Mohammed Amin MBE is Co-Chair of the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester and Vice-Chair of Liberal Democrats for Peace in the Middle East. He is writing in a personal capacity.
In the midst of a discussion during a recent meeting of the Liberal Democrats for Peace in the Middle East, I commented that I would rather be an Arab citizen of Israel rather than a Syrian citizen of Syria.
This struck a chord during the meeting, and I was asked if I would write my views down. I have done so. Obviously when writing, you can give more background than you can when speaking.
When I think about Israel, I start from the perspective of a Muslim of Pakistani origin who has lived in the UK, as a member of a religious and an ethnic minority, from the age of two.
As a long-standing observer of Israel, who for obvious reasons identifies with its minority communities, I am very aware of those areas where Israeli law and the conduct of the Israeli government has treated, and sometimes continues to treat, Israeli Arab citizens less favourably than Israeli Jewish citizens. I am also very aware of discrimination against Israeli Arab citizens by some of Israel’s Jewish citizens.
That is why I support several organisations which work towards equal shared citizenship in Israel. For example, Merchavim, The Abraham Initiatives, and The New Israel Fund to name but three.
I am also conscious of the growing awareness of this issue in Israeli society and the significant progress that has been made in reducing discrimination over the last 10-15 years. In that regard, the current Israeli governing coalition looks like accelerating that positive trend.
To be frank, even with the remaining discrimination touched on above, if I had to choose, I would rather be an Arab citizen of Israel than, for example, a Syrian citizen of Syria or a Saudi citizen of Saudi Arabia.
The reasons are straightforward. I place exceptionally high value on my personal freedom:
- the freedom to practice and change my religion;
- the freedom to criticise my country’s leaders;
- the right to vote and be active in political parties.
As an Arab citizen of Israel, I would have those rights.
They are rights which are denied to Saudi and Syrian citizens, to name just two Muslim majority countries which are geographically near to Israel. I could cite many more countries as examples.