By and large, Israelis don’t believe in co-existence – and they ask whether Angela Merkel “naiveté” in allowing a large number of Muslim refugees to enter Europe will spell the end of liberalism, tolerance, and democracy there.
“Are they nuts? Don’t they understand what kind of trouble they are inviting into their country? They have no clue how the Arab mentality really is – but we do!” That’s one of the reactions you get from Israelis when you talk to them about the “welcoming culture” the Germans have tried to establish for refugees coming from the Middle East. The other reaction: “They are welcoming the Arabs because of their guilt about the Holocaust. They want to compensate for what they did to us Jews by being nice to Muslims.”
These reactions might sound simplistic, but many Israelis – if not all – are deeply convinced that Angela Merkel’s naiveté threatens to be a death sentence for Germany, even all of Europe. And, of course, they refer to the French or Belgian experience for evidence, and to their own experience with the Arab world.
From an Israeli point of view, there is indeed a lot to worry about: more than 30 million Muslims already live inside the EU, and in many countries governments are already drafting policy in response to Islamist terror (or even the threat of terror). In the early 2000s, I reported on areas within Paris that the police refused to enter; the police are still reluctant to operate in many of them. For Israelis, this is difficult to understand. “How can the Europeans give up on their identity and sovereignty?” they wonder. They ask me time and again what I think about it, and how Angela Merkel, a politician who is so pro-Israel, could make the mistake of letting “these people” in.
Israelis do not believe in co-existence. Some of them proudly show off how well integrated so-called Arab Israelis are – 1.5 million Arabs have Israeli passports, and the law says that they are equal to Jewish Israelis – but in reality Israeli Arabs are second class citizens.
They mostly live in parallel societies, in Arab villages, where Jews wouldn’t live, and vice versa. Yes, there is Haifa, a role-model for what good Jewish-Muslim coexistence could look like all over the country – but even in this peaceful city co-existence is beginning to show cracks.
Israelis are generally scared of Arabs, or simply do not care about them. I never understood this lack of interest in learning Arabic properly in a country surrounded by Arab states. While Israeli Arabs speak Hebrew, of course, including Palestinians working in the territories, few Israelis, even those of Oriental descent, make the effort to conquer the second official language of the State of Israel. And if it is true that you understand a culture only by conquering its language, then Israelis really might not know too much about their Arab neighbors.
Yet they have their experiences, and they know that the Arab political and educational culture outside of Israel is anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist. And the Israeli Arabs? Well, in some mosques you will hear incitement against Jews – even in Israel.
The ignorance of Jewish Israelis and the exclusion of Israeli Arabs from mainstream society were, for decades, reciprocated: most Arabs in Israel didn’t want to participate in the Jewish Israeli mainstream. But here and there some small changes are visible. Since the last parliamentary elections in March 2015, which saw the Arab United List become the third largest faction in the Knesset, there has been an Arab-Israeli lawmaker, Ayman Odeh.
Rather than stand on the sidelines, Odeh wants to become part of the Israeli political system. Odeh, the head of his party, is a symbol for Israeli Arabs, who are starting to demand their rights and duties in order to become fully part of the state – a state which they do not really like, but in which they are a vital element. It is common knowledge that, for instance, Israel’s healthcare system would collapse without all of its Arab doctors and nurses.
Nevertheless, few Israelis have any real knowledge about Arabs and their mentality, while they know about their hatred towards Jews all too well. And all they see in the surrounding Arab states is turmoil and dictatorship. Nation building, democracy, human rights, gender equality, liberalism – these hardly exist in the Arab world.
That’s why Israelis are afraid for Germany and Europe: they believe – no, they are convinced – that the influx of too many Arabs will uproot European liberalism and pluralism, and that even the poor Syrian refugees, whose plight Israelis acknowledge, are hardcore Jew-haters. So in Israel you hear the same sentiment expressed again and again: “Europe is lost. For the Jews, it’s definitely over!”