Miko Peled’s recent op-ed in the Hill, titled “Time to give Palestinians their country back,” was more rant than reason. Nowhere does he make a single argument for Palestinian Arabs receiving statehood. He presupposes they lost a country of their own, when in fact they largely fled British Mandatory Palestine between 1947-1949 to avoid being caught in the crossfire of the Arab armies and the Jews.
Arabs were not systematically expelled. In fact, the Israeli Declaration of Independence, adopted in 1948, explicitly states, “We yet call upon the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve the ways of peace and play their part in the development of the State, on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its bodies and institutions.”
Peled attempts to argue three false claims: (1) Israel has a policy of apartheid towards Arabs, (2) Netanyahu played dirty in his recent election campaign and (3) the United States should re-evaluate its ties with Israel.
Israel does not have a policy of apartheid towards Arabs. In South Africa, the black population was segregated, forced to use different (and unequal) facilities, and banned from voting. Jews and Israeli-Arabs shop in the same supermarkets and use the same restrooms. Israeli-Arabs vote in elections and have their own political parties. In fact, as a result of the March 17 election, the third largest political bloc party is the Joint List—a coalition of Arab parties. Arabs also serve proudly in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on the Supreme Court and in the Israel Defense Forces. Rana Raslan, an Israeli-Arab, won the Miss Israel title in 1999 and represented the nation in that year’s Miss Universe pageant.
Israel is not free from examples of racism and discrimination, but neither is any other Western democracy. Peled’s claim that Israel is an apartheid state is a blatant falsehood and degrades the reality black South Africans suffered under actual apartheid.
Netanyahu did engage in rough-and-tumble politics, warning his potential supporters that the opposition was bringing out Israeli-Arab voters “in droves.” Yet the organized “anybody but Bibi” coalition reportedly bussed Israeli-Arabs to the polls in pursuit of its goals. Netanyahu is hardly the first politician to use intense campaign rhetoric. American politicians have resorted to arguably stronger methods. Lyndon B. Johnson created a top-secret group to influence the perception of Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential campaign. According to Joseph Cummins, author of Anything for a Vote: Dirty Tricks, Cheap Shots, and October Surprises, “They put out a Goldwater joke book entitled You Can Die Laughing. They even created a children’s coloring book, in which your little one could happily color pictures of Goldwater dressed in the robes of the Ku Klux Klan.” We might not like it, but negative campaigning has become an American specialty, one U.S. consultants have brought to Israel.
Peled claims that Netanyahu won largely due to publicity from his speech to Congress warning of a bad agreement with Iran over its nuclear program. He compared Netanyahu entering the House of Representatives to “Caesar entering Rome.” However, Netanyahu entered more like a soothsayer telling us to beware a dangerous deal that could leave Iran too close to a nuclear weapons “break-out.” He received widespread criticism for making his speech; many Israelis urged him to cancel. Publicity from it cut both ways, but he was well received by many in Congress.
Peled’s grasp of Middle East realities is shaky. Iran seeks the annihilation of Israel, its “Little Satan,” as well as—eventually—the United States, the “Great Satan.” Just a few days ago, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei called for “Death to America.” Peled had the chutzpah to falsely accuse Netanyahu of making “promises to attack and kill Palestinian civilians,” when the Israeli prime minister has been warning of leaders who actually promise to kill civilians.
I agree with Peled on one key point: the United States should re-evaluate its ties with Israel—just in a very different way than he suggests. We are witnessing dangerous instability in the Middle East. Iran is pursing a nuclear program and vying to dominate “a Shiite crescent” currently stretching through Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. There is now a Salafi-jihadist “caliphate” in parts of Iraq and Syria, increased terrorism in the Sinai Peninsula, “Hamastan” in Gaza, and a chaotic Libya. Contrary to Peled’s views, Israel is the shining star of freedom in a region largely devoid of it. It is time for America to support Israel even more.
Fleisher studies linguistics and Near Eastern languages and civilizations at the University of Chicago. His research focuses on the Middle East and violent non-state actors.