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Middle East Expert Calls Egyptian Revolution “Sign of Spring”

18 Jun 2010 Sociopolitical Situation

Despite initial promises in Israel’s Declaration of Independence of “complete equality of social and political rights,” inequalities persist between Israel’s Jewish and Arab communities. Arab citizens of Israel currently comprise just over 20 percent of the total Israeli population, numbering around 1.4 million. Arab Israelis are legal citizens of Israel who pay taxes, speak Hebrew (in addition to their native Arabic) and may voluntarily serve in the Israeli army. Arab Israelis rarely do, since serving could mean postings in the West Bank. Nevertheless, not enlisting in the army creates a prime, fundamental opportunity for the Israeli government to differentiate between its Jewish and Arab citizens. Military service is a prerequisite for such benefits as public housing, new-household subsidies and job opportunities, especially government or security-related industrial employment.

Systematic inequalities continue to divide Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. Legislation and policies passed by the Israeli government and other unofficial forms of discrimination deprive Arab Israeli citizens’ access to resources, rights and representation. In 2009, for example, the Israeli government passed six new laws that require Arab Israelis to accept aspects of Jewish values, recognize the legitimacy of Zionism and assert their patronage to the Jewish State. The Israeli government also continues to uphold the temporary order of the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law of 31 July 2003, which prohibits Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip from marrying Israeli citizens to acquire Israeli residency permits.

To preserve its identity as a Jewish, democratic state, Israeli government officials have openly declared that non-Jewish population growth (Arab birth rates and non-Jewish immigration) remain a threat to the Jewish demographic majority as well as Israeli security. Each Israeli cabinet that is elected has various standpoints regarding the Arab Israeli population, but not one Israeli government has yet to officially recognize the population as a legitimate national minority.

Intercommunity relations are weak and Jewish citizens largely fear and mistrust Arab citizens, especially those that have familial ties to the West Bank or Gaza Strip. Jews and Arabs generally live in segregated neighborhoods and towns, send their children to separate schools, and have little personal contact with one another. Studies show that Israeli Jews express negative attitudes toward Israeli Arabs; more than 75 percent of Israeli Jews would not agree to live in a building with Arab residents. Around 50 percent feel fear when hearing someone speak Arabic, though Arabic is one of the official languages of the State of Israel, and more than 50 percent agree that the Israeli government should encourage emigration among its Arab citizens to other countries.

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