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"Arabs on Cream"
By Robert I. Lappin
"Arabs on cream" is the derisive phrase often used by Palestinians as
descriptive of the quality-of-life enjoyed by Israel's Arabs. Despite Arab
envy of their Israeli brethren, leftist Jewish hearts in the United States
and Israel, bleed for the alleged discrimination suffered by Israeli Arabs
at the hands of Israel's government. Despite Israel's present travails,
there are a number of Jewish organizations pressuring Prime Minister Sharon
and other government officials to address this issue. These organizations
include The New Israel Fund, The Reform Movement, The Abraham Fund, Peace
Now, the Federations of New York and San Francisco, and Sikkuy.
Concerns, voiced by these Jewish Arab sympathizer groups, include a poorer
Arab standard-of-living, due to lower income, lower life expectancy, and
higher infant mortality, as compared to Jews. Poor upkeep of Arab villages,
including terrible road infrastructure, and open sewage, are also remarked
upon, with blame attributed mainly to economic discrimination, the advocated
redress for which is an infusion of funds.
The existence of the poor conditions goes largely unchallenged. Case
closed! Not quite!
Challenges as to the reasons and solutions for the problems have surfaced.
Among the challengers is Haifa University Economics Professor Steven Plaut,
whose research, based on widely accepted state-of-the art econometric
methods, brings him to the conclusion that the Arab sector is not in the
least disadvantaged vis-à-vis the Jewish population.
Professor Plaut explains that Arabs as a group do have lower income not
because of discrimination in the labor market but because the average
educational level among Arabs is lower than among Jews. He points out that
demography plays a significant, measurable role, in that the Arab sector
proportionately has a greater number of children, so earnings per capita are
less, and furthermore the average Arab in Israel is ten years younger than
the average Jew, and that in all sectors of Israeli society younger people
earn less than older people. Another critical factor is that a very small
percentage of Arab women, as compared to Jewish women, work at income
producing jobs, outside the home.
Addressing the problems of lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality
among Arabs, Professor Plaut explains that these are related, and are a
consequence of Arab girls marrying young, often at 16 and 17, and bearing
premature babies, many of whom do not survive, a phenomenon true world-wide,
but uncommon among Jews, who rarely marry this young.
Professor Plaut cautions about the common mistake of confusing
discrimination with inequality.
Another challenger to what some consider the myth of Israeli Arab inequality
rooted in discrimination, is Ramat Gan Mayor Tzvi Bar, speaking on the
subject of the poor Arab village infrastructure. He writes " . . . if the
reader will examine the Ministry of the Interior data, he will discover --
to his shock perhaps -- that in the past decade the property tax debt in the
Israeli Arab sector has accumulated to over two billion shekels! Not only
that, but the Arab town councils -- which include 10.4% of Israel's total
population -- receive 24.3% of the total balance grants which are given to
local councils throughout Israel."
Professor Plaut confirms Bar's words above, stating "Arab councils don't
collect taxes from their residents, the municipalities run up huge debts,
and then the mayors and councilmen go to Jerusalem to demonstrate in front
of the Knesset until they are bailed out. And then they use this as proof
Following the collapse of the Oslo Agreement last year, Jewish public
opinion in Israel turned against the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, seeing
them as one and the same. This development has diminished Israeli Jewish
sympathy vis-a-vis redressing Arab conditions of inequality. The following
quote from an article "Rebels Without a Cause" by Yated Neeman, from which
the previous quotations and much of the substance in this article have been
taken, fairly reflect the viewpoint of most Israeli Jews, today:
"These hapless liberals blundered by believing that Arabs share their
liberal, materialistic values. Arabs see things totally different from
Westerners. They view violence as a sign of strength and courage. They
have minimal value for life, and take pride in sacrificing their own
children on the altar of political struggle . . . "
It is apparent that Arab mores, culture, and tradition are basic factors
creating inequalities between Israeli-Jews and Arabs; obstacles that are
unlikely to be surmounted by the infusion of funds.
The picture is not pretty, but it is real, and with the advent of Israeli
Jewish recognition and acceptance of reality, there is much reason for
Robert I. Lappin is a businessman and philanthropist, and a past president
of the Jewish Federation of the North Shore (Massachusetts).
from the September 2001 Edition of the Jewish Magazine