A fiery debate broke out Tuesday evening at the Jerusalem Conference as activists and leaders broached the tricky topics of Arab poverty and Arab loyalty in the state of Israel. An Israeli Arab activist argued that poverty causes Arab alienation from the state, while Jewish nationalists countered that Arab alienation creates Arab poverty.
Suheil Kram, one of the creators of the Arabic-language Israeli radio station A-Shams, brought up the subject of the gap between Arab and Jewish lifestyles. Sixty-six percent of Arab Israeli children live under the poverty line, he said.
“In many Arab families there isn’t enough to eat,” he stated.
“The time has come for Jews to hear the Arab community’s plight,” he declared. “I forced my community to listen to Jewish views. You need to listen to our people, too, to learn who we are and not to live in a bubble.”
Those sharing a platform with Kram during Tuesday’s dialogue included MKs Danny Danon (Likud) and Aryeh Eldad (Otzma Leyisrael) as well as Regavim activist Betzalel Smotrich. The nationalist participants responded to Kram’s depiction of Arab suffering with a call for Arab loyalty to Israel.
“You can’t come say, ‘I’m concerned primarily for the Palestinians - or Hamas, or Hizbullah, or the enemies – now give me my rights,’” Danon said. “It doesn’t work like that.”
Eldad called for Arabs and Jews to be equal. “We want equality for everyone,” he said. “Every citizen needs to fulfill their obligations and to get the benefits they deserve, both Arabs and Jews.”
Dr. Mordechai Keidar, an expert on Middle Eastern affairs, questioned Kram’s portrayal of Israel’s Arab community. He noted that among Jews, 90% live in apartments and only 10% live in private homes, while among Arabs the percentages are reversed.
“Is that discrimination?” Keidar asked. “Of course it’s discrimination – in the Arabs’ favor.”
Kram agreed that there is anti-Israel sentiment among Israeli Arabs, but termed it, “nonsense and mistakes, mostly among youth.” As a young student he, too, was anti-Israel, he admitted.
“I, too, shouted, ‘Jews to the sea,’ and ‘Go back to the 1948 borders,’” he said. “But today I understand that there’s a need to listen, that’s why I’m here, to tell you to do more to integrate Israeli Arabs in Israeli society.”
Regavim’s Betzalel Smotrich responded with a challenge. “Are you willing to stand here before all of our viewers and to say that you recognize the state of Israel as the state of the Jewish people?” he asked Kram. The audience began to applaud as Kram remained silent.