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Monday, January 15, 2007

Appointment of Arab minister not the way to battle discrimination

No reason to celebrate

Appointment of Arab minister not the way to battle discrimination
Abir Kopty Published:  01.14.07, 17:33
The appointment of Knesset Member Raleb Majadele as the first Arab minister with a portfolio is a highly symbolic move that can teach us about the political system's sophistication, or alternately, its failure.
There are those for whom it is convenient to think this is a step in the right direction and was undertaken in order to secure the equality of Arab Israelis. Those same people will see me as a party-pooper. Well, I'm not ruining the party, because there's no celebration here.
Why? First, ironically, the Arab minister was appointed as a result of Minister Ophir Pines' resignation to protest the openly anti-Arab Avigdor Lieberman's addition to the government. In other words, the addition of an Arab minister to the government was made possible only because of the resignation of a minister who sought to protest anti-Arab hatred.
Secondly, if the representation of Arabs in the government is so important to them, why is it that Labor party members never bothered to propose MK Majadele or MK Nadia Hilou to the post a year ago, when the Labor party under Amir Peretz's leadership joined the coalition and became a senior government partner?
That's because the Arabs are still not a first or second priority, and it is possible to bring in an Arab minister only to an inflated majority government where there's no fear that a minister who "isn't one of us" could undermine the balance around the table.
Therefore, the Labor party does not deserve praise in this matter. First of all, because there's no reason to praise the correction of discrimination, it's required. Secondly, and history speaks for itself, Sharon also appointed an Arab minister in his government: MK Salah Tarif was appointed as a minister without a portfolio.
It is possible that Lieberman would have also appointed an Arab minister had he formed a government (or should he form a government one of these days,) as long as this minister followed his political views. So if Peretz and his close associates think they undertook a gesture to the Arab public, they're wrong.
Thirdly, and most importantly perhaps, has the stain of sitting in the same government with the anti-Arab Lieberman been erased with the appointment of an Arab minister to the same government?
Israeli democracy must mature
This move on Peretz's part serves to make reality in the country seem better than it is. What will they be thinking overseas now, that Israel is the queen of democracy really and allows minority representation while kindly granting rights? We all know that's not true.
This move is symbolic, and almost insignificant we can say, compared to the figures screaming out institutional anti-Arab discrimination (earmarking of budgets, distribution of resources, etc.) as well as the non-institutional kind (displays of racism and hatred.)
The appointment of an Arab Knesset member elected on behalf of a Zionist government party to the post of minister isn't Israeli democracy's challenge. A democracy is tested by its ability to contain within it all the various voices that comprise it, and MK Majadele is another Labor party voice.
Therefore, Israeli democracy must mature and include Arab parties in forming policies and the decision-making process. These parties were never considered potential partners and were not invited to coalition negotiations. Once this happens, the groundwork would be prepared for the appointment of an Arab minister in a genuine pluralistic space and for an overwhelming change of direction in the country's management.

There's no doubt that MK Majadele won't be able to change the basic policies of the occupation, war, and economic suppression government. At the same time, I hope he will make a contribution to the Arab community's struggle and aspire, within his party and along with it, to change the State's attitude to all its citizens.
Here are several desired directions for the new minister: Ensure consistent cooperation of the Knesset and government with Arab community representatives – the parties, the Supreme Arab-Israeli Monitoring Committee, and social groups; be a rebel within your party when matters on the agenda have a negative effect not only on the Arab community but on immigrants, the poor, women, workers, and all citizens in the country; ensure Lieberman is removed from the government.

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