There are two essential facts Jewish Israelis assiduously hide from the world and even from their own consciousness. The first is that during and after the birth of the state, the Israeli army forced hundreds of thousands of the indigenous Arab population to flee (a crime that was repeated after the 1967 War) and then barred their return, in direct violation of international law. The second is that because Israel is a Jewish state, it necessarily discriminates against its non-Jewish inhabitants. This means that Palestinians who constitute 20% of the population are second-class citizens, according to both law and practice.
Occasionally a public figure will admit to the injustice of the expulsions. The admission never contains any expression of remorse. It is usually accompanied by the invocation of Jewish or Zionist destiny, and the implication that this crime must be understood in the context of some greater good. The most famous example of such an admission was Moshe Dayan’s short eulogy for Roi Rotberg in 1956.
The second-class status of the Palestinian citizens of Israel is directly addressed even less frequently than the expulsions. Thus the Jerusalem Post’s report and the accompanying video (above) of a speech Finance Minister Yair Lapid gave at a conference on Arabs and the economy at Tel Aviv University is noteworthy both for its stark honesty and its blunt dismissal of any possible redress of Palestinian inequality. Like Dayan, the Finance Minister forcefully acknowledges Israeli culpability but expresses no regret. Lapid, speaking directly to the Palestinians in the audience, admits that Israeli society does not confront the issue of Palestinian inequality, but rather uses platitudes to avoid facing reality. The Finance Minister acknowledges that there is a problem, but opines that there is no solution. There is a solution, of course, and that is to make Israel a nation of all its citizens, but that would mean giving up Jewish exclusivity. This is something that Lapid will not even consider. The best he will do is to give the aggrieved Palestinians more money and some flowery but vague words about cooperation and communality.
The contradiction between a Jewish state and equality for all Israeli citizens is not one that is understood by most in the American Jewish community. They mistakenly think, that because Palestinians can vote and hold office there is no problem. I hope that American Jews will listen to Lapid when he explains that there is a problem, but reject his view that there is no solution. Our country’s civil rights movement of a half century ago can help show us what that solution would look like.
Text of the above Jerusalem Post report.
Reporter: Israel’s definition as Jewish democratic state is a contradiction and a problem that cannot be solved, Finance Minister Yair Lapid said on Tuesday in a speech that cut deep into the fundamental problems facing Israel’s minorities.
Lapid: The problem that has no solution is that the State of Israel is defined both by law and by a decisive majority of its citizens as a Jewish democratic state. In encounters such as this one, we tend to hide this definition. We prefer to emphasize the Israeli democracy, the right to vote and to be elected, the fact that we have Arab Members of the Knesset, and Arab judges and Arab officers in the army and we pretend to each other that if there is an Arab soccer player on the Israeli team, then we do not have a problem. But there is a problem.
Reporter: Speaking at the Prime Minister’s Conference on Arabs and the Economy at Tel Aviv University, Lapid asked how could everyone be equal before the law when the law defines Judaism as the cultural, national and legislative basis for the state.
Lapid: We can decide, each one for himself, and all of us together that we need to focus on the problems that have solutions. That we can focus of life itself. And even our small problems are big enough.
Reporter: The solutions include establishing strengthening local police forces to reign in crime, integrating women into the labor force and education. He added that national service would allow them to increase services in their communities and reap the same benefits awarded to those who serve in the military.
Lapid: Between now and 2016, we will allocate and spend about 4 billion shekels for different plans that will advance the Arab population in Israel. As the Finance Minister, I am telling you, if there will be a need for more, we will know from where we can transfer more.
Reporter: Lapid concluded by saying that even these solutions we will not be able to solve the unsolvable problem, but what it can do is to open up dialog.
Lapid: Can we, and this is the big question that will accompany our lives in this country? Can we work together on the basis of our similarities as human beings, so that we can accept one another on the basis of our differences as human beings? I believe we can. Thank you very much.