• OPINION \ Feb 21, 2002
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    Legitimizing anti-Arab racism
Legitimizing anti-Arab racism As the Or Commission rakes over the embers of the October 2000 Arab riots, the next confrontation, which sooner or later will convulse the Israeli Arab community, is being prepared.

Its components are the provocative measures - as they are being viewed - of cabinet ministers, the escalating violence in the territories, and intensifying anti-Arab hostility in Israeli Jewish society.

The outbreak will come - that is a fact beyond question for leaders of the Israeli Arab community, and of experts studying that community. There is just one reason for the restrained quiet in the various Arab communities since October 2000's bloody events - fear.

Arab leaders are afraid to assume responsibility for the consequences of violent demonstrations. Parents are concerned for their children's welfare, and many young Israeli Arabs are concerned for their own future. However, at some point in time, the anger will grow, the rumblings will start, and the grievances steadily being packed into the Arab barrel will overflow. The catalyst to start the next outbreak might be just around the corner - and it might be the recommendation of the ministerial committee on the Shihab Al-Din Mosque in Nazareth.

All the signs point to a decision that will overturn the recommendations of previous committees - under Benjamin Netanyahu's and Ehud Barak's stewardship. It is likely to forbid building a mosque on the disputed site. Any decision on this matter is complex. There are legitimate pros and cons - and there is heavy pressure from the Vatican and the United States.

Nonetheless, it is doubtful if the ministers sitting on this committee - Natan Sharansky, Avigdor Lieberman, Uzi Landau, Matan Vilnai and Meir Sheetrit - are taking into account all the moral and political ramifications of the message that will be broadcast to the Israeli Arab public. The message will say that once again the government is breaking an agreement with its Arab citizens.

The chairman of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, Shawki Hatib speaks of a whole "culture of not honoring agreements" with the Arabs that all Israel's governments have developed over the years. The handling of the mosque issue is a prime example of this destructive malady, and of another known malady in the state's attitude to its Arab community - red tape.

The red tape the government used in tying up its decisions to permit the building of the mosque created much Muslim bitterness and ultimately pushed the Waqf (Moslem religious trust) in Nazareth to start building without a permit. The building proceeded for several months and was duly noted by the authorities. They did not, however, bother to enforce the law, thus highlighting yet another malady in the government's treatment of the Arab community. This is an unbalanced, inconsiderate, and callous manner of enforcing the law, one that does not reflect any consistent, coherent government policy.

A study of the testimonies given by senior police officers, politicians, experts and leading figures in the Arab community to the Or Commission creates a grim picture of this combination of inconsistent law enforcement and lack of a coherent policy.

When the law is enforced, it has invariably been done in an arbitrary, cold-hearted manner or through administrative dictates. The past ten days have provided two new examples. The poisoning of the Bedouin fields in the Negev, was a truly wicked act that can be credited to National Infrastructures Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose ministry does not bother to supply even the most basic amenities for tens of thousands of Bedouin citizens. The second was the administrative order (issued under defense regulations for states of emergency) forbidding Sheikh Raad Salah, leader of the "northern wing" of the Islamic movement, from leaving the country.

Cabinet ministers are conducting racist anti-Arab campaigns, like that of Tourism Minister Rabbi Binyamin Elon advocating a population transfer. Under his gracious patronage, the eyes of Israel's Arab citizens will be insulted "hundreds of huge posters" to be hung throughout the country carrying the slogan "only a population transfer can bring peace" - as the Moledet party web site promises. The web site also makes clear the campaign is to promote "a population transfer for the Arabs of the Holy Land" - no distinction is made between Arab Israelis and Arab Palestinians in the territories.

Other cabinet ministers have made frequent abusive comments about Arab citizens. The Knesset has been offered bills to encourage their emigration, and to circumvent High Court of Justice rulings granting them equal rights. Such comments and initiatives legitimize the ugly wave of anti-Arab racism and hatred that is swelling in Jewish society.

Since October 2000, the government has done nothing to address the serious agitation that has been evident in the Arab community for years. Quite the contrary, the political hierarchy only aggravates a feeling among Israeli Arabs that they are being marginalized. This of course only intensifies the explosive mood that already exists in the Israeli Arab community.