Undoubtedly, Israeli settlers and ultra-nationalists who dare to read Haaretz will think its editors have finally “gone native.” That they’ve shown their true Arab-loving stripes by turning the editorial page into a sea of Arabic characters. In truth, Haaretz has engaged in a radical and historic act. It has published its first editorial in Arabic.
There are of course many ways to view this publishing act. As an act of courage in the face of rising Islamophobia and authoritarianism in Israeli society. As a protest against the impending election victory of Bibi Netanyahu and the thundering herd of the ultra-nationalist right. As an embrace of the egalitarian ethic of the Declaration of Independence.
Then again, many will ask: what took you so long? You are a national paper of seven million people, one million of whom speak Arabic and this is the first time you publish an article in Arabic?
Further, a review of the editorial (and in English) shows that while it is empathetic to the “Arab” cause within Israeli politics, it does not ultimately advance the radical (in liberal Zionist terms) “state for all its citizens” concept, which is the only serious solution that will ensure the survival of Israel as a democratic state. In other words, the editorial is good, but not good enough.
For example, it expresses regret that Israeli Palestinians (whom it continues to call “Arabs”) have increasingly abstained from voting in Israeli elections. It even calls such refusal understandable in the context of the failure of the State to address the needs of the Palestinian minority. But it doesn’t speak harshly enough of the oppression and disenfranchisement meted out to this minority by the Jewish majority. Though it notes nostalgically that Yitzhak Rabin was the last Israeli PM to campaign for votes from Palestinians and use them to create a ruling coalition, it doesn’t explicitly note that no Israeli governing coalition in the past twenty years was willing to include a Palestinian party in its ranks. The effect of which is to further marginalize and disempower Palestinian citizens.
In other words, there is little or nothing to vote for. And this is true not just for Israeli Palestinians. I have long argued that Israeli electoral politics and political institutions like the Knesset are vaporous and meaningless. Power is wielded in backrooms and board rooms by a few cabinet ministers and tycoons. The rest need not bother. Military power is similarly exercised on the basis of consultation with a few ministers, generals and intelligence chiefs.
Certainly, a few institutions like the Supreme Court nibble around the edges and insulate society from some of the worst depredations. But these restraining forces are weak and largely ineffectual.
There’s also a delicious irony in this story, for me. A year ago Haaretz published an expose of Israeli museums and public entities that were required to use Arabic in their displays but neglected to do so. It named names of those who through laziness, negligence or outright disrespect thumbed their nose at the law and the Palestinian minority. I wrote to the reporter and suggested it was ironic that Haaretz itself never published anything in Arabic considering that it too was in effect a national institution (though not a publicly-owned or funded one).
My message found its way to Haaretz publisher, Amos Schocken who wrote a reply saying, in essence, I had a lot of nerve criticizing a publication that was hanging on in a very tough economic and competitive environment; a publication that had done more to make Israel aware of these problems than any other. How could I suggest that it publish an Arabic edition when it faced an increasingly difficult climate for the product it did publish? If it was so important to me I should find a financial backer interested in doing it. (This was meant sarcastically, not seriously).
I’m just grateful that somewhere along the line and somehow, Haaretz decided to broaden its reach and principles and to embrace the Palestinian minority and its language. It’s an important statement. Unfortunately, one lost on the majority of Israelis who are at best indifferent to the ethnic minority, at worst actively despise it. But an important one nonetheless.
I would urge the editors not to make this a one-shot deal. Show Arabic-speakers that Israeli Jewish media has a stake in the Palestinian community, that it can even speak its language. Show that Israel is a place that embraces ALL its citizens and ethnic groups whether they be Russian, Mizrahi, Ashkenazi or Palestinian.
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