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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Is Eitam a lone voice in the darkness or a reflection of popular will?

Effie Eitam is an anomaly among Israeli politicians. Let's start with his background. Eitam grew up non-religious on a Kibbutz in the Galilee and became religious in the army. Israelis who grow up on non-religious Kibbutzim and then become religious are a rarity. The army is an experience that many religious Israelis find challenging to their religiousity. Eitam is an exception. He then rose to become the highest ranking religious officer ever as of when he left the army. When he left the army, he made it clear that he was leaving because he felt that the powers that be would never agree to appoint a chief of staff who wore a kippa.

When high-ranking generals leave the Israeli army, they usually enter politics. Eitam probably could have joined any right wing political party and received a high position on the Knesset list and a ministry or committee chairmanship. See, for example, Shaul Mofaz, Ehud Barak or the current romancing of Moshe Yaalon by the Likud. Instead, Eitam joined the National Religious Party, a party that has not exceeded ten seats in recent Knessets. He then proceeded to remake the party in his own very blunt image, stifling MK's who felt that the party was too closely associated with the revenants, and that its position was too hard right for the average Israeli voter. Eitam brought about the party's merger with the National Union party, itself a conglommeration of 'far right' parties. Today, 'National Union - National Religious Party' has nine seats in the Knesset.

Eitam never hesitates to speak his mind.

On Sunday, Eitam called for the expulsion of Arabs from the West Bank and the removal of Israeli Arabs from the 'political scene.' At a memorial service for Amihai Merhavia, a soldier who was killed in the battle of Bint Jbeil, Eitam said:
We have to expel most Arabs from Judea and Samaria. We can't deal with all these Arabs, and we can't give up the territory, because we've already seen what they do there. Some of them might have to stay under certain conditions, but most of them will have to go.
Eitam then launched an attack on Israel's Fifth Column: the 'Israeli Arabs'.
We've got to remove Israeli Arabs from the political scene. We've allowed a fifth column to grow here - a group of traitors. We can't have a hostile group like this in our political system.
Eitam was speaking against the background of three Knesset members from the Arab Balad party visiting Syria. Nevertheless, his words infuriated Arab MK's and others from the left. It was the first time that Eitam had publicly supported what assassinated MK Rechavam Ze'evi HY"D used to call 'transfer,' but no one should have been surprised by it.

In this morning's Jerusalem Post, Evelyn Gordon deals with the real issue: how much support do Effie Eitam's views have in Israeli (especially Jewish) society? The answer is "more than you probably think."
Once, such statements belonged to the political fringe. But Eitam heads a nine-member Knesset faction, National Union. And another party, Israel Beiteinu, won 11 seats in March on a platform calling for transferring many Israeli Arab towns - and their inhabitants - to the Palestinian Authority. In short, about a sixth of the Knesset now backs such ideas.

Nor are these politicians disconnected from popular sentiment: In a poll last December, 40 percent of Israeli Jews said that the state should "encourage Arab citizens to emigrate." That is still a minority (52 percent disagreed), but it is clearly approaching the tipping point - especially since 63 percent termed Israeli Arabs "a security and demographic threat to the state," with only 13 percent disagreeing.
What is surprising is "that Israeli Arab leaders apparently still see no connection between this growing anti-Arab sentiment and their own behavior. And in fact, their behavior is the main impetus for this trend."

Gordon then goes on to cite the type of 'Israeli Arab' behavior that causes Israel's Jewish citizens to regard the country's Arab population with suspicion. That behavior is not limited to the leadership.
Finally, there are the ordinary citizens. Since most Israeli Arabs vote consistently for the three Arab parties, it is hard to argue that they do not share these parties' views - especially given the Israeli Arab consensus that their MKs are useless on issues such as jobs and housing. In short, voters are not disregarding political rhetoric for the sake of bread-and-butter issues; they are disregarding bread-and-butter issues for the sake of the rhetoric.

Nor is other evidence lacking - like the many Israeli Arabs who called Hizbullah's Al-Manar television station during the Lebanon war to urge continued missile launches at Israel. Or the harassment and ostracism of those rare families whose sons volunteer for the IDF.

A year after his son was killed in uniform in 2004, for instance, Talal Abu Lil reported suffering "threats, harassment, shooting and even attempts to open his grave…. People simply turned their back on us." Yusuf Jahjah, whose son was killed in the same incident, agreed: "I feel ostracized, people in the village keep their distance from me… I'm always afraid someone will try to damage his grave." Samir Shehada, whose son also died in that incident, said: "I'm thinking of moving to a Jewish community in the area. I can no longer live in this atmosphere. I live near the mosque, and after prayer services, people don't talk to me or shake my hand."

The three also reported efforts to deny their sons burial in Muslim cemeteries. And all three live in different towns - indicating how widespread these attitudes are.
Israelis aren't so stupid after all, and they do have limits as to how much abuse they are willing to take. The 'Israeli Arab' population is reaching those limits.

Read the whole thing.


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