As an Israeli Arab, let me tell you this: Amnesty's report is a lie

There is no apartheid in Israel, where all citizens have equal rights


Nazareth in Israel, Cityscape

February 02, 2022 13:46

Yesterday I woke up at my home in Nazareth, the largest Arab city in Israel, and found out that my family, my friends and I live under a racist apartheid regime.

This was the claim made in an Amnesty International report. As much as some may wish to use terms taken from other times to deem Israel an illegitimate country, a lie is a lie and reality cannot be distorted.

Israel offers equal rights to all its citizens, regardless of religion or ethnic origin. This is not just the letter of the law but also the practice - and you will find Israeli Arabs across Israeli society, in hospitals, courts and high-tech companies - virtually everywhere. Even within the Israeli government!

According to Amnesty, Esawi Frej, the Israeli Minister for Regional Cooperation, is a citizen under an apartheid regime. Just as with Salman Zarka, Israel’s Covid Czar. One cannot forget Osila Abu Assad, who just yesterday was appointed Israeli District Court judge, or the chairman of Bank Leumi, the largest bank in Israel, Samer Haj Yahya, all of whom are Arabs, allegedly living under apartheid rule.

There are Arabs and Jews in Israel, working in the same organisations, studying in the same academic institutions and shopping in the same stores. I, as with countless other Arabs across Israeli society, have many Jewish friends and, in the course of my life, have worked with hundreds of Jewish colleagues. When you visit the market in Nazareth, you will hear both Hebrew and Arabic and when in Jaffa you will see mosques, churches and synagogues. Israel boasts a freedom of religion and culture that is completely unique to the region.

Amnesty International’s claim is also hugely disrespectful to those who have actually lived under such a regime in apartheid South Africa. The cynical use of the term shows contempt for those whose experiences still scar them and for societies still suffering from the collective trauma of such hate.

It would be wrong for me to claim that the State of Israel is perfect - what country is? Most countries in the world have minorities and some even national minorities. Like other countries, there is indeed much that can be changed and this is a long process which requires a shifting in individual biases and perspectives. However, Israeli democracy is precisely the means by which we, as Arabs, can play a meaningful part in this process.

In 2018, I founded an Israeli Arab charity, Together - Vouch for Each Other, which bring together hundreds of young people from Arab society, including Muslims, Christians and Druze. We act because we have the power and the ability to do so and this is only made possible because we live in a democratic state which grants us equal opportunity to grow, influence and advance.

In the last three years, we have been engaged in many social initiatives: organising meetings between young Jews and Arabs, working to increase the number of Arabs in our civil service and making Holocaust remembrance accessible to Arab society. We are part of an ongoing trend of Arabs to integrate more in Israeli society and this is increasingly happening in much bigger numbers.

I look around at our neighbours and I am thankful to have been born in the State of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. It is true that the Arab minority in Israel has challenges, similar to that of any minority across the globe. However, time and again, across the Middle East, minorities are being persecuted. Whether they be Shiite or Sunni, Kurd or Christian, Israel remains the only state in the region allowing minorities equal rights.

Nevertheless, in spite of all the existing examples of equal opportunities flourishing in Israel, my country is the only one that Amnesty International has branded as racist and thus illegitimate. I believe in the role Human Rights organisations, but this report doesn’t present new facts. In fact, it does a disservice to the important principals of human rights as it is done with the sole purpose of delegitimising the only country in the Middle East that actually cares about its minorities.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex and only negotiation, dialogue and understanding will lead to peace. Accusing one side of racism and apartheid implies that its regime must be removed, just as the racist regime in South Africa was, and this only leads to the increased reinforcement of extremist positions. I believe that we, the Arabs of Israel, are the bridge to peace.

I disagree wholeheartedly with Amnesty International and I will continue to work for coexistence, rather than promoting division. Israel may be a Jewish state, but it is also a democratic state that gives equal rights to all its citizens. I am Yosef Haddad and I am proud to be an Arab and proud to be an Israeli.

Yoseph Haddad,
CEO of Together - Vouch For Each Other

February 02, 2022 13:46

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