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Lecture to Delve into Israel's Minority Palestinian Arabs, and Their Effect on the Jewish State

While the headlines often report the skirmishes or prisoner swaps between Israel and the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, some scholars argue that Israel’s greatest challenge is the division within the borders of Israel proper—that is, between the Jewish citizens and the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel.  One such scholar will give a public lecture Wednesday at MSU. KSMU’s Jennifer Moore has this interview.

Dr. Oded Haklai is an author and professor of political science at Queen’s University in Ontario. He’s also a visiting scholar at George Washington University.  Wednesday night at 7, in MSU’s Glass Hall Room 101, Haklai will give a lecture on “Palestinian Ethnonationalism in Israel.”

He said whereas nationalism is a sentiment or attitude associated with citizenship, or an entire nation, ethnonationalism is expressed by a group within a state or larger society.

“Palestinian ethnonationalism in Israel is manifested in a variety of ways,” he said.  He speaks of the Palestinian citizens of Israel, not those Palestinians living in Gaza or the West Bank.  About 20 percent of Israeli citizens identify themselves as Palestinian, Haklai said, and it’s these individuals who are the focus of his study.

“Their demands are twofold.  They’re demanding the recognition of themselves as an indigenous people who have been deprived by recent Jewish settlers from Europe,” he said.

They also are trying to remove all symbols of Jewish identity from the state, he said, like the Israeli flag, which currently bears the Star of David, and immigration laws, which favor individuals with a Jewish identity.

He said some Palestinians in Israel also want autonomy in various spheres, like media, culture, education, and religion.  Others are demanding national resources based on the size of their group.

Haklai says he believes Israel’s biggest challenge is to resolve its problems with its biggest minority.

He says it’s possible for Israel to continue forging a path as both a democracy that values the freedoms of minorities, and also carry its strict identity as a Jewish state.

“When a state defines itself as a Jewish state, it doesn’t necessarily define itself Jewish in religious terms, but rather in national terms,” he said.

The national identity is Jewish, he said, and it has religious components to it.  However, a “Jewish state” incorporates much more than religion, he said—like a collective experience, culture, and a shared historical memory.  

“Now, I think the one thing Israel is falling short on is socio-economic equality.  Because in these indicators, it’s very clear that the Arab minority is discriminated against,” he said.

“This is one of the issues where Israel must do more,” Haklai said.