Introducing the law:
I’ve been asked by several friends about the new law that was approved in Israel lately concerning Arab Christians citizens. Most people (including locals) had the understanding that this law gives more rights to Arab Christians when it comes to work opportunities in the country. Let me start by clarifying what the law actually says before offering an evaluation of what it means for Arab Christians.
According to the respected Israeli Haaretz newspaper, The Knesset approved on Monday February 24th a controversial law initiated by MK Yariv Levin (Likud). The law distinguishes for the first time between the Christian Arab and the Muslim Arab. The law aims to add both a Christian and a Muslim representative to the advisory committee appointed by the “law of equal opportunity” (in the labor market).
In different interviews done by Israeli media, Levin made it clear that this step is the first of many others in order to differentiate between Israeli Christians and Muslims, and to help the Christians to integrate with Israeli society. Steps such as registering the religion in the citizens ID instead of his nationality and encouraging Christians to join the IDF are examples of such efforts.
Responding to the law:
There is a saying: “You need to count your fingers after shaking hands with a politician.” While watching developments with keen attention and even hope, we would be wise to be a little cautious with respect to this and similar laws. It is highly unlikely that it is due simply to noble principles that certain politicians have suddenly remembered that there is a small Arab Christian community in Israel and have started to fight for this community’s rights. This leads me to the following observations:
First, the primary Israeli politician pushing these changes does not himself represent the Arab Christians. That is, he was not elected as their representative. Moreover, there was no approach to him from any head of one of the Christian Churches requesting special rights as Israeli citizens that were different than the rights of others in the country.
Second, this law will very possibly cause a division in the Israeli Arab community between Christians and Muslims. This leads to the obvious question whether this is not a “divide and rule” strategy aimed at the Arab population in Israel. Lately certain Christian Arab activists have stridently been claiming that we Christians are not Arabs, and it looks like the government is jumping on this wave and trying to feed such thoughts. (These Christian Arab activists are and should be free to promote their agenda, but, in my judgment, they are not representative of most of the Christian Arab community.)
I would add, the point is not, obviously, that Christians and Muslims are inherently in great unity. They are by no means “at one” either culturally or theologically. However, there is cultural overlap in that both communities are “Arab.” Further, any law aimed at further dividing any communities, especially minority communities should cause us to hesitate.
Third, to be integrated into Israeli society is a very good and positive thing, not only for the Christians, but also for the Muslims too. On the social plane, the best hope for a semblance of peace and normalcy between Israel’s religious and ethnic communities is for every community to feel it has a real stake in a shared society. However, the government should seek to facilitate this by giving equal rights to her Arab citizens without distinguishing between Christians and Muslims. Far better to have a unified and equal basis of citizenship in a modern democracy, rather than establishing classes, hierarchies, and favored statuses. (Would not the Golden Rule even suggest as much to us as Christians?)
Fourth, as an Arab Christian minority in the Middle East in general, and in Israel in particular, we are facing a crisis regarding our identity, but this crisis will not be solved by repudiating our Arab identity. We as Christian Israeli Arabs must learn to negotiate all three aspects of our identity, with absolute loyalty due ultimately to Jesus. So, let us emphasize and apply our Christian ethics and the teaching of the Gospel to our culture, and so be the salt of the earth and a bright light in Israel, both to Muslims and Jews.
Finally, Christians are reminded to pray for those in power in whatever country they live, and so we will be praying for the government of Israel that she might act in a righteous, equal, and just manner towards all its citizens whether they are Christians, Muslims or Jews.