Joseph explained, “It is a phrase that strengthens me. Every time I experience hardship, I read it. Because I was born here. The people I love live here: My parents, my friends. This is a Jewish state? Yes, it is. But it’s also my country. I can’t imagine living in any other place. I think every person should serve in the army. You live here? You make your home here? Then go defend your country. What does it matter that I’m an Arab?” Joseph’s story represents an incipient trend of integration among Israel’s Arab community.
Among other things, this is manifest in the consistently rising number of Israeli Arab students who elect to study in Hebrew-language schools and in the rising number of Israeli Arabs who elect to serve in national service, the civilian equivalent of military service.
A poll of Arab youth carried out in late 2007 made clear how widespread this integrationist impulse has become. Seventy-five percent of Arab youth aged 16 to 22 supported voluntary national service.
And yet, despite these sentiments and developments, Arab Israelis who seek to integrate into Israeli society and reject the separatist messages of their political leaders are forced to contend with extraordinary social pressures and even coercion to prevent them from acting in accordance with their wishes.
A study completed this week by Im Tirtzu exposes the vast array of NGOs generously funded by the supposedly pro-Israel New Israel Fund as well as by foreign governments which are running a campaign to oppose Cpl. Joseph and her comrades – Arabs and Jews alike. Since 1999, these groups have been conducting a campaign to undermine Arab integration into Israeli society specifically and to demoralize and reduce the social standing of those who serve in the IDF, national service and IDF reserves generally. The campaign is being carried out on a dual track of discouraging Israeli Arabs from serving in the IDF or national service, and of opposing government benefits to IDF veterans, reservists and those who undertook national service by claiming that these benefits unjustly discriminate against Israeli Arabs.
Im Tirtzu’s report argues that the dual nature of the campaign, underwritten by the same funders, shows that the goal “is to prolong irredentism or non-integration of the Arab sector in order to encourage it to act as a sector demanding national recognition and advance the aim of transforming the State of Israel from a Jewish, democratic state into a bi-national state.”
As the report notes, it is common practice in many countries to give government benefits and preferential treatment to military veterans and reservists. The US government provides massive assistance to veterans in employment, education, housing and other areas. The purpose of these benefits is to raise general motivation to serve and to reward those who have because the American people believe that their personal service advances the interests of American society as a whole.
To substantiate its claims against these NIF- and foreign government-financed Israeli NGOs, Im Tirtzu’s organized its report as a timeline of efforts undertaken by various NGOs to advance the goals of Arab separatism and reducing the morale and social status of IDF and national service veterans and reservists across the board.
Although the Hebrew-language report is worth reading in its entirety, a few examples will suffice to show the scope of these efforts.
In 1999, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel published a report which claimed it was discriminatory for workplaces to make military service a qualification for employment. The report went so far as to insinuate that Israel could be likened to South Africa’s apartheid regime due to workplace preference for veterans.
That report was followed by a series of petitions to the High Court beginning in 2002 submitted by ACRI, Adalah and other groups to overturn laws and government decisions that give preferential treatment to IDF veterans and those who served in national service. The petitions have not led to outright court victories. But in a number of cases, the lawsuits were dropped after the government canceled the benefits under challenge.
These groups have opposed every sort of benefit, including tuition discounts for students, differential reductions on government child allotments for those who served in the military and national service and those who did not, preferential treatment in state land tenders and grants and other housing benefits.
Some of these court cases directly targeted benefits to Arab IDF veterans. For instance in 2005, Adalah petitioned the court against the Israel Lands Authority for making military service a requirement for receiving ILA land grants in Beduin villages. And in 2009, Adalah petitioned the court to revoke preferential treatment to Cirassian veterans in an ILA tender for homesteads in Kfar Kama, a Cirassian village in the Galilee.
ACRI receives nearly a million dollars every year from the NIF, and receives funding as well from the EU, the UK, Sweden, Norway, Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, the Ford Foundation and Christian Aid.
Adalah similarly receives massive funding from the NIF, the EU, Switzerland and Scandinavian governments through their joint foreign aid organs. It also receives funding from George Soros’s Open Society Institute.
Some of the organizations involved are both funders and participants. For instance, the Abraham Fund has participated in High Court petitions against benefits to those who have served.
And it is also a donor to Mossawa, an Israeli Arab group involved in the campaign. Mossawa was co-founded by NIF’s Shatil organization.
According Im Tirtzu’s report, active NGO campaigning against Israeli Arab national service and military service began in 2007. That year Baladna, which receives funding from the NIF, spearheaded what has become a continuous campaign to discourage Israeli Arabs from participating in national service. Baladna claims that national service is just military service in disguise.
In its words, “National service is a direct arm of the Israeli Occupation Army and of security frameworks that act and always have acted against the Arab population and the Palestinian nation generally. And so, all attempts to present the notion of civilian service as service for society are founded in a deliberate distortion directed at society generally and against the Arab sector in particular.”
Following this line of reasoning, in 2010 Omar Nasser, the head of the Araba Local Council, kicked two Arab women serving in national service out of the local school. Defending his actions Nasser said, “I object in principle to the national service project because I view it as a means of paving the way for male and female volunteers to serve in the military in the future, and I strenuously object to that.”
As the Im Tirtzu report indicates, the NGO-led campaign against Israeli Arab military and national service has contributed to a situation in which Israeli Arabs who support such service are subjected to physical abuse, social ostracism, humiliation and harassment.
In October 2012, the Forum for Military Service in the Christian Sector held a conference in Upper Nazareth whose purpose was to encourage Christians to serve in the IDF and national service. Three hundred people participated in the conference. One of the heads of Mosawa wrote a widely distributed article accusing the Christian leadership of collaborating with the IDF. She suggested blacklisting the communal leaders involved.
When word of the conference got out, one priest who participated was banned from the Church of the Annunciation. Another priest had his tires slashed and a blood-stained rag placed at his doorstep.
The children who participated in the conference were singled out for abuse. Their photos were disseminated on Facebook and in the Arab media. They were humiliated by their teachers and classmates.
Soldiers like Eleanor Joseph feel compelled to take off their uniforms before they return home, because when they have worn them home, they have faced harassment. One female IDF soldier reportedly was severely beaten by her neighbors.
The general campaign against benefits for IDF veterans and those who served in national service also involves a similar campaign to demoralize high school students and encourage them not to serve. For instance, in 2008, Social TV, which is supported by the NIF and the US government, broadcast a propaganda film targeting Jewish Israeli youth. Its aim was to discourage them from serving in the IDF.
In 2009, 22 self-proclaimed feminist organizations, many of which are financed by the NIF, launched a campaign to support seven members of New Profile who are under police investigation for launching websites instructing young people how to dodge the draft – a felony offense.
But the main thrust of the anti-military campaign has been to prevent and undermine Knesset and government action to provide benefits for those who serve – Jewish and non-Jewish alike. According to Im Tirtzu, the campaign has intimidated Justice Ministry officials into obstructing bills still before committee hearings.
For instance, in May 2012, at a Knesset Economics Committee hearing on a bill to provide housing benefits for IDF reservists, MK Miri Regev said the bill was being held up because the attorney-general feared legal challenges in the High Court.
This week, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a bill that would allow IDF soldiers to sue for libel those who wrongly accuse them of having committed war crimes during their military service. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni opposed the bill. Her opposition indicates that the bill may face a similar fate as the Knesset’s attempt to provide benefits to reservists.
Military and national service are vital national institutions. Integration of the Israeli Arab community is a vital national interest. It is obscene that a handful of well-funded radicals are able to undermine them both – while paralyzing our representative institutions.
Im Tirtzu’s report concludes with a list of recommendations the Knesset and government ministries should take to help those who serve the country, and to protect Israeli Arabs who serve and those who support them. While they are all correct, and should be followed, they do not go far enough. The time has come for the government and the Knesset to rein in the twin forces – the NGO sector and the legal fraternity – which in the name of “democracy” undermine our democracy.
Every election we send our representatives to the Knesset. And every election the vast majority of our elected representatives share our desire to support those who serve in the IDF and national service without reference to their religion, race or gender. We want to support them because they contribute to the general good of all of Israel.
But due to a handful of NGOs that receive their funding from outside Israel from governments and groups that do not share our values and interests, and due to the cooperation they receive from activist judges and radical Justice Ministry attorneys, the will of the people is stymied again and again and again.