An Open Letter to Non-Jewish Knesset Members

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Dear Knesset Members,

In his exercise of lying down with the dogs and abandoning the Israeli Left and the Peace Movement to keep a government job, outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak, in hammering out a national-unity government agreement with incoming PM Ariel Sharon, has negotiated that an Arab will, for the first time in Israeli history, be given a cabinet position.

I urge you, if you are the recipient of this offer, not to accept.

Sharon’s record regarding Arabs needs no expanding on here. Barak won an overwhelming majority of the Arab and non-Jewish vote in 1999 based on a boatload of promises, all of which he left unfulfilled. What is being offered now to the Arab community is a token, and you would be best to say, “No, thanks.”

Will a cabinet position for an Arab help to pass civil legislation guaranteeing equal rights to all citizens of Israel regardless of religion or “race”? No. Will an Arab in the cabinet bring about a badly needed constitution more swiftly? No. Will a token Arab in the government help to do away with national identity cards and other disgraceful practices? No. Why not? Because the religious Zionist parties will have a large say in this national-unity government, as well as several extremist elements (National Union, Yisrael Beitenu, and possibly Herut). With the palpable Arab-hatred of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef dictating the policy of Shas, the largest religious party in Israel and the party that will likely hold the Interior portfolio, can one honestly believe that one lone Arab voice in the government is going to make a bit of difference?

In my country, the U.S., we have a bit of conventional wisdom: The first African-American or woman president will not come from the traditionally liberal Democratic party, but rather from the conservative Republican party. Why? Because Democrats will cross party lines to vote for a candidate that could provide “social healing,” but Republicans almost never vote against their ticket. In a way, though, this conventional wisdom is almost comforting, because we know that at least when one of those glass ceiling is shattered, it will be done with the full mandate of the American people.

This is not the case with this hollow offer by Barak and Sharon of an Arab minister. Instead, they are throwing the non-Jewish community in Israel a bone. Don’t bite. Barak is lying down with the dogs in forming this government. Don’t let the fleas he’ll wake up with spread to you.

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