Guardian sticks to ‘passive victim’ narrative in story on Arab crime

In an interview with Times of Israel’s Hebrew site, Molly Malekar, executive director of Amnesty International Israel, harshly criticized the umbrella organisation over its report accusing Israel of practicing apartheid against Arab citizens of Israel.  Though we recommend that you read the full article, this particularly caught our eye:

Malekar…criticized Amnesty’s attitude toward Arab Israelis who identify as Palestinian.

They are treated as perpetual, passive victims of apartheid, devoid of any rights and agency,” she said. “They [Amnesty] turn them into victims, into an object. This is neither true nor helpful.

The tendency, by NGOs and most media outlets we cover, to treat both Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel as merely passive victims – which serves to grossly distort the nuanced reality of both Jews and Arabs in the country – is a dynamic we’ve repeatedly documented.

This denial of agency to Arab citizens of Israel was evident in a Guardian article by Bethan McKernan about the impact of gang violence in Israel’s Arab communities (‘The police don’t care’: gun violence engulfs Israel’s Arab community, Feb. 21).

The headline was culled from a quote in the opening sentence  – “The police don’t care what happens to Palestinians so [the gangs] know they can kill children while they are playing and nothing will happen” –  by a relative of a Arab child killed by a stray bullet, and who was, McKernan explains, “the first victim of 2022 claimed by the gun violence epidemic engulfing Israel’s Arab community”.

Though McKernan later acknowledges that the new government “has made combating crime in the Arab community a central promise to the public”, she fails to clarify that these issues have been the focus of much political debate, and Israeli media coverage, for several years, and that significant state resources are being invested in that community.  Omitted also is the fact that weapons-related arrests – and the confiscation of illegal guns, many of which enter the country via Jordan – by Israel Police have significantly increased in the Arab sector.

McKernan continues to reinforce her desired narrative, that the problems facing Israeli Arabs are, ultimately, the fault of Jews, with the following:

About 20% of Israel’s population of 9 million people identifies as Arab, encompassing Bedouin and Druze as well as Muslim and Christian Palestinians. In theory, they are granted the same civil and political rights as Jewish citizens; in practice, these communities face severe institutionalised discrimination.

However, the existence of various forms discrimination against minorities within a given democratic country – be it Israel, the UK or the US – doesn’t mean that the their legal and civil rights are, thus, only ‘theoretical’.  Laws ensuring equality in any of these countries may be imperfectly enforced, yet still fall way short of ‘institutionalising’ discriminatory practices.  The fact is that many of those alleging the legal codification of racism against Arabs in Israel base their claim on irredeemably flawed legal and moral reasoning.

Moreover, the fact that The Economist’s latest democracy index ranked Israel’s democracy score higher than even the United States – with an “Electoral process and pluralism” ranking near the highest possible score – is just one indicator that Israel is a robust liberal democracy. In fact, the Economist report showed that Israel bucked the global trend, during the pandemic, of “an unprecedented withdrawal of civil liberties among developed democracies”.

Then, after citing more truly heart-breaking examples of the impact of Arab gang violence, and alluding to the problem of domestic violence and so-called ‘honor-killings’ within Arab communities, McKernan uncritically cites the following:

Most of this community was badly affected in 1948 [after the war surrounding Israel’s creation]. People were displaced, thrown into poverty. They had to start all over again, so of course there is crime,” said Fida Sh’hade, a local council member in Lod and one of several Arab women across Israel helping organise victims’ families into a vocal new political lobby called Mothers for Life.

“What is happening now is the reality of what happens when schools, jobs, opportunities for a whole people are withheld.

The root cause of crime in the Arab sector is complex and multi-faceted, and reflects decisions, trends and familial and cultural norms within the Arab community – as well as policies enacted in Jerusalem.

However, to blame the “displacement” that occurred around Israel’s creation, in 1948, for increased crime in their communities 73 years later is baffling.  The entire population, both Jews and non-Jews, at the dawn of the Jewish state’s rebirth was poor, with many of the country’s Jews having only recently arrived after escaping displacement, persecution, ethnic cleansing and genocide in Europe, the Arab world and elsewhere – with many having lost all their money and assets.  These Jewish refugees also had to “start all over again”.

Further, the blanket claim that the crime wave is the result of “schools, jobs [and] opportunities” for Arab Israelis are being “withheld” by Israel, is not only counter-factual, and inconsistent with of the views and experiences of most Arab citizens, but suggests an almost conspiratorial-like thinking incompatible with real progress.

A more helpful approach to the problem of crime in predominantly Arab cities in Israel would involve the assumption of Arab agency.

For example, McKernan writes that “Organised crime networks are deeply embedded in Arab society, who turn to mob bosses for loans when Israeli banks refuse their applications”.  The inference Guardian readers would likely make is that Arabs are turned down for loans due to discrimination by Jewish bankers.

Yet, one of the reasons cited for many Arabs being turned down for loans is that the community has traditionally shied away” from using credit cards, relying instead on cash.  This means that Arabs are less likely to have the credit histories used by banks to help determine loan eligibility.  So, one Arab agency based solution to this particular problem – one that dismisses ‘the system is rigged’ fatalism represented by the woman McKernan chose to quote – could be to incentivise and promote the use of credit cards in these communities.

Of course, none of this is to suggest that Israel’s government shouldn’t be aggressively purusing policy solutions to the crime wave plaguing the state’s Arab citizens, only that, per the quote we cited in the opening of this post, treating Arab-Israelis as perpetual, passive victims of Israeli racism, devoid of any agency, is not only misguided, but extremely counter-productive.

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