"How long can a relatively large minority be assumed by the majority to be an enemy without in the end actually turning into one? How long can the state exist as a stable political framework if this is how it treats a sixth of its citizens?" So asked the Israeli novelist David Grossman in his brilliant and sadly prescient book Sleeping on a Wire, a portrait of Israel's Arab minority that was written in 1991. "Slowly and steadily, as if slumbering, Israel is missing its chance to rescue itself from a horrible mistake," Grossman warned. "It is creating for itself the enemy it will run up against after its other enemies have made their peace with it."
Eighteen years later, a new poll finds that only 53.7 percent of Israeli-Arabs believe Israel has a right to exist as an independent state, down from 81.1 percent in 2003. An astounding 40 percent deny that the Holocaust ever happened. This is proof that "they hate us," some Jewish Israelis will likely contend, "they" being all Arabs, from Cairo to Nazareth. Yet until recently, surveys had consistently shown that the majority of Arab-Israelis wanted to be accepted as citizens despite being subjected to discrimination in everything from land ownership to education. Polls conducted in the past by Sammy Smooha, a professor at Haifa University (who also conducted the latest survey), found that 75 percent of Arab-Israelis between the age of 16 and 22 supported voluntary national service; 68 percent were willing to live in a Jewish neighborhood; 75 percent supported a return of Palestinian refugees only to a Palestinian state.
That was before the Second Lebanon War and the war in Gaza, which may not have vanquished Hamas but which clearly did further radicalize Israel's Arab citizens. Before proto-fascist Avigdor Lieberman was appointed Israel's Foreign Minister. Before another government took power that has shown no interest in stopping the growth of illegal settlements in the West Bank, much less addressing the inequities between Jews and Arabs in Israel. "Time is running out" on Iran, Benjamin Netanyahu tried to persuade President Obama in their meeting this week. As Bernard Avishai points out here, it is running out on something else: the notion that Israel can be the democratic state its founders dreamed of creating.