An Israeli First: Muslim Minister Accepted in Government

The government of Israel took a historic step today, appointing its first Muslim Arab Cabinet minister: Raleb Majadle of the Labor Party. His portfolio will be determined later.

Gil Ronen , | updated: 08:25

Israel has had a Druze minister – Saleh Tarif, who was Minister Without Portfolio in 2001-2 – but never an Arab one. While the Druze speak Arabic, they serve in the Israel Defense Forces and have been considered loyal to the state.

Majadle, born 1953, is a native of Baka el-Gharbiya, an Israeli-Arab town of roughly 25,000 inhabitants in north-central Israel, near northern Samaria. His resume reads like a Zionist-socialist one: he was secretary of the Noar HaOved youth movement in his town and secretary of the Regional Workers' Council. He also served as head of the Education and Sports Department of the Histadrut - Israel's mammoth amalgamation of labor unions that was the Labor Party's bastion of political power for decades.

Majadle's appointment is seen by some Israelis on the left of the political spectrum as a long overdue gesture of appeasement towards Israel's Arab minority, against which they feel Israel has unfairly discriminated for decades. Some Israelis on the political right feel that appeasement of Arabs is unwarranted and dangerous.

Israel's Arab population participated actively in the war of extermination against the Jewish communities in 1947-8, a war won by the Jews that led to the establishment of the State of Israel. Many Arabs fled Israel during the fighting, and those that remained, including Majadle and his family, were under military government for two decades.

Most of Israel's Arabs voted for Zionist parties like Labor until 1984. In the recent elections, though, independent Arab parties with openly anti-Zionist leaders have received the large majority of Arab votes. Incited by the Islamic Movement, Israeli Arabs rioted violently in 2000, shutting off traffic on strategic roads and disrupting life in Israel for two weeks. Over the past two years, Israeli-Arab involvement in attempted terror attacks against Jews has been on the increase.