Israeli bill distinguishing Christian and Muslim Arabs advances

Palestinian worshippers take part in Catholic mass at the Church of St. Catherine, which is connected to the Church of the Nativity, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem December 7, 2008. Sunday marks the Second Sunday of Advent. (Reuters)

A proposal to legally differentiate Christian and Muslim Arabs in Israel passed its second and third readings in the Knesset Labor, Health, and Welfare Committee on Wednesday, the daily news website the Jerusalem Post reported.

The proposal first presented by Yariv Levin, the coalition chairman for the governing conservative Likud-Yisrael Beitenu faction, aims to identify Christians as a minority group separate from Arabs and give them their own representation on the Advisory Committee for Equal Opportunity in Employment Commission.

“I don’t try to change the reality; the reality is there. There is a big difference between Christians and Muslims, and they deserve recognition and separate representation,” Levin said. “They do not see themselves as Arabs. They say ‘we are not Arabs – we are separate,’ and for 60 years the state treated all minorities as one homogeneous group, and it was a mistake.”

“In Israel, suddenly there is no difference between Arabs and everything is perfect,” he added.

“In Nazareth many Christians are not treated well by Muslims, and many of them want to serve in the army and be an integral part of building the country. Christians see that this is the most secure place in the region for them, and they want to work together to stop extremist Muslims,” Levin explained.

Reacting to the proposed bill, The Abraham Fund, an international non-profit dedicated to promoting coexistence between the Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel, wrote a letter to the Knesset committee expressing its objection.

“We believe that the government should immediately desist from a policy of divide and rule toward the Arab minority in Israel and from the attempt to create divisions between groups within the minority in order to dismantle its collective identity,” the letter read.

“Profound issues regarding the relations between the Jewish majority and the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel cannot be solved by means of the legislative definition of identity categories convenient for the majority,” it said.

The bill is the first time in formal legislation that Christian and Muslim Arabs would be separated as under the proposal Christian Arabs are no longer identified as Arabs, Aya Ben-Amos, the director of public policy and communications for The Abraham Fund said.

People discriminate against Arabs in the job market based on their name or accent, not because they are Christians or Muslims, she added.

“I don’t think that the change in reality should be that employers differentiate between Christians and Muslims and prefer one over the other, but rather that it should be change toward nondiscrimination toward all Arabs,” Ben-Amos said.

“The motivation is about preferring Arab Christians over Muslims,” she said, adding that trying to isolate Muslim Arabs would lead to more discrimination.

About 123,000 Arab Christians live in Occupied Palestine, and another 226,000 reside in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, according to the CIA statistics.

Churches in the West Bank are often targeted in anti-Christian “price tag” attacks by Israeli settlers.

Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel are also frequently victims of racist incidents in areas under Israeli control, and their perpetrators are rarely prosecuted.

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Last Update: 10:52 KSA 13:52 - GMT 10:52
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