George Deek is the child of Palestinian Christian refugees. He is also a diplomat in the Israeli Foreign Service. Superficially, this seems to be an impossible contradiction. But, Deek refuses to be placed into categories of other people’s makings. Last week he spoke at UC Davis when a band of about 30 anti-Israel hecklers disrupted his talk, chanted slogans including long live the Intifada, waved Palestinian flags and, after about 10 minutes, walked out shouting “Allahu Akbar!” Afterwards, they released a statement accusing Israel of the horrible crime of being a “liberal-democracy.”
You read that correctly. Israel is a shameful example of liberal-democracy.
No doubt, most Israelis would proudly proclaim “guilty!”
Their statement, heavy with cliché-ridden revolutionary rhetoric, calls Deek “a self-identified Israeli born to a Palestinian family [who] perfectly embodies the project of zionist (sic) liberal-democracy, which seeks to assimilate Palestinians into non-existence.” The statement also accused Deek of being a “colonial collaborator” for essentially using his “Palestinian identity” to further Israeli interests.
Let’s deconstruct this a bit to better understand the protesters’ angst. First, they correctly identify Israel as a liberal and democratic society. All Israelis, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender, are entitled to the right to vote in a secret ballot for the parties of their choice, petition their government, hold peaceful demonstrations, run for elected office, and to freedoms of religion, expression, association, assembly, press. They are also entitled, by right, to their own personal identity.
All citizens enjoy these rights. This includes the one-in-five Israelis who are Arabs. According to a 2015 sociological study about one-third of Israeli Arabs identify as “Israeli,” one-third as “Palestinian,” and the other third as somewhere in between. The study observes that this “suggests a complex, multi-faceted divided identity with many nuances and sub-identities.” In another study, fully 75% of Israeli Arabs stated that Israel has a right to exist as an independent state, and 48% that they could support its existence as a democratic, Jewish state.
Most people possess complex and nuanced identities. George Deek does and clearly so do many of his fellow Israeli Arabs, many of whom – like Deek – have excelled. Ismail Khaldi, an Israeli Beduoin, is also an Israeli diplomat and, like many other Bedouin, he was a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. Major General Hussain Fares, a Druze, commands Israel’s Border Police, and Major Alaa Waheeb is the highest ranking Arab Muslim IDF soldier who is operations officer at a ground forces training base. Justice Salim Joubran, a Christian Arab, sits on Israel’s Supreme Court. Dr. Aziz Darawshe, a Muslim Arab, is Director of Emergency Medicine at Israel’s premier Hadassah University Medical Center. Lucy Aharish, a Muslim Arab, is an anchor on Israeli Hebrew-language television. Fr. Gabriel Naddaf, a Greek Orthodox priest, leads a growing movement that redefines Arab Christians as “Arabic-speaking Arameans.” As such, Naddaf is urging Christian Arabs to integrate more into mainstream Israeli society, including volunteering for the IDF. Two years ago, Israel officially recognized the Aramean identity on a par with other communities.
Hundreds of thousands of Israeli Arabs actively integrating into Israeli society and claiming full ownership of an Israeli identity undermines the UC Davis protestors’ radical ultra-nationalist dogma that delegitimizes Israel’s existence. The reality of George Deek does not compute with their closed ideology, and competes with their monochromatic narrative they are promoting on campus.
In other words, the disrupters’ nationalist narrative is disrupted by Deek’s personal narrative. This is what disturbs them. Their rigid and intolerant worldview prevents them from processing the fact that modern human identities are multi-faceted and nuanced. The only way they can understand Deek is by reducing him to a one dimensional caricature carrying the label “colonial collaborator.”
This is why they focus their ire onto Israel’s open liberal-democratic society, which creates opportunities for Israeli Arabs to express and define freely their complex, nuanced multi-faceted identities beyond the predetermined, imposed and politicized identity dictated by Arab nationalist ideology.
George Deek seeks peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. He came to UC Davis to discuss the issues and open paths to dialogue. But these “hear no evil” demonstrators wanted nothing of the sort. Their approach is polarizing, hate-filled and a certain formula for perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades more. Deek and others like him are attempting to show us a different way toward peace. We’d be foolish not to follow it.
Roz Rothstein is CEO and Yitzhak Santis is Senior Writer and Analyst for StandWithUs