The so-called Arab Spring unleashed forces that have been dormant for a century. Like their counterparts throughout the region, Israel’s Arabic-speaking minorities are changing in profound ways. But our leaders fail to grasp the implications of what is happening.
Consider the Christian community.
Father Gabriel Nadaf, a Greek Orthodox priest from Nazareth, has become the symbol of this new period. Nadaf is the spiritual leader of an Israeli Christian movement calling for Israeli Christian youth to serve in the IDF. He is responsible for the 300 percent rise in Christian Arab enlistment in the IDF in the past year.
Nadaf does not hide his goal or his motivation. His seeks the full integration of Israel’s 130,000 Christians into Israeli society. He views military service as the key to that integration.
Nadaf is motivated to act by the massive persecution of Christians throughout the Arab world since the onset of the Arab revolutionary wave in December 2010.
As he explained in a recent interview with Channel 1, it is “in light of what we see happening to Christians in Arab countries, how they are slaughtered and persecuted on a daily basis, killed and raped just because they are Christians. Does this happen in the State of Israel? No, it doesn’t.”
Shahdi Halul, a reserve captain in the Paratroopers who works with Nadaf, declared, “Every Christian in the State of Israel should join the army and defend this country so it will exist forever. Because if, God forbid, the government is overthrown here, as it was in other places, we will be the first to suffer.”
These men, and their supporters, are the natural result of the most significant revolutionary development of the so-called Arab Spring: the demise of Arab nationalism.
As Ofir Haivry, vice president of the Herzl Institute, explained in an important article in the Mosaic online magazine, Arab nationalism was born in pan-Arabism – an invention of European powers during World War I that sought to endow the post-Ottoman Middle East with a new identity.
The core of the new identity was the Arabic language. The religious, tribal, ethnic and nationalist aspirations of the peoples of the Arabic- speaking region were to be smothered and replaced by a new pan-Arab identity.
For the Christians of the former Ottoman Empire, pan-Arabism was a welcome means of getting out from under the jackboot of the Islamic Laws of Omar, which reduce non-Muslims living under Muslim rule to the status of powerless dhimmis, who survive at the pleasure of their Islamic rulers.
But now pan-Arabism lies in ruins from North Africa to the Arabian Peninsula. The people of the region have gone back to identifying themselves by tribe, religion, ethnicity, and in the case of the Kurds and the Berbers, non-Arab national identity. In this new era, Christians find themselves imperiled, with few if any protectors or allies to be found.
As Haivry notes, Israel’s central strategic challenge has always been contending with pan-Arabism, which was invented at the same time that the nations of the world embraced modern Zionism.
Since its inception, pan-Arab leaders always saw Israel as the scapegoat on which to pin their failure to deliver on pan-Arabism’s promise of global Arab power and influence.
Israel changed its position on pan-Arabism drastically over the years. Once, Israel could see the dangers in pan-Arabism and Arab nationalism.
But since 1993, says Haivri, Israel’s national strategy has been based on appeasing the secular authoritarian pan-Arab leaders by offering land for peace to Syria and the PLO.
Haivry notes that Shimon Peres is the political godfather of Israel’s accommodationist strategy, which is rooted in a mix of perceived powerlessness on the one hand, and utopianism on the other.
The sense of powerlessness owes to the conviction that Israel cannot influence its environment. That the Arabs will never change. Israel’s neighbors will always see themselves primarily as Arabs, and they will always want, more than anything else, Arab states.
At the same time, the accommodationists hold the utopian belief that Israeli appeasement of Palestinian Arab nationalism will break through the wall of pan-Arab rejection, end hatred for the Jewish state, and even lead the Arabs to invite Israel to join the Arab League.
The so-called Arab Spring has put paid to every one of the accommodationists’ beliefs. From Egypt to Tunisia to Iraq to Syria, Israel’s neighbors are fighting each other as Sunnis, Shi’ites and Salafists, or as members of clans and tribes, without a thought for the alleged primacy of their Arab identity. What Israel’s Palestinian-state-obsessed Left has failed to realize is that many of Israel’s neighbors do not share the pan-Arab scapegoating of the Jewish state. So bribing the now largely irrelevant Arabs nationalists with another Arab state may do little more than create the newest victim of the Arab revolutions.
It is because they see what is happening to their co-religionists in the post-pan-Arab Middle East that more and more Israeli Christians realize they will lead safer, more prosperous and more fulfilling lives as Christian citizens in the Middle East’s only democracy than as pan-Arabs battling the Zionist menace.
But old habits die hard. Most of Israel’s elected Arab leaders owe their positions to their embrace of pan-Arabism. This embrace has brought them the support of the PLO and Europe, and since 1993, of the Israeli Left.
And so, since he first appeared on the scene, Father Nadaf’s life has been constantly threatened. Everyone from Arab members of Knesset to the Communist head of the Greek Orthodox Council has incited against him, calling him and his followers traitors to the Palestinian Arab nation.
He also threatens the Israeli Left. For its view of Israel’s strategic powerlessness and consequent need to appease its neighbors to remain relevant, the pan-Arab forces in the Arab world must be perceived as still dominant, even invincible. And so, the Israeli Left refuses to consider the larger strategic implications of the regional upheaval from which Nadaf’s initiative emerged.
Even worse, the official policy of the Netanyahu government appears based on this irrelevant Leftist view of the region. This is the implication of Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s defeatist speech at the Foreign Ministry’s annual conference of ambassadors on Sunday.
Liberman’s speech has been rightly viewed as the supposedly right-wing politician’s formal break with his ideological camp and his embrace of the Left. In his remarks Liberman let it be known, that like the Left, he now bases his positions on a complete denial or avoidance of reality. For this, he was congratulated for his “maturity” by Peres who was sitting on the stage with him.
In his speech, Liberman acknowledged that the Obama administration’s peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians is horrible for Israel. But, he said, it is better than the European Union’s peace plan.
Never considering the possibility of saying no to both, Liberman said he thinks we should accept the bad American deal. His only condition is that he insists that the PLO accept towns in the Galilee and their 300,000 Israeli Arab residents.
Liberman’s surrender of the Galilee is a key component to his population swap plan. Under his plan, Israel would retain control over the fraction of Judea and Samaria in which large numbers of Israeli Jews live, in exchange for the area of the Galilee that is home to 300,000 Israeli Arabs. This plan has reportedly been presented to US Secretary of State John Kerry as an official Israeli position.
In other words, the Netanyahu government has failed to recognize the implications of the death of pan-Arabism. In maintaining their slavish devotion to the two-state formula, and viewing the Arabs in the Galilee, Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem and surrounding states as an impenetrable bloc, they are placing Israel’s future in the hands of actors who have already disappeared or will soon disappear. Instead of building alliances with non-Jewish citizens of Israel, such as Druse and Christians, who are more than happy to defend Israel against Islamists and other regional fanatics, the Netanyahu government insists on placing the state’s future in the hands of pan-Arabs whose grip on power is slipping and who would never willingly coexist with Israel anyway.
Nadaf and his followers respond to the allegation – uttered by MKs like Haneen Zoabi and Basel Ghattas, among others – that they are traitors to the Palestinian Arab nation, with contempt.
“When someone tells me, ‘We’re all Arabs,’ I tell him, ‘No, we’re not all Arabs. You’re an Arab. I’m not,’” Halul told Channel 1.
Samer Jozin, whose daughter Jennifer opted for IDF service instead of medical school, agrees.
“Telling me I’m a Palestinian is a curse. I’m, thank God, an Israeli Christian and proud of it. And I thank God I was born in the Land of Israel,” he said.
The message couldn’t be clearer. We are basing our national strategy on a world that no longer exists.
Today our longtime allies the Kurds have carved out virtually independent states for themselves in Iraq and Syria.
Christians throughout the region are on the run. The Druse of Syria and Lebanon are exposed, without protection, and looking for help.
As for the Muslims, as Haivry notes, they are fragmented along sectarian and political lines, and at war with one another in battlefields throughout the region. While so engaged, they have little time to devote to blaming Israel for their failures.
This state of affairs has implications for Israel’s Arab Muslim minority. None of the regional warring Muslim camps are natural homes for Israel’s Muslim community. A community that has lived in an open, free society for 65 years does not naturally turn to Salafism. Israel is a much easier fit for most Israeli Muslims.
At a minimum, no one is better off if Israel forces them to cast their lot with any of the warring factions in Syria or Lebanon, or the increasingly irrelevant forces in the Palestinian Authority. There may very well be hundreds of Muslim versions of Father Nadaf just waiting for a signal from our government that we want them to lead their community into our society.
The post-pan-Arab Middle East exposes the truth that has been obscured for a century. The Jews and their Jewish state are a natural component of our diverse neighborhood, just like the Kurds, the Christians, the Druse, the various Muslim sects, and the Arabs. The demise of pan-Arabism is our great opportunity, at home and regionally, to build the alliances we need to survive and prosper. But so long as our leaders insist on clinging to the now irrelevant dream of appeasing the defunct pan-Arabists, we will lose these opportunities and convince our allies that we are treacherous, disloyal and temporary.