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First Time: Arab Minister in Israeli Government

Israeli-Arab Raleb Majadele will take the place of Ophir Pines - who resigned two months ago because he didn't want to sit in the same government as Avigdor Lieberman, who he felt was too anti-Arab.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 1/11/2007, 12:59 PM / Last Update: 1/11/2007, 11:37 AM

The appointment of Labor MK Majadele as Minister of Science was decided upon Wednesday evening by Defense Minister Amir Peretz (pictured). As head of the Labor Party, Peretz has the right to choose his party's ministers - though of course Prime Minister Ehud Olmert makes the official appointment. This will probably happen on Sunday.

The decision to appoint an Arab to the Cabinet was received cynically within the political establishment. Ex-Minister Pines, who finds himself upstaged - an Arab is willing to sit with a minister who Pines said was too anti-Arab - said that Peretz is merely trying to win over the Arab sector in the coming Labor Party primaries. "This is a Peretz-Majadele machination that is a new record in cynicism and insult to the voters' intelligence," Pines said.

Pines said, when he resigned, that he felt he had no choice but to quit when "Lieberman and his party, the leaders of which are stained with racist and anti-democratic remarks," joined the government. Coincidentally or not, Pines announced his decision at the same time to run for Labor Party leader. He enjoyed initial support, but is now trailing two other candidates, Ehud Barak and Ami Ayalon, in the polls; Peretz is currently in fourth place.

The Arab parties were not impressed either. "The whole purpose is merely to increase Peretz's diminishing chances in the upcoming primaries," said Arab MK Muhammad Barakeh.

MK Esterina Tartman of Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu said her party would "fight from within against this blight," and that Peretz had "wielded a giant axe on Zionism and the Jewish State." She expressed surprise that Majadele did not realize that he had been awarded the job not because of his qualifications, but only because he was an Arab. MK Yossi Beilin (Meretz) and others protested her "racist remarks."

Majadleh himself said, "Everyone talks about equality, but only Peretz has done something about it." Regarding his membership in the same government as Lieberman, Majadele said, "It's not a simple situation, but we'll deal with it." He also predicted that the Arab parties would criticize the move, "because of Lieberman and because Amir [Peretz] is Defense Minister, but that's OK, that's their job."

Though Majadele is the first Arab to serve in the Israeli government, he is not the first non-Jew to do so. Salah Tarif, of the Druze community, served as a Minister Without Portfolio for ten months in 2001. Tarif resigned because of a criminal investigation against him that led to his conviction on charges of bribing an Interior Ministry official to obtain citizenship for a friend of his from the Palestinian Authority.

What are the implications of the appointment of an Arab minister for the many Jews who see the State of Israel as the "beginning of the sprouting of our Redemption"? Rabbi Zalman Melamed, Rabbi of Beit El and a leading yeshiva head of the religious-Zionist public, said, "I don't see this as something revolutionary... It is not the government that is holy, but rather the state itself. In any event, we have not been blessing the government for quite a while [since the plans for the Disengagement began to be implemented]."

Rabbi Chanan Porat of Kfar Etzion, a founder of the Gush Emunim settlement organization in Judea and Samaria and a former MK, said, "I think the real issue is not whether he is a Jew or an Arab, but what his positions are; we already have plenty of Cabinet ministers with positions that are too pro-Arab. Take Peretz, for instance; his latest diplomatic plan shows that he is more concerned about a Palestinian state and about Gaza than he is about Sderot... From a Halakhic [Jewish legal] perspective, the late Rabbi Sha'ul Yisraeli [a member of Israel's Chief Rabbinate Council, a Rabbinical Court Judge, and dean of Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav Kook], has already written that appointments that are transient in nature do not violate the prohibition of 'from amongst your brethren.'"