as a Jewish state—with many of its elected leaders cavorting with vehemently inimical regimes.

It is time for an abrupt sea change. It is time to apply the full weight of existing Israeli law against recalcitrant citizens who choose to collaborate with the country’s foes and imperil the national security of the state and the personal safety of its people.

The existing penal code in Israel prescribes the most severe penalties for the actions that are being openly committed by thousands of Israel’s Arab citizens. (See introductory excerpt.)

And while many may balk at the prospect of wholesale executions and life-long imprisonment as current law prescribes, there should be scant inhibition for the imposition of lesser punishments—such as stripping rebellious Arab Israelis of the citizenship they do not respect, or deporting them from a country with which they do not identify—preferably to one of the “egalitarian” and “non-discriminatory” states in the immediate region.

Any perception of wavering or weakness will be interpreted as a license for further turmoil.

One thing is beyond doubt: If the Jews do not arise and exert their sovereignty over their land, they will lose both their sovereignty and their land.

Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

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