February 6, 2005

Israel has moved from a melting pot ideology to a multicultural reality.Here is a paradox: Just when it seems that multiculturalism is dying out in Europe, it is receiving a substantial boost in the Dovrat Report on reforming our educational system.

In Western Europe, amazingly, where the multicultural idea was seemingly entrenched, politicians and journalists are abandoning it, without having been subject to even a small fraction of the Islamic terror Israel has suffered.

Says Angela Markel, leader of the German Christian Democratic Union: “The concept of multiculturalism has crumbled. Anyone who comes here has to respect our constitution and our Western and Christian roots.”

Public opinion there roiled over a secret recording of an imam in Berlin who told his followers the Germans would “burn in hell.” A Die Welt journalist wrote: “If multiculturalism means that 30,000 Turks should live in their Berlin neighborhood as if they were in Turkey, the term loses its credibility.”

And so new suggestions came up: that the imams preach only in German, and that the immigrants be required to study the language.

Yet more extreme is the case of the Netherlands, where until recently an extreme form of multiculturalism was in vogue, according to which the Muslim community would have equal rights with the Christian religious communities. The shocking murder of Theo Van Gogh destroyed what had been built over many years.

According to a recent poll, the nationalist ideology of Geert Wilders, a member of parliament the Muslims view as an enemy, is supported by some 20 percent of voters. The minister of immigrant absorption talks about imparting “Dutch values.”

The public is unlikely to be assuaged by news that shortly Muslims are going to be the majority in Rotterdam and Amsterdam.

The result is a new immigration law stating that, like in Danish law, partners who marry Dutch citizens have to be 21 and speak Dutch. So much for multiculturalism.

Israel, on the other hand, has moved quickly from a melting pot ideology to an impressive multicultural reality: Tel Aviv has succeeded Alexandria as a colorful, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual center. The Alexandria of the poet Cavafy and the writer Durrell has disappeared. The racist tyrant Nasser expelled the non-Arabs (without anyone saying boo against that ethnic cleansing) and the city became the focus of Arab anti-Semitic racism.

The world-renowned Italian architect Massimiliano Fuksas says: “Israel is the most authentic multicultural place I know, and it works here better than in a lot of places in Europe. Believe me.”

One would have to be blind, or an anti-Zionist sociologist, to fail to see it.

Anyone with doubts need only note how the Dovrat Report applies multiculturalism to Israeli Arabs too. As the report states, “In recognition of the special fabric of Israel’s multicultural society, public education should allow each community… to express its special personality and complement the firm common basis shared by everyone who is part of it.”

The only restriction on the multicultural concept resides in the prohibition for all stripes of public education, including ultra-Orthodox and Arab, to contradict the goals of such education, including viewing Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

This is a much more balanced view than the Dutch one, which was so extreme that it destroyed itself.

The Dovrat Report recognizes the common identity of the Arab public as an educational value but demands that it strive for integration into the framework of the Jewish and democratic state. The fact that that wording was accepted by the Israeli Arab leadership has historic significance.

The most multicultural chapter of the report speaks of Hebrew studies through the rich literature of Middle Eastern Jews, part of which was written in Arabic, through books written in Hebrew by Israeli Arabs; and of studying the Bible in Hebrew along with parallel chapters of the Koran, such as, for example, the story of Joseph in Egypt.

Needless to say, there is a gap between words and action. Israeli Arabs are not yet full partners, either in budgeting or representation, with the Jewish Israeli community. Worse, if the government were to give in to Shas’s demand to restore child allowances only to those eligible for military service – an illegal measure that would be overruled by the High Court of Justice – it would be a severe blow to Jewish-Arab relations.

Despite all this, the Dovrat Report and its acceptance by the government are evidence that our society’s basic approach is gradually changing. If anything, where we are coming from makes the change all the more striking.

How odd that in Europe, without terror or war, multiculturalism is fading rapidly, while we, stricken by terror and besieged by anti-Israeli incitement, are discovering the virtues of tolerance and respect for the other.

It is a kind of miracle. An unreported one, but still – a miracle.

(Appeared originally in The Jerusalem Post)

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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