The horror show as displayed by Arab Knesset members, during a recent Interior Committee session regarding the right of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount, was business as usual.
The general public may see these MKs as uncultured and unmannered hooligans. There are actually a few Arab MKs who fit that description, but since I have been in the Knesset I have learned that most of them are cultured people. Some are even friendly and well mannered. But when the cameras roll – particularly the Arab media cameras – they all try to outdo the obnoxiousness of Ahmad Tibi (Ta’al). They shout, curse, and make a jungle-like ruckus.
Why do they act this way? Why do the Arab MKs go wild when they think their constituents can see them? Is this a testimony to the low level of their voter base, or to something deeper? In private conversations with me, quite a few Arab citizens have admitted their discomfort with this behavior. The intelligent Arab public understands very well that Ahmad Tibi does not bring them great honor. Tibi is a hooligan, riddled with inferiority complexes, but he is not stupid. So why does he act this way?
The answer is that it is Israeli society that has created the Arab MKs’ uncivilized behavior.
The state of Israel attempted to build a new Israeli identity, detached from its previous identities. We wanted to be a nation like all other nations. To accomplish that, we invented Israeli-ness, not as another tier on the shoulders of Judaism but as a new identity. If only Jews could be Israeli, the reasoning goes, then we have not yet built a new identity; all we have managed to do is exchange our Jewish identity for a new political garb. If we really want a completely new Israeli identity that is independent of Judaism, then we need the Arabs. They are the largest non-Jewish ethnic minority that we have in Israel. If they cannot be Israelis, our attempt to build a new Israeli identity will have failed. To put it succinctly, the Israeli needs the Arab to help him forget that he is a Jew.
Now we can better understand the Arab MKs. They represent a large constituency whose national identity has always been and always will be attached to the larger Arab nation. The modern nation-state invention does not interest them. In any case, those nation-states are disintegrating in all 22 puppet states that Western imperialism established in the Middle East following World War I. They are Arabs, and now the Jews come and tell them that they are Israelis. They justifiably reject, with scorn, the attempt to force a new identity on them. But they have no choice, as they live here. So they live a dichotomy in which their existence contradicts their identity.
The Arab MKs are in the worst predicament of all. They are not just ordinary citizens who carry their Israeli ID cards so that they can collect Social Security; they are part of the beating heart of Israeli-ness. What can be more Israeli than being a Knesset member? So the Arab MKs have to constantly demonstrate contempt, scorn, rudeness and worse – simply because they must always prove to their constituents that they have not lost their Arab identity.
And the Israelis?
They are also captive to the same dichotomy. Just as the Arab MK must always scorn the Israeli just to preserve his Arab identity, it is for precisely the same reason that the Jew must pander to the Arab misconduct in order to maintain his new Israeli identity.
It is a strange costume ball.
The Jews come to the ball with the Israeli mask and force the Arabs to come with a similar Israeli mask. This mask is very uncomfortable for the Arabs and they try to squirm out of it with increasing rudeness. But if they take off their masks, everyone will understand that the only other people left with the masks are Jews – not Israelis. Just Jews!
So the Jews are willing to tolerate any kind of behavior, as long as the Arabs continue to wear their masks. Israel’s Supreme Court will never remove them from the Knesset. Tibi will pour water and turn his back on the speakers, an MK spying for the enemy in real time will be allowed to leave Israel without trial, Hanin Zoabi (National Democratic Assembly) will go for a ride on the Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, and more.
“You have to thank me for being willing to be here,” said Zoabi in the Knesset plenum. And she was right.
This column was translated from the Hebrew version, which appeared in Makor Rishon.