On Faith: Israel offers Arabs 'a genuine future'

Joseph Farah, an Arab author, wrote: "As an Arab-American journalist who has spent a good deal of time covering the region, I can tell you there is more freedom for Arabs in Israel than in any Arab state."

Salma Abedallah, an Israeli Arab-Muslim, echoed: "We are very happy being Israeli Arabs. Israel has so much freedom of speech, even more so than in America. Israeli Arabs are the only Arabs that have any rights anywhere in the Middle East."

While the Lebanese cannot freely condemn the Syrian occupation of their country; while Saudi Arabian women are threatened with beatings for attempting to drive a car; while Libyans are indiscriminately fired upon by their own government and the Syrian civilian death toll mounts daily; while Yemenis languish in a virtual state prison; while the Egyptian military subjected female protesters in Tahrir Square to "virginity tests;" while Arab Morocco keeps the Saharawi Arabs in refugee camps in the most inhospitable desert as probably the poorest people on Earth, the 1.4 million Arabs of Israel enjoy life in a democracy that prizes life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Only in Israel can Muslim Arabs find any assurance that other Muslim Arabs will not blow up their mosques, dynamite their marketplaces, and gun them down as they travel on pilgrimage. Only in Israel can Christian Arabs find any assurance that their churches will not be attacked by Muslims, as they are in today's Egypt.

Only in Israel can Arabs appeal to an independent judiciary and expect justice. Only in Israel can Muslim and Christian Arabs worship freely. Only in Israel can Arabs speak their minds openly. The sole Arab parties in the Middle East participating in free elections send members to the Israeli parliament, where they can criticize Israel and praise Iran and 22 Arab police regimes, theocracies and tyrannies.

Even movements opposed to Israel's national existence are represented in the Knesset. Whereas every Arab country practices sexual apartheid against women, all Israeli men and women are equal before the law. Israeli Arab women can work in fields of their choosing.

Israeli Arabs are beneficiaries of the same state-run education system as all Israelis and learn in Arabic, an official language of the state. They have complete access to Israel's modern health care facilities. The only independent Arab press in the Middle East is in Israel.

An Israeli Christian Arab can attend any church in Israel, but a Christian Arab is prohibited from even setting foot in Mecca or possessing a crucifix within the borders of Saudi Arabia.

Haifa is a model of coexistence, where Jews and Arabs frequent the same restaurants, malls, and theatres. There are many wealthy Israeli Arabs, as well as Israeli-Arab celebrities, tenured professors in Israeli universities, writers, businessmen and athletes.

Arab companies are listed on the Israeli stock exchange. Christian and Muslim Israeli Arabs control their own religious schools, councils, and courts and exercise jurisdiction over matters of personal status such as marriage and divorce.

Muslim holy places are in the hands of Muslims, not the Israeli government. When I recently attempted to enter the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, site of Judaism's Holy Temple, I was prevented from doing so by Muslim officials who claim the Mount as Islam's possession.

The civil rights enjoyed by Israeli Arabs are the envy of the Arab world. And if any of these rights is threatened, thousands of Jewish Israelis can be counted on to seek redress on behalf of their fellow Arab citizens.

Israel has achieved all of this despite the precariousness of its very existence! Compared with every other Arab and Muslim nation, Israel is a paradise for Arabs, including over 100,000 illegal aliens who have left Arab lands to reside in Israel. That is why over three out of four Israeli Arabs say they prefer to live in Israel rather than in a Palestinian state.

David Suissa wrote: "Imagine if the world's Israel bashers had taken Israel's imperfect democratic experiment and said to the Arab world: Why don't you try to emulate the Jews? Now that the cesspool of human oppression in the Arab world has been opened for all to see, how bad is Israel's democracy looking? Don't you wish the Arab world had a modicum of Israel's civil society? When I see poor Arab souls being murdered for the simple act of protesting on the street, I've never felt more proud of being a supporter of the Jewish state."

Indeed, who else but Israel offers Arabs a genuine future?

MARK S. MILLER is the senior rabbi at Temple Bat Yahm in Newport Beach.

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