Examining issue of identity in Israel

The large Arab minority in Israel faces a  complex issue: identity, says Northwestern scholar Elie Rekhess.

“It’s a topic that has been pushed to the side, marginalized,” said Rekhess, professor of history and chair of Middle East studies at Northwestern University. “Not too much is being said or spoken about it.”

Rekhess spoke on campus April 24 as part of Israel Peace Week, sponsored by Students for Israel at UIC.

In 1948, Israel became an established Jewish state, prompting 250,000 Arabs to flee, with some expelled, Rekhess said. But some remained. Of Israel’s population of 8 million, about 75 percent are Jews and 20 percent are Arabs, he said, placing Arabs as the minority in an established Jewish state.

“It’s a very problematic issue, a complex one,” he said.

Arabs in Israel began to ask where their place in the state was, raising an important question regarding the compatibility of Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state, he said.

“The conclusion that is being reached by many intellectuals is that the two don’t work, therefore we should come up with alternative models,” Rekhess said.

Amongst many models is a binational Palestinian-Jewish state, or a two-state solution.  Rekhess maintains that there is much work ahead for equality in Israel to become reality.

“I think there is a lot to be done as far as establishing equality in Israel, a lot that is not yet being done, and hopefully this will take place,” he said.

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