Israeli Arabs have changed in the 25 years since the death of Yitzhak Rabin, said Mohammad Darawshe, an Israeli Arab political analyst who met with Jewish Milwaukee by way of Zoom on Oct. 13.
For one thing, Israeli Arabs, who make up about 20% of Israel’s citizenry, have become increasingly likely to go to college. About 23% of the nation’s doctors are now Israeli Arabs, as are 55% percent of the pharmacists, he said.
“We provide almost 40% of the medical needs of the state of Israel,” Darawshe told an audience of hundreds on Zoom and Facebook. “It’s part of national security.”
The session was the first of a series of conversations examining the legacy of the assassination of Rabin. The session with Darawshe was arranged by the Israel Center of Milwaukee Jewish Federation and its Milwaukee Community Shaliach Uria Roth, with assistance from the Inter Agency Task Force on Arab Israeli Issues and its program manager, Erica Shaps.
Rabin was a respected Israeli military leader. He became prime minister and was killed on Nov. 4, 1995, by a Jewish Israeli, to scuttle Rabin’s controversial plans for an accommodation between Palestinians and Israel.
The year after Rabin’s death, the more hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu would become prime minister, a man who is again prime minister today. This dynamic has had an impact on Israel’s Arab citizens, Darawshe told the group.
Darawshe served as parliamentary faction secretary of the Arab Democratic Party in 1995 and had family members who were involved in politics. He remembers it as a time when Arab representation in the Knesset was smaller, but because of good feelings all around, they were more likely to be heard and involved in decision making.
He remembered one remarkable moment when Arab legislators were called upon to define who is a Jew in the Knesset, or parliament, because opposing Jewish representatives could not agree.
One of Darawshe’s best friends, to this day, is a former Rabin parliamentary assistant. “That’s where I gained my first Jewish friend, through that connection. Through him, I got to learn how the government works and how things can be done in Israel,” he said.
He said that he and other Arabs in Israeli politics were able to serve as a “back door” to Arabs who were not citizens, thanks to “personal relationships that we had with people in Ramallah and Gaza.”
It was a different time, an era when he felt natural walking into the prime minister’s office.
On Nov. 4, 1995, he was watching television at home in Iksal, outside Nazareth. “Suddenly it happened,” he told the other Zoom participants. “Rabin got shot. I screamed.”
He said he remembers the shock, the fear.
“Those were probably the most tense two hours of my life,” he said. He was quickly on the phone, trying to understand what happened and who was responsible. “It was a devastating night. I couldn’t sleep.”
He soon headed for Jerusalem, to be closer to the political aftermath.
Impact on Arab citizens
He said the political impact came quickly, when Netanyahu came to power in 1996. “We were writing history every day and suddenly you feel that the book got slammed in your face,” he said.
Restrictions increased for Arabs, he said. But there have been advances, too. The Rabin feel-good era had opened some eyes on the right. Funding increased for Arab schools, which perhaps helped lead to the current growth of Arab medical personnel in Israel.
“We’ve moved up and up and up, to almost 10% of the police force today are Arab citizens,” Darawshe said.
The Rabin years did not produce the kind of political change his supporters wanted, but things have certainly changed.
“Israeli society started seeing our citizens as legitimate citizens,” Darawshe said. “Not everything was tossed.”
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How to go
The Israel Center of Milwaukee Jewish Federation is holding a series of conversations on impact of the assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Coming up next:
- Nov. 10, 3 p.m., 1995-2020: Right Vs. Left in Israeli society: A Conversation with Tzipi Livni, former vice prime minister of Israel and chief negotiator in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
- Nov. 24, 3 p.m., Screening of the movie, “Incitement,” followed by a Q&A with director Yaron Zilberman.
Events are free and virtual. Email Milwaukee Community Shaliach Uria Roth at UriaR@MilwaukeeJewish.org for the Zoom link.