Are Arab-Christian Israelis mostly for Israel

Israel: Who do they belong to?


Read on one side

Even for the hustle and bustle of the Israeli parliament, it was a drastic scene: "Apartheid!" Shouted several Arab MPs, tore wads of paper and tossed the scraps into the air - the draft of a law that the plenary had passed seconds before. The reviled document was a new Basic Law, passed in mid-July, mostly loosely translated as "National State Law" in the German media. It defines and emphasizes the Jewish character of the Israeli state and is primarily symbolic. Still, it sparked bitter debates inside and outside the country that have not subsided even three months later.

Some of the loudest voices belong to Arab Christians - on both sides of the spectrum. As a minority within the minority, they have a complicated status: many Jewish Israelis see them simply as Arabs; many Muslim Arabs, for their part, view them with suspicion. Nation-state law urges Christians to choose which side they are on.

The law is also controversial among the Jewish majority: the Knesset passed it with a difference of six votes, and shortly afterwards thousands of Jewish Israelis protested against it, along with Druze and Arabs. But the debate would have long since been replaced by others if Arab politicians and activists did not keep up the pressure. One of the loudest critics of the law is the Knesset MP Aida Touma-Sliman, who comes from an Arab-Christian family.

The 54-year-old has been a member of the Arab-dominated communist party "Chadasch" ("New") in the Knesset since 2015, where she has made a name for herself with her vigorous advocacy of women's rights, but also the Palestinian cause. The new law describes it as an "apartheid law" reminiscent of "dark dictatorships". It "not only produces racist segregation in Israel", she wrote in an opinion piece for the left-wing Israeli newspaper "Haaretz", "it also slams the door for a just diplomatic solution to the establishment of a Palestinian state."

The law contains a lot of well-known things: It stipulates things such as holidays, anthems, flags and calendars that have long been a reality. At the same time, however, it names the "united Jerusalem" as the capital of Israel, although large parts of the international community want to make the eastern part the capital of a Palestinian state. Furthermore, the law explicitly welcomes the establishment of Jewish cities and stipulates that only Jews have the right to the establishment of statehood in Israel. As long as this sentence refers to the internationally recognized territory of the country, it is unproblematic, at least for all those who recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state (which many Arab-Israeli politicians do not do: instead, they demand a religiously neutral "state of all citizens ").

But because the final borders of Israel are vague as long as the conflict with the Palestinians smoldering, some interpret the sentence as if it also applied to the West Bank - thus excluding the establishment of a Palestinian state. In addition, the law downgrades Arabic, to date the second official language, to the language with "special status". Because Israel, like Germany, has no constitution, the law takes on the status of a basic law.

Not all Arab Christians agree with Touma-Sliman's drastic wording. However, many share her discomfort. "The law advances a dangerous nationalist agenda that excludes all non-Jews or at least marginalizes them further," says Botrus Mansour from Nazareth. The 52-year-old is co-chair of the Lausanne initiative for reconciliation in Israel-Palestine, a movement of Christian Arabs and so-called messianic Jews who believe in Jesus.

Official church representatives also spoke up: The Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem announced that the law "may not have any practical consequences, but it sends an unmistakable signal to the Palestinian citizens of Israel that they are not at home in this country". The Greek Orthodox Patriarch in Jerusalem warned that the law would strengthen the "institutionalization of racism".

However, opinions are not uniform. Christians have a special position within Israel's Arab minority. They have an above-average education: 70 percent of young Christians achieve university entrance qualification, proportionally more than any other population group, including Jewish. They are considered to be politically more moderate, better integrated into the majority society than Muslims, and are noticeably often involved in peace movements.