Israel: New Law Aims to Distinguish Christian and Muslim Arabs; Good or bad decision?

(  The Knesset on Monday approved a controversial law whose goal is to distinguish between Muslim and Christian Arab citizens and to heighten involvement of Christians in Israeli society.
Yarid Levin

Critics say the law constitutes an attempt to “divide and conquer” the country’s Arab population.

The new law will add Israeli Christian Arab representatives to the advisory council for Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, expanding the number of panel members from 5 to 10. The law passed by 31 to six votes in its third reading.

Haim Katz, chairman of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, introduced the law in the plenum on Monday, saying, “The aim is to look after populations that have a hard time in the labor market and to give them a representation on the advisory committee.”

But opposition parliamentarians weren’t convinced and felt it was part of an effort to try to define the state according to religions, according to Haaretz. They say no specific Christian or Druze employment problem exists but that it is rather a problem of the general Arab population. They argue that the law’s sponsor, Likud party member Yarid Levin, is interested in “cruelly dividing” the Arab public by advancing the legal status of Christian Arabs in Israel at the expense of Muslims.
Basel Ghattas

In a recent interview Levin gave to the Maariv newspaper, Levin declared his intention to formulate legislation that would create a distinction between the Christian Arab population and the Muslim population. He said this bill would be the first in a series of laws to allow for greater integration of the Christian population into Israeli society.

“My legislation will provide separate representation and separate attention to the Christian public, separate from the Muslim Arabs,” Levin said. “This is a historic and important move that could help balance the State of Israel, and connect us and the Christians, and I’m being careful about not calling them Arabs because they aren’t Arabs.”

According to Levin, “Christians can be directors of government companies, they will get separate representation in the local authorities, they will get equal employment opportunities. The first law I will pass will give Christians representation on the advisory council of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.”

He added: “We and the Christians have a lot in common. They’re our natural allies, a counterweight to the Muslims who want to destroy the country from within. On the other hand, there’s a message here: We will use an iron hand and demonstrate zero tolerance of Arabs who are liable to identify with the terror of the Palestinian state.”

161,000 Christians live in Israel and nearly 80 percent of them are of Arab origin, with the remainder largely coming from the former Soviet states. Nearly all live in majority Muslim towns and villages.

Israel’s Christian Arabs have increasingly pushed for an identity distinct from the country’s majority-Muslim Arab society, preferring an emphasis on their ties to the Israeli state. In July, Israeli Christians banded together to create a new political party called “Sons of the New Testament.” The party encourages enlistment in the IDF and full integration into Israeli society, according to the Times of Israel.

The newspaper said 2013 saw a threefold increase in IDF enlistment among the Christian population.

Click hear to read an article about Christian opposition to this new law. “Christian Arab MK: We won’t be co-opted like the Druze: Basel Ghattas says Arab society in Israel will oppose legislation meant to fragment it along religious lines