Should Israel be a Jewish state or a consensual democracy for both Arabs and Jews?
A group of prominent Arab Israelis has called on Israel to stop defining itself as a Jewish state and become a "consensual democracy for both Arabs and Jews," prompting consternation and debate across the country.
Their contention is part of "The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel," a report published in December under the auspices of the Committee of Arab Mayors in Israel. It represents the country's 1.3 million Arab citizens, about a fifth of the population.
Some 40 well-known academics and activists took part.
They call on the state to recognize Arab citizens as an indigenous national group with collective rights, saying that Israel inherently discriminates against non-Jewish citizens in its symbols of state, some core laws and budget and land allocations.
The authors propose a form of government, "consensual democracy," akin to the Belgian model for Flemish- and French-speakers, involving proportional representation and power-sharing in a central government and autonomy for the Arab community in such areas as education, culture and religious affairs.
The document does not deal with the question of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where three million Palestinians live under Israeli occupation without Israeli citizenship. The aim of the declaration is to reshape the future of Israel itself.
The reaction of Jewish Israelis has ranged from some understanding to a more widespread response, indignation.
Even among the center-left, where concern for civil rights is common, some have condemned the document as disturbing and harmful. On the right, Arab Israelis have been accused of constituting a "fifth column," a demographic and strategic threat to the survival of the state.
Rassem Khamaisi, one of the Future Vision participants and an urban planner, said: "The document reflects the Arab public's feelings of discrimination. We should be looking for ways of partnership."
Many Arab Israelis say they are second-class citizens who do not get the same services and considerations as Jewish Israelis and face discrimination in employment, education and state institutions.
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