Mira Anwar Awad, an Arab-Israeli, will be singing at a festival in Nazareth, a predominantly Arab-Israeli city on Saturday. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), based in Ramallah, demanded the mayor cancel her appearance. Why? Because Awad represented Israel in the 2009 Eurovision song contest.
PACBI accused Awad of “participating in Israeli and Zionist propaganda… revealing her intentional choice to turn her back on her people’s difficulties.” But Awad will sing on Saturday night anyway and the isolationist attitude of PACBI is not doing Arab-Israelis any favors. As they have not removed Awad from the festival, the Nazareth city leadership seems to agree. Arab-Israelis shouldn’t absent themselves from the Israeli economy and society—they should try and integrate into it.
Awad does not deny her complex identity. Indeed, she embraces it, starring in “Avodah Aravit”—“Arab Work”—a mixed Hebrew and Arabic language TV series in which her character lives with her Jewish-Israeli boyfriend and their child. And she doesn’t shy away from tough talk on the distinctiveness of her community: “I’m Palestinian in the sense of my heritage… but I have an Israeli passport, not a Palestinian one… In 1948… a new nation of 1.5 million people was created, and I’m not talking right now about those in the territories and refugee camps.”
She differentiates between Israeli and non-Israeli Palestinians, works for Israeli media, and represented Israel in Eurovision. No wonder PACBI sees her as a traitor. But on the other hand, she is a successful, accomplished woman with a career who supports herself financially in the demographic of Arab-Israeli women, where the unemployment rate hovers around 78%.
Barriers to employment for Arab-Israeli women are erected both by Jewish-Israeli society and by Arab-Israeli society. There are many—both Jews and Arabs—who fear greater integration between the two communities. But there are a number of organizations working to increase employment among Arab-Israeli women via training, loans, and other means: the Israeli government and JDC, the Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development, Jasmine, and others. Only yesterday, Haaretz ran an op-ed encouraging Israeli preschools—which now have to accommodate thousands more children than last year, thanks to social reforms—to hire some of the thousands of the unemployed Arab-Israeli women who are trained as preschool teachers.
It’s a disservice to Palestinian-Israelis to view their integration into society as a betrayal, and PACBI’s attitude is harmful. Isolation keeps Arab-Israelis poor and uneducated; lack of Hebrew-language skills entrenches them outside the general economy. The sad truth is that those who are discriminated against are those who need to work hardest to overcome discrimination; the Civil Rights movement was led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., not by Rabbi Abraham Heschel—though Heschel marched with Dr. King. The first step for Arab-Israelis must be to seek out the organizations that can train and support them, and to join with those Jewish-Israelis who will support their efforts. It is up to Arab-Israelis to change the status quo.
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