Envision your subjective idea of the typical member of the Israeli Knesset, also known as parliament. Perhaps your image includes an older man with a traditional Jewish yarmulke (the skullcap worn by the Jewish male), payot (the long hair curls that emerge from the side of a Jewish male’s hairline), and tzitzit (the fringed strings that often drape a Jewish male’s clothing). Maybe this member is an observant Jewish woman, complete with modest clothing and a head covering that is traditionally worn by married Jewish females. Your idea of the typical Knesset member may even be a secular Jew, with no genuine connection to Orthodox Judaism. While all three of the aforementioned varieties of Judaism have maintained a presence in the Knesset since Israel’s first election in 1949, members such as Ayoob Kara powerfully shatter all perceptions of the ethnic and religious demographics within the Israeli government.

Ayoob Kara

Ayoob Kara, an Arab-Israeli, has served in Israel’s Knesset since 1999 as a member of current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. The importance of Kara in relation to Israel’s unrivaled Middle Eastern path of opportunity can be described as twofold. Beginning with his ideological vision for Israel, Kara has led the Zionist cause as the most thunderous voice in the Knesset (both contextually and symbolically). Kara has perfectly mirrored the conservative and rational approach towards the Arab-Israeli conflict by, among a plethora of other sentiments, opposing the illogical “solution” of trading Israeli land for peace (including calling the Palestinian leadership “criminals”), encouraging the rights of the Jewish people to continue with their residencies in areas such as the West Bank despite President Obama’s outlandish demands (Kara has consistently remained extremely critical of President Obama’s Middle East approach), serving as the harshest opponent of Iran and its leader, instantaneously criticizing the “Free Gaza” flotilla (in contrast to the immediate reaction of Madam Secretary Hillary Clinton), and vocalizing the essential fact that Israel simply lacks partners for its fundamental goal of peace. The underlying beauty of Kara’s vocal positions is simply their arrival from the mouth of an Arab-Israeli, which, until Kara, has remained a paradoxical relationship to the liberal media and the enemies of the State of Israel.

Kara’s role as a public representative in the Knesset ultimately extends beyond any political party or ideological position; Kara serves as an incredible symbol to those who fail to recognize Israel as the lone Middle Eastern democracy. The best way to grasp the magnitude of an Arab serving in the Israeli government is by employing the converse, and assessing a Jew’s chances of gaining a position (or merely fulfilling the civic responsibility of voting) in the governments of Iran, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, or Libya. I will save you the time by proving its impossibility. Kara’s mere existence as a member of the Knesset (in addition to his attainment of the celebrated Deputy Speaker position) serves as empirical evidence that negates and dismantles the spurious, hate-based claims of an Israeli apartheid state.

Jamal Zahalka

To those who attribute Kara’s tremendous rise to his pro-Israel sentiments, the equally successful and distinguished careers of the 13 other Arab citizens who currently join Kara in serving as members of the Knesset deserve recognition. Among these thirteen include the notable Ahmad Tibi (current Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and leader of the Arab Ta’al party), Hanin Zoabi (a female Palestinian member whose colors truly showed when she joined the Gaza-bound flotilla movement), and Jamal Zahalka (who has continuously called for Israel to “return my land”, as well as labeling Israel as an apartheid state). Yes, you did in fact read those words correctly; Zahalka, an Arab member of Israel’s parliament, has accused the country that he is able to govern as being an apartheid state. Again, employ the converse, and contemplate for a moment the fate of a Jew who publicly calls for a Muslim country to “return my land” while on the soil of any of the aforementioned neighbors of Israel.

Let’s extend this concept to a further level. The dictionary defines apartheid as “any system or practice that separates people according to race, caste, etc;” it should be quite apparent to Mr. Zahalka and the Arab political parties who seek representation in the Knesset that the Israeli government has no official discrimination policy towards the Arab or Palestinian people. Their respective governmental positions (as well as many others, including Arab Supreme Court judge Salim Joubran) in the Knesset exemplify this point. Additionally, the Israeli government has led the Middle East in proactively enacting anti-discrimination legislation, whose primary beneficiaries include the Palestinian and Arab peoples, which “prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status, or sexual orientation” as well as “on the basis of race, religion, political beliefs, and age.” As Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed in his 2011 speech to Congress, Israel has excelled from a human rights perspective. Palestinians and Arabs can only enjoy religious, economic, and legal freedom, as well as access to universal healthcare, property ownership, and education while in Israel. Contrast this with the staggering lack of freedom and opportunity among those residing in Gaza and the West Bank, who are not Israeli citizens, and therefore forfeit the aforementioned rights. Israel has therefore emerged as the world’s paradigm for moral human rights and democratic representation– two attributes that simply do not exist in an apartheid state.

Thus, the beauty of Israel rests in the innumerable world contributions of its people. Continued Israeli technological, medical, and scientific innovations certainly are impressive for any country, and this brilliance is only heightened by Israel’s population, which is less than that of New York City, and land mass, which is smaller than the state of New Jersey. However, unlike its neighbors, Israel uniquely contributes to its own people. Its greatest sector of innovation arrives through opportunity. It is this opportunity, evident in the political rise of Arab-Israeli Knesset members such as Ayoob Kara, Ahmad Tibi, Hanin Zoabi, and Jamal Zahalka, that defines the Israeli Dream.

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Parker Mantell // University of Indiana at Bloomington // @ParkerMantell