Scribblings: Arab-Jewish relations in Israel since October 7
Nov 22, 2023 | Tzvi Fleischer
In the Israel-Hamas war of May 2021, Arab-Jewish co-existence inside Israel, which had been making major positive strides, suffered its worst shock in decades. Some Arab citizens of Israel in several mixed Arab-Jewish towns heeded calls from pro-Hamas religious sources and launched violent riots against the homes and synagogues of their Jewish neighbours. Groups of Jews then launched counter-riots. Ten synagogues were set on fire, and more than 1,000 Jewish homes were damaged or destroyed, along with a smaller number of Arab homes. More than a dozen Jews and Arabs were injured. Anger and fear stemming from those attacks likely contributed to the success of right-wing parties in Israel’s election in November 2022.
The current Israeli-Gaza war, initiated by Hamas’ mass terror attack of October 7, seems to have had the opposite effect – drawing Israeli Jews and Arabs together.
There has been no pro-Hamas inspired violence like what happened in 2021, and Israeli Arab leaders have been very clear that Israeli Jews and Arabs are in the current war together.
Mansour Abbas, of the Ra’am party, which took the landmark decision to serve in the previous Israeli government led by Naftali Bennett, said to his fellow Arab Israelis on October 7: “I call on Arab citizens and all Arab and Jewish citizens to maintain restraint and behave responsibly and patiently, and to maintain law and order.” Referring to the “unfortunate, tragic, and reprehensible events” still in progress, he called on the leadership of the Palestinian factions in Gaza to “release the captives in your hands. Islamic values command us not to imprison women, children, and the elderly.”
On Oct. 30, he added, “Wisdom, responsibility, the public interest, and the vision of a future for us as an Arab-Palestinian society, and also as citizens of the State of Israel, obligate us to do everything we can to counter the extremist and marginal elements that try to push us into confrontation… All of us – Arab and Jewish citizens – must insist on cooperation… so that we can overcome this crisis by peaceful means.”
Even Ayman Odeh, the more radical head of the communist Hadash party, reacted angrily to Hamas calls for Israeli Arabs to rise up against Israel, saying, “Any call for militant actions and igniting a war between Arabs and Jews inside Israel is something we will not accept.”
A poll taken shortly after the massacre showed over 80% of Arab Israelis rejected Hamas’ attack and nearly 70% supported Israel’s right to respond in self-defence. Only 5% voiced support for Hamas’ actions.
Both Jewish and Arab Israelis were directly afflicted by the murderous events of Oct. 7. Amongst the more than 1,200 Israelis killed that days, it is estimated that around 100 were Arab Israelis.
Some were murdered by the 3,000 rockets that were fired into Israel to cover the mass terror waves – including 18 residents of Bedouin towns in the Negev. Others were shot dead while working in the Israeli towns close to the border that were hit by Hamas terrorists.
In a widely-reported case, paramedic Awad Darawsheh was shot dead, along with over 360 other young people, while working at the Supernova music festival. Reports say he was murdered while heroically trying to help the wounded. October 7 also saw other stories of heroism by Arab Israeli medical personnel and first responders.
At least seven Israeli Arabs are also among the 240 people kidnapped into Gaza. Among them are 53-year-old Bedouin agricultural worker Yusuf Alziadna and three of his children, two of them teenagers and one aged 22, all kidnapped from Kibbutz Holit.
Jews and Arabs seem to largely feel they are in the current crisis together. A poll by the Israel Democracy Institute in early November found the number of Arab Israelis who said they feel part of the State of Israel was at a 20-year high of 70%. That figure stood at just 48% in June. Backing this up, there has been considerable Arab participation in the volunteer groups which have sprung up across Israel to provide various services to those in need since October 7.
Israeli society was changed forever by the events of October 7. There is good reason to believe that the new Israel that emerges from the current war will have very strong opportunities to build on the already much-improved integration between Israeli Arabs and Jews over the past few years, reversing the severe setback that occurred in May 2021.
Readers are presumably aware that there has been an explosion of global antisemitism, both on the streets and online, since October 7. It comes from many sources which are largely predictable, if still completely deplorable – Islamist extremists, Palestinian and Arab radicals, the far-right, campus adherents to identity politics, and left-wing “anti-Imperialists”. But another source of this global explosion of hate seems much more surprising: China.
Both the New York Times (Oct. 28) and Wall Street Journal (Oct. 29) have reported on an explosion of antisemitic attacks on Israel and Jews in both official Chinese state media and Chinese social media, including WeChat and TikTok – the latter of which is of course widely used outside China. More than any other international social media platform, the Beijing-controlled algorithms and censors of TikTok have promoted pro-Hamas and anti-Israel content, often with an antisemitic flavour.
Like Moscow, China has taken a pro-Hamas line in the current Israel-Hamas war, initially refusing to condemn the October 7 massacre. This apparently extends to promoting antisemitic content. For example, a program put out by China Central Television alleged Jewish control over the US, saying, “Jews, who represent 3% of the US population, control 70% of its wealth” while there have been widespread online denunciations of the Holocaust film Schindler’s List.
It appears the destabilising anti-Western alliance uniting Iran and its proxies with Russia and China is also becoming an alliance to spread anti-Jewish hate.