A unique look at life in Israel
By Laura Katsirdakis
With the Middle East peace process in limbo, an inside view of life in Israel can provide a unique view, especially from the perspective of an Israeli Bedouin.
Yesterday the Israel Action Committee, the Jewish Students' Union and Hasbara Fellowships sponsored a discussion led by Ishmael Khaldi about his homeland, Israel, and his position as part of an ethnic minority within it.
"I told a personal story about Israel; its culture, society and politics," Khaldi said when summing up the topic he spoke about.
"Bedouins are Israelis but they are not Jewish," Khaldi said. "Israel is a state based on Jewish nationalism but 20 per cent of the population are not Jewish, 1.2 million are Arab and of these, 150,000 to 200,000 are Bedouins.
"Bedouins are Muslim - we are part of Arab culture," Khaldi explained.
Here in Canada, people are of the opinion that Israel is a racist state, or an apartheid state, Khaldi said. "What I am here to say is that is not true."
Every state has its problems, but as a non-Jewish citizen, he does have rights, Khaldi noted. "I think Israel is being misjudged - it is important to bring my story [to Canada].
"We are committed to Israel - it is very important that I be a witness to this," he said. "[As an Israeli citizen] I am part of an open democratic society," Khaldi added. He claimed to speak on behalf of the majority of Israeli-Bedouins.
Khaldi's talk was part of a nation-wide tour across Canada in which he will visit many post-secondary campuses. "There was a good discussion, more than on other campuses," he noted.
Khaldi has been to the United States several times before, but this was his first visit to Canada.
"Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, that is why we are proud of it," Khaldi said.
Patrick Amar, an activist for Israel who accompanied Khaldi on the talk, said anyone who wanted to contact Khaldi could do so through www.israelactivism.com.
"I think [Khaldi's was] a perspective that we rarely hear in the media - he pointed out that ethnic minorities have rights, have the ability to vote, have equal opportunity and have religious freedom in Israel," said Arie Dimant, co-chair of the Israel Action Committee.
It is interesting to hear of the actual situation in the Middle East from someone who lives it, Dimant said.
"Khaldi was very interesting, he brought up many points including democracy in Israel," said Hussam Ayyad, president of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights.
"He was very proud of Israeli culture - I was wondering how it could be that he emphasized democracy when a Jewish person can walk in and claim to citizenship rights just by being Jewish," Ayyad asked, adding one cannot talk about Israel without mentioning those who were expelled during its formation. I do not believe that I got a straight answer to this question," Ayyad said.