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Thursday, September 14, 2006

What to do about the 'fifth column'

Contained in the title of this post is a political epithet that I've understood only vaguely for most of my adult life as some sort of subversive internal influence.

Lucky for me (and you), the Web is a wonderful tonic for partial or total ignorance:

The term 'fifth column' itself is defined (by Wikipedia) as follows:

"A group of people who clandestinely undermines from within a larger group to which it is expected to be loyal, such as a nation." *

But the story behind the term is interesting as well, and provides the necessary context:

Towards the beginning of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939),  Emilio Mola, a Nationalist Spanish General delivered a stirring radio address in which he described not only his four army columns advancing on Madrid... but also the strategic value of his staunch supporters within the Spanish capital.  He placed such value on the nationalists living in Madrid that he referred to these local supporters as his 'fifth column' as if they were part of the armed forces under his command.

The term 'fifth column' has been bandied about in Israeli political circles for years in reference to Israeli Arabs.  However, until fairly recently it was considered extremely politically incorrect to do so... and in fact was pretty much the exclusive province of the 'lunatic right' (Kach, et al).

However an editorial I just read in the Jerusalem Post talks about trends revealed in recent polling results that show a fairly significant swath of mainstream Israelis (not a majority, to be sure) in favor of some kind of prejudicial treatment of Arab Israeli citizens due to the perception/reality of their disloyalty to the state:

"In a poll last December, 40 percent of Israeli Jews said that the state should "encourage Arab citizens to emigrate." That is still a minority (52 percent disagreed), but it is clearly approaching the tipping point - especially since 63 percent termed Israeli Arabs "a security and demographic threat to the state," with only 13 percent disagreeing."

The editorial goes on to point out that fully a sixth of current Israeli Knesset seats are held by parties that favor some sort of population transfer (or at least strong encouragement of Israeli Arabs to emigrate).

The reason this grabs my attention is that I grew up hearing shocking stories of how, during WWII, approximately 120,000 Japanese-Americans were rounded up and placed in internment camps for the simple reason that they were considered by the U.S. government to be a fifth column security threat.  It may very well have been that among these thousands of Japanese-American internees there were actual disloyal citizens... or perhaps even a few spies.  One can reason that if you spread a large enough net you are bound to catch a few fish... however, that's not how a democracy is supposed to operate, is it?

With that in mind, you can imagine why I've had a fairly visceral reaction whenever I've heard anyone openly discuss rounding up / deporting Arabs who hold Israeli citizenship.

However, after reading this JPost editorial I have to say that I don't think one can draw an honest parallel between the treatment of the Japanese-American population during WWII and how Israeli-Arabs are viewed in modern times.  Although I strongly encourage you to read the whole editorial, here are the money quotes concerning MKs from the three Arab parties in Knesset that offer compelling reasons to view Israeli Arabs as a true fifth column:

"Last weekend ... [MK] Bishara's Balad faction traveled to Damascus, thereby violating the law prohibiting travel to enemy states. While there, he publicly praised Syria's "struggle to free occupied Arab land" and its "resistance against occupation" - i.e., its support for anti-Israel terror. Moreover, he makes such statements frequently, as in a 2001 speech praising Hizbullah's "guerrilla war" against Israel, the "losses" (casualties) it inflicted on Israel and its "victory" over Israel. "

"[MK] BISHARA openly advocates terror attacks against the country in whose parliament he sits, rejoices when it suffers casualties and cheers when it loses battles ("Hizbullah won, and for the first time since 1967 we have tasted the taste of victory")."

"Balad MK Jamal Zahalka's explanation for the trip: "We don't see Syria as an enemy state."  Thus not only does he contemptuously ignore laws enacted by the parliament in which he sits, he declines to view a country that is officially at war with Israel - and whose president publicly threatened just last month to resume hostilities someday - as an enemy state. "

"Hadash faction chairman MK Muhammad Barakei publicly urged Israeli Arabs to participate in Palestinian violence against Israel. This past January, he declared: "I'm not loyal to the country; the country must be loyal to me." Similarly, MK Taleb a-Sanaa, of the third Arab party, Ra'am-Ta'al, told the Nazareth-based newspaper Kul al-Arab in 2001 that the leader of Hamas, perpetrator of most anti-Israel suicide bombings, was an "exalted" figure comparable to the Dalai Lama, while Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah ... "deserves the Nobel Peace Prize."

"MK Azmi Bishara (Balad) complained of a "season of incitement against Arab MKs" during the recent Lebanon war. Bakar Awada, director of the Center Against Racism, said the poll showed that "racism is becoming mainstream…. This is a worrisome development."   Yet Israeli Arab leaders apparently still see no connection between this growing anti-Arab sentiment and their own behavior. "

Remember... the overwhelming majority of Israeli Arabs voted for one of these three parties.  Placed together, these quotes really seem to meet the 'smell test' of a true 'fifth column'.

So where does that leave us in terms of how we, as a democratic society, should view a significant portion of the Israeli electorate... a slice of the population that during time of war has openly demonstrated their support of our enemies, celebrated the death of Israeli citizens and voiced their support for the ultimate destruction of the State of Israel?

Quite simply, at what point do the irreconcilably disparate goals of Israeli-Arabs and Jews suggest that steps should taken to create a framework for disloyal/subversive citizens to be forced out from under the protective blanket of the democracy they want so desperately to destroy... and force them to throw in their lot with the powers / organizations they openly support?

Before responding please consider the fact that just as with the WWII-era Japanese-Americans... there are also many Israeli Arabs who are extremely loyal/patriotic and who send their sons to serve (and die) in combat units in the defense of their country.  What of them?

* Source: Wikipedia list of political epithets

Read full text of editorial here


Posted by David Bogner on September 14, 2006 | Permalink


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The solution is *not* to round up and throw out every Israeli-Arab based on some polling data and a few foolish politicians.

I will remind you that if you asked the same polling questions of Israelis living within the Green Line about settlers, you might get similar results: half say you should be encouraged to leave the settlements, and more than half think you are a security risk for Israel. And, to be honest, there are plenty of settler leaders who have said some pretty stupid stuff over the years.

I have no doubt that a large chunk of Israeli-Arabs are far from happy with Israel, and have a lot of sympathy for aspects of 'resistance' movements that we know as terrorist organizations. In general, this sympathy is tempered by common sense, but it is still rather too much.

However, the solution that some would propose (generally on the far right) is not a viable one. One cannot simply condemn all Israeli-Arabs on the basis of the actions and beliefs of some. If we were to do so, not only would we lose our souls, we would also lose any shred of hope of living in peaceful coexistence with our Arab neighbors... someday.

I think that the government can make no laws targeted against any aspect of its population. The internal security apparatus can most assuredly be used to monitor Israeli-Arab sentiment and try to shut down domestic terror cells/etc., but no more than that.

If, on the other hand, individuals wish to try to legally address this issue, they are welcome to do so. Ways in which do so can range from trying to educate the next generation of Israeli-Arabs into a renewed sense of patriotism to setting up large funds to encourage Israeli-Arabs to emigrate. I'm not sure I'm a big fan of the second option, but it's certainly a legal and viable approach.


Posted by: matlabfreak | Sep 14, 2006 2:57:03 PM

Wow. That's a hard question. I'll be thinking on this for a while, I do believe. Excellent post, as usual.

Posted by: Kelly | Sep 14, 2006 3:48:15 PM

Just as Israeli Ethiopian Jews are important part of your security make-up, Israeli-Arabs too have a definite role in protecting Israel, you need the loyal ones!. Snitches are an inevitable composition of every society but they shouldn’t jeopardizing much, knowing all too well how keen the Israeli system is on them… in retrospect, since you might not have Arabs migrating to Israel under any laws in the future, the main question should be, which Jews in the Diaspora mean more to Israel and why?

Posted by: pk | Sep 14, 2006 4:34:51 PM

Doesn't Israel have sedition laws? If not, maybe we need them. There is a difference between Bishara publicly pimping for Syria and it's terrorist franchises, and the average Israeli Arab who simply gets up and goes to work every day who is entitled to his private opinions.

If we, as Jews, engage in 'transfer' solely on the basis of ethnic identity, then IMHO we have NO claim to any moral high ground, and we are as racist and elitest as the European and Arab cultures which oppressed our people.

I personally am afronted by an Israeli-Arab mind-set that wishes for the dissolution of Israel while living off the sweat of ALL working Israelis whose taxes pay for the medical and social benefits that person receives.

I am just as outraged by Yossi Beilin, though, and no one is suggesting he be deported or jailed.(Now there's an idea: they give us our soldiers back, and we give them Bashar and Beilin!)

So, if this is a democracy, then a hostile minority opinion, if it exists, must be tolerated. A democracy does not compel loyalty to the state through force or coercion. If that hostility manifests itself in acts of terror or acts assisting terror, then we have laws to deal with any of our citizens who engage in murderous enterprises.

Posted by: aliyah06 | Sep 14, 2006 5:19:46 PM

There is the emotional side that says use racial profiling, but the intellectual side says that does not solve anything. I think you need a lot of common sense in order to find the right solution.

Posted by: The Misanthrope | Sep 14, 2006 7:03:17 PM

I have sort of a technical question. Do you think the "overwhelming" majority of Arabs really vote for these parties? From what I understand many Arabs boycott the elections. Not to mention many also vote for zionist parties such as Meretz or Labor. Obviously a large number do vote for them. But there is also a large part of their population that doesn't.

Posted by: Jonah | Sep 14, 2006 8:26:28 PM

Subversive opinions may be ytolerated in a democracy; subversive acts need not - and should not - be. Giving aid and comfort to the enemy may be grounds to deport or imprison an individual, depending upon how egregious his or her behavior is. Targeting large groups based on ethnic identity, however, is precisely what our enemies do: I wish to be unlike them.

Posted by: Elisson | Sep 14, 2006 8:29:57 PM

Perhaps a better parallel in the United States would be how Communists were handled during the Cold War. There were certainly those in the U.S. who advocated overthrow of the U.S. government at the time (and a few remaining today). Many were investigated (with their civil rights inappropriately violated at times) Those who were found to engage in espionage were imprisoned, and few, if any, American citizens, were deported.
As Elisson says, subversive opinions should be tolerated in a democracy. Those who break the law of the land (including MKs of any religion whether travelling to enemy states, or squatting/settling illegally on land) should be arrested, prosecuted and appropriately punished if found guilty of breaking the law. You can't have it both ways if you still want a democracy.

Posted by: wanderer | Sep 14, 2006 8:56:24 PM

That's interesting that the term "fifty column" comes from 1930s Spain. Spain also faced Israel's very same dilemma. In the 15th century the Spanish monarchy, if it was to survive as a viable political entity, had to rid the land of traitorous Moors who (after centuries of conflict) had been vanquished militarily, but remained to be subdued socially. Perhaps you know what they called this test of loyalty to the crown -- anyone, anyone?

But notwithstanding Spain's bad example of how to conduct an "Inquisition", Israel (now confronting the coming reality of a Muslim majority) can't afford to do nothing. There are no easy answers. Personally, I'm not so sqeamish about regarding all devout Muslims as traitors to Israel. I understand enough of Islam to know that it forbids any allegience to the nation of Israel. I say, expel all Muslims as gently as possible. After all, if Israel can forcibly remove Jews from their land, ...?

Posted by: Bob | Sep 14, 2006 10:43:45 PM

I think generally it does make sense that if you vote for someone then you agree with him, but in the Israeli political system you may simply vote for a party because you believe you should have some sort or representation.

For example, I hate everyone in every political party in Israel, but I would vote for Kadima because I believe there should be some kind of representation for those who aren't as left as Peretz or as right as Netanyahu. Another example is that many 'Sephardic' Jews vote for Shas because they believe that non-Ashkenazi Jews need representation, even though Shas is really only focused on advancing the rights of the ultra-orthodox and not necessarily on the Sephardim.

So basically, the Arabs want some representation even if their Arab leaders are 80 percent inadequate.

And despite all this, I do wish that 70 percent of the Arabs just packed their bags and left for those countries that they hold so dear to their hearts (Lebanon, Syria, not Israel). I just don't think the reasons rests in what their leaders say, but more so in how I would prefer to see the ever-shrinking Israel.

Posted by: Seth | Sep 14, 2006 11:44:27 PM

Perhaps if the law-breakers were charged and tried - and even convicted - there might be less sentiment for deporting Arabs from Israel. But, as long as Israelis see Arabs within Israel treated with kid gloves, rather than held to the law, they will continue to feel as many of us Americans do about illegal aliens. We want them out!

Break the nation's laws, get prosecuted and punished. That makes a pretty good statement.

Posted by: benning | Sep 15, 2006 12:48:51 AM

Very interesting post indeed. Like some of you I will have to think about this. But, I have a question: what would you consider a group of people within a country that through legal, education, media and activist arbitrators and, who has been "travelling" through decades to completely redo that country? Yet, the majority of the citizens disagree.

Posted by: sharinlite | Sep 15, 2006 12:52:31 AM

I was going to counter the point that Jonah also raised- I'd be interested to know where you got the factoid that the "overwhelming majority of Israeli Arabs voted for one of these three parties." Perhaps that is the statistical case in certain regions (like the Triangle) but in the north, south and central regions, while there's a lot of boycotting, there's even more voting for the "mainstream" Israeli parties.

But the actions of these MKs are treasonous, and they without a doubt are waving a racism-against-Arab-citizens card to try and minimise the attention on said disgusting actions. All the same, it must not be forgotten that their racism card- while being undoubtedly exploited by these "leaders" right now- remains a valid one. Unfortunately.

Posted by: PP | Sep 15, 2006 1:25:50 AM

is this the same government that outlawed the KACH party?

Posted by: david | Sep 15, 2006 1:30:08 AM

Even democratic societies/nations have legal prohibitions against inciting acts seeking to harm the government. The words of Israeli Arab leaders referred to inthe J.Post piece would seem to qualify as violations of such laws--if such laws exist in Israel. The enforcement of such laws would have nothing to do with whether one was Arab or Jewish.
If (strangely) no such laws exist, perhaps it's time they were enacted.
As suggested in other comments here, Israeli Arabs should expect a hostile reaction when individuals and groups espouse the positions of Israel's enemies. The jewish public has a right to fear that those espousals will logically become 'acts'.
It sounds like it's high time for the Knesset to debate the matter and, in due time, to enact such self-protective laws as seem necessary and effective.
There is another vital side to the problem of Israeli Arab loyalties: the voices and views of Israeli Arabs who do not share these anti-Israel attitudes. Those who support their country should undersand the severe penalties of remaining silent when the force of their opposition is so urgently needed. At some point, Israeli legislators must assume that such opposition does not exist. Then Israeli Arabs become wholly identified with the enemies they resemble in their words. Then, Israel must, indeed, fear that their disloyal words will be soon followed by real "fifth column" actions.
That will be a sad and dangerous time for Israeli Arabs. They should speak out while there is time!

Posted by: Delmar Bogner | Sep 15, 2006 4:13:53 AM

I agree with Benning. The government should criminalize behavior that endangers the welfare of the rest of the country and ENFORCE it vigorously. I think Arabs loyal to Israel should not be forced out, but the people who are acting in a subversive ways... the government should make an example of them.

Posted by: Irina | Sep 15, 2006 5:10:01 AM

According to stats, the Arab parties got the following *number* of votes:

Ra'am Ta'al: 94,786
Chadash: 86,092
Balad: 72,066

So, that adds up to about 250k votes. There are a bit over 1.2 million Israeli Arabs (About a million of which are Muslim). Even if half of them are below voting age, that's still several hundred thousand Israeli Arabs who are not accounted for by the 'Arab' parties.


Posted by: matlabfreak | Sep 15, 2006 5:10:50 AM

Work harder at co-opting and involving them, and encourage a greater sense of a separate identity.

Yes, I know that that is what allegedly has already been tried in some form or other. Is it working?

As long as they do not see themselves as different by environment and subculture from other Arabs, there will be an identification with the rest of the Arab world.

Once that identification becomes treasonous, it is actionable. Pre-emption however would be morally problematic.

Posted by: The Back of the Hill | Sep 15, 2006 5:18:46 AM

When I read your entry today, my mind went back to Genesis 21. Abraham found himself in a quandary similar to the modern situation: Should I send Ishmael away, or should I let him remain?

G-d made the decision for him, promising Abraham that He would take care of Ishmael, and that "in Isaac shall thy seed be called."

G-d foreknew what would happen when Israel mingled with other people. (Ishmael's mom was Egyptian, and most likely had her idols with her.) That is why He so often commanded (not suggested) Israel to drive out the heathen (G-d's word, not mine) from the Land. I'm sure there were many decent, hard-working people among the non-Hebrews, but G-d knew they would turn Israel's heart away from Him to worship idols.

The situation in Israel, as it stands, is ripe for the Deliverer. A false one will rise, but don't accept him as the Messiah. He will do many lying miracles to turn your hearts away from G-d yet one more time.

The One who comes after this one, He is the One.

May Israel soon see the salvation of the Lord.

Posted by: Dina | Sep 16, 2006 11:38:29 PM

MAtlabfreak... If we were talking about raw polling data alone I would go along with you. But Israeli views of settlers is not born out by statistical evidence as is the hardcore support for violence one finds in the Arab electorate.

Kelly... Thanks. I'm good at asking the hard questions. Not so good at answering them, though. :-)

PK... 'Need' is a very strong word.

Aliyah06... I agree that simply being hostile does not cross the line. But acting on those feelings and breaking existing security laws does.

The Misanthrope... Fair enough.

Jonah... I should have said "of those that voted..." since my data comes from the exit polls published during and after the last election.

Elisson... I agree. However, there are laws on the books that were written to deal with these acts.

Wanderer... I never meant to imply the laws should not be applied equally across the board. Trust me when I tell you there are a few Jewish MKs I'd like to see in jail.

Bob... I still have not seen compelling evidence of the Arab majority you predict. That is a point that deserves to be investigated and not taken as a given.

Seth... I am much more interested in the actions of Israeli Arabs and the MKs of the Arab parties than their rhetoric.

Benning... No argument here.

sharinlite... um, Hispanics? ;-)

PP... As I said earlier, I should have written that the majority of those who voted cast their ballots for the Arab parties. As to the racist card, I have no interest in what they claim or deserve. The current laws about visiting enemy countries was written after their last trip to Syria. If they can't make this case stick there is something very wrong with our legal system.

David... Yes, and your point was?

Dad... The problem isn't so much that the law doesn't exist... it does. The problem is that the legal authorities have broad discretionary powers to decide what is in the interest of the country to prosecute.

Irina... Fair enough.

Matlabfreak... Those 'unaccounted for' votes are no shows. Remember that voter turn out was incredibly low this time.

The Back of the Hill... Israel is not responsible for making any of its sub-cultures feel welcomed or involved... that is their responsibility. That the Arabs have maintained a separate identity is their own choice.

Dina... Wow, are you a friend of Scott's? I only ask because he's usually the one quoting scripture around here. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Sep 17, 2006 4:22:25 PM

Never even heard of the term "fifth column" so I am way more ignorant than you, if it's any consolation. No answers at 3 in the morning, but your question is a good one. I will give it more thought if and when lucidity returns...

Posted by: mcaryeh | Sep 18, 2006 10:07:25 AM

I believe I saw a piece in Ha'aretz the other day saying that the attorney general had opened an investigation into the Syria trip... suggesting that they are interested in enforcing the rule they made after the last Syria trip. We'll have to see how it pans out.


Posted by: matlabfreak | Sep 20, 2006 7:22:36 AM

I am a friend of anyone who loves Israel, and crazy in love with your G-d...have been for 57 years.

Posted by: Dina | Sep 20, 2006 8:09:34 AM

I would keep an eye on the Russians in Israel. Russia too could very well have her fifth column entrenched in Israel. The Rabbis need to be more discriminating when accepting "conversions."

Posted by: Dina | Sep 20, 2006 8:19:52 AM

In my opinion, loyalty (whether to an individual or a country) must be earned. If the Israeli government wants to insure the loyalty of its Arab citizens then it should stop treating them like second class citizens in their own country.

Posted by: Candace Miller | Feb 27, 2008 12:38:47 AM

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