As if the non-Jewish neighbors surrounding Israel need any more pretext to feel anxious about the country’s treatment of its Muslim and Christian citizens.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asserted that Israel is a “national state” only to its “Jewish citizens.” The rest of the country, which is surprisingly diverse in its religious and ethnic makeup, doesn’t matter to the Israeli government, or so Netanyahu has implied.
Hold on a minute, Mr. Prime Minister.
Ten years ago I had the honor of visiting Israel for a month. I lived in Israeli citizens’ homes, talked to them candidly about life in that beautiful land and got to understand something I always thought was a source of pride among Israelis. It is that they treat all their citizens — Christians and Muslims as well as Jews — with respect and honor.
Netanyahu is saying something quite different.
According to National Public Radio: The prime minister’s comment set off criticism, debates over Israel’s true nature — and observations that with Israel’s legislative elections now less than a month away, Netanyahu’s provocative language might be calculated to help his Likud Party at the polls.
The Likud is considered one of the hardest of the hard-line parties in Israel. Netanyahu has come to embody Likud’s attitude toward the Palestinian Authority and its occupation of the West Bank.
In a sense, I understand and appreciate Netanyahu’s fear that non-Jewish residents might rebel. Indeed, Israeli armed forces are continually forced to put down resistance in places such as Gaza, which is governed by a party linked closely with Hamas, the infamous terrorist organization.
It is troubling to hear Netanyahu declare that Israel wants only to be the “national state” for its Jewish citizens. The implication is that the Israeli government cares much less about its Christian and Muslim citizens. That clearly is not the message I heard continually in the spring of 2009 while I toured the Holy Land.
It’s provocative. Indeed, the region needs little impetus for violence to erupt. Benjamin Netanyahu, of all people, should understand what such provocation can bring.