Arab Inequality versus Discrimination


Arab Inequality versus Discrimination


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Opinion & Society

"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--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 of discrimination."

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 optimism.

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




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