Arabs are second-class citizens in Israel
Israeli Arabs are the minority that dare not speak their name.
For decades, the world's attention has dwelt on their Arab brothers and sisters who call themselves Palestinian and who live in the occupied territories or the refugee diaspora around the Middle East. But there is still a large number of Arabs who live as citizens of the Jewish state - approximately 1.4 million or 20 per cent of the overall seven million population - and it is possible to detect rumblings of their discontent.
In theory, they have exactly the same rights as Jewish Israelis. The Israeli government can point at a declaration of independence and a basic law that officially enshrines equality for all Israeli citizens, no matter their religion. But theory and reality rarely tally and you have only to pass through the terminal at Ben Gurion airport to notice how Israel's Arab population are subtly airbrushed out of the way. When the gleaming new building was opened, nobody thought to include signs in Israel's second language, Arabic.
And when you read the results of Israeli public opinion polls, it is possible to wonder how the Jewish state has any Arab citizens whatsoever. In a recent survey, more than half of those questioned said they believed a Jewish woman marrying an Arab man to be a "betrayal of the country and the Jewish people''. And 50.9 per cent agreed the state should encourage Arab Israelis to leave the country.
No wonder that fans supporting the country's league-leading soccer team, Beitar Jerusalem - the Manchester United of Israel - shout, "We hope you get cancer'' when an Israeli Arab player on the opposition team touches the ball. Beitar fans even threatened a season ticket boycott when the club considered hiring its first Israeli Arab player. While Israeli Arabs are meant to enjoy equal status, it took until this year - 59 years after the state was founded - for the first Israeli Arab Muslim to occupy a seat in cabinet.
The appointment of Ghaleb Majadla as science minister might have been a moment for celebration among the country's Arab minority, but it also reopened old wounds. You might have expected Right-wing Jewish extremists to be unhappy, but some of the most powerful dissent came from senior Jewish parliamentarians such as Esterina Tartman, who heads the parliamentary bloc of Yisrael Beitenu. This is not a fringe movement: it is a partner in Israel's coalition government. In her view, the appointment of an Israeli Arab minister was a "gigantic axe blow to the tree trunk of Zionism and a Jewish state''.
Another Right-wing MP demanded that the new minister be subjected to extra security vetting because, unlike a Jewish Israeli, he cannot be assumed to be a trusted guardian of the country's scientific knowledge. Amid such hostility, it was not surprising to hear of Israeli Arab unhappiness at their lot. What was surprising was to hear that this unhappiness might crystallise into the biggest danger to the Jewish state.
For nearly 60 years, external threats have shaped the history of Israel as they have few other countries. Wars with Egypt, Jordan and Syria, as well as the running sore of relations with the Palestinian Authority, have been the yardstick against which Israelis measure their security. But, according to one MP, the real danger now lies within its borders - and is of its own making.
"Arab citizens are growing as a proportion of our population, but are increasingly alienated," said Nadia Hilo, Israel's first female Arab MP, who was elected to the Knesset last year. "The discrimination is coming from the civil service and public sector in particular, where Arab Israelis find it much harder to find jobs than Jewish applicants."
While Israeli Arabs are about one in five of the population, they are projected to become an even bigger minority in the future, as their birth rate outstrips that of Jewish Israelis. Nevertheless, they continue to encounter discrimination in the workplace, despite boasting an impressive number of university graduates.
"There's a definite problem of racism; there's more and more division," said Miss Hilo. "The real danger to Israel comes from inside if it does not give its Arab citizens equality and integration. This generation won't bow the head and be deferential like our parents were. They are well educated and will not tolerate discrimination."
Esterina Tartman's suicide mission