The Recent Arab Riots in Israel Were a Revolt against Political Integration

June 9, 2021 | Doron Matza
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Few Israelis were surprised when Hamas decided to launch missiles at their cities and villages—after all, it is a well-armed organization dedicated to their destruction. However, Israelis were far more disturbed when mobs of their Arab fellow citizens started rampaging through Jewish neighborhoods. Such violence hasn’t been seen since October of 2000, when Arab riots coincided with the outbreak of the second intifada. But last month’s events were particularly dispiriting in that they followed nearly a decade of improving Arab-Jewish relations within Israel, culminating in the Arab Ra’am party’s recent decision to join the incoming governing coalition. Doron Matza seeks answers about what went wrong:

Unlike those of October 2000, the May riots did not occur in the Galilee, where most of the Arab population is concentrated. True, there were violent incidents at certain geographic locales in the north of the country, but the major riots were in the mixed cities. It appears that, alongside criminal elements, the violence was perpetrated by a weak population that did not manage to join the process of economic integration between the state and the Arab middle class. In this regard, the May riots are reminiscent of the “Arab Spring” that began in Egypt and North Africa and was spurred by the disgruntlement of young people who were left behind by the economic growth those countries had undergone.

In addition, the Israeli Arab leadership’s ability to keep cooperating with the integration model turned out to be limited. The Israeli Arab political world is divided into two opposing camps: the veteran political hegemony, which forms the basis of the [amalgamation of Arab parties known as the] Joint List; and the new leader of [Ra’am], Mansour Abbas, who challenged it. In lieu of the national-identity politics of the Arab minority that the veteran hegemony has promoted since the 1970s, Abbas introduced a political outlook that is subversive in historical terms and prioritizes economic and social interests over the vision of national equality.

In recent months, the veteran Arab leadership has been striving to return the Arab sector’s discourse to that of national-identity politics, and the violent events in Jerusalem, centering on the “al-Aqsa is in danger” lie, provided a convenient platform from which to abandon the socioeconomic discourse for the national one.

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