"The ISA and the Israel Police must intensify their capabilities among the Arab community, while isolating the violent extremists and dealing with them with a firm hand."
(Communicated by the President’s Spokesperson)
President Reuven Rivlin this evening (Monday), addressed the 9th annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), held at the Eretz Israel Museum in Ramat Aviv.
The President focussed in his address on the threat and analysis that Salafist-Jihadist elements – in particular the Islamic State – were gaining popularity among the Israeli Arab population, and the distress felt by the mainstream of the community at the situation.
The President said, "The Islamic State is already here; that is no longer a secret. I am not speaking about territories bordering the State of Israel, but within the State itself. Research studies, arrests, testimonies, and overt and covert analyses – many by the INSS – clearly indicate that there is increasing support for the Islamic State among Israeli Arabs, while some are actually joining IS. Anyone familiar with Arab society knows that in recent years there has been considerable radicalization in some Bedouin settlements in the south, and in Arab towns and villages in the north, on the issue of the implementation of the Sharia law. Even in areas and groups identified as secular, we are today seeing the influence of extremist ideas. In various villages and at political rallies – some which have included the participation of Members of Knesset – we have seen the waving of the black flag of the Islamic State. On social media, there can be seen an ever growing sympathy with the Islamic State, while more and more moderate individuals feel threatened, they feel that the ground is being pulled from under their feet."
He continued, "Facing the challenge of the Islamic State the Islamic State not a problem unique to Israel. It is not a consequence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, perhaps even the contrary. It is not possible to draw a clear political and geographic line of the ‘axis of evil’ around which we can focus our forces or the enemy."
The President went on to speak of the global vision of the Islamic State which was drawing in so many young people around the world. He said, "In the place of nation states, the Islamic State proposes a global approach. A global vision. A religious identity not dependent on ethnic or geographic boundaries, motivated by the evil ideas of the the Islamic State and its fighters – this is not a banal evil. The evil of the Islamic State is an ‘altruistic evil’ – as defined by Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks – it is an evil perpetrated in the name of and on behalf of, a great and sanctified purpose. It is a ‘holy evil’. It is an evil that celebrates its malevolence in videos – particularly of brutal executions – in abuse, in mockery of the fear of death. Martyrdom, the willingness to die, the willingness to kill, these are the ‘tests of initiation’ to the movement."
While emphasizing that his words were not intended as an accusation toward the Israeli Arab community, the President stressed that he did demand the community and its leaders took responsibility to condemn extremism appropriately, as he noted had not been done. He said, "I do not for a moment deny the responsibility of Arab leadership. Their condemnations – which sometimes sound forced, which are too feeble, too hesitant, that are spoken in Hebrew but are then formulated differently in Arabic – indicate, above all else, fear. More serious than this are those voices that blame the ‘occupation’ as the source of all ills, while displaying sympathy and understanding for attacks on innocents. They are a stigma on a society that is more than anything in need of clearly expressed opinions. There is no ‘occupation’ in Germany or in France, yet the Islamic State is capturing hearts and minds, and garnering support there. Yet at the same time, I do not believe that the solution is to abandon the Arab community to deal alone with the threat of the Islamic State that is growing within it. First and foremost, the Islamic State – and radical forces in general – thrive in a vacuum; a vacuum of sovereignty, of law enforcement, a vacuum of responsibility, and a vacuum of a positive and secure identity. I am concerned that the more the state avoids taking responsibility, the more the state distances itself, the faster the Jihadi Salafists will rush in to fill the vacuum. For them this will be yet another proof, one of many, of the failure of the nation state."
The President noted, "Whether or not we want it, we are currently at a strategic point in time. When I took upon myself the promotion of the goal of full integration and partnership of the Arab community in the State of Israel, I did so as one who believes that we are not doomed to live together – but rather it is our destiny to live together.
At the same time, I am not doing this out of naiveté. I am concerned that things may become worse before they get better. Unfortunately, the tension between the Arab and the Jewish communities will not fade away in the next few years. But at the same time, the State of Israel certainly does not regard the whole Arab sector as an enemy, nor as a entire group tainted with extremism and Islamic fundamentalism.
Arab society in Israel, to a great extent, wants to see the State take responsibility over the Arab sector too. They desperately want the State to deal with the violence, with the illegal weapons, with the drug dealing. Committees have been set up, reports have been written, but the sense that there is no justice is most prevalent. This is particularly so over the last decade, the ‘lost decade’ in terms of Jewish-Arab relations in the State of Israel.
If the rot on which the Islamic State is flourishing is among other things a result of the vacuum of identity and education, then the State of Israel must create an alternative. An alternative which does not fear a positive and secure Israeli Palestinian identity, and at the same time does not in any way accept the de-legitimization of the State of Israel or affiliation to the worst of our enemies. If the rot on which the Islamic State is flourishing is also a vacuum of governance, or lack of security or lack of law enforcement, then we must do all we can to deal with that vacuum and to fully implement Israeli sovereignty over all parts of the State of Israel, even if that means increasing budgets and manpower. If the children are growing up without a dream, without hope or without aspirations, with the feeling that their blood, their lives are of a lesser value in the State of Israel, then we must think how we can offer them a dream, hope, and faith – the faith that every one of them has the ability to succeed and to advance, here in the State of Israel."
The President stressed that there was still much to be done, and noted the important role of the security services. He said, "I know there is a long and difficult road ahead, and the security and intelligence forces have a key role to play in it. The the ISA and the Israel Police must intensify their capabilities among the Arab community, while isolating the violent extremists and dealing with them with a firm hand. At the same time, we must not give in to the temptation of thinking that the security forces alone are sufficient to deal with this phenomenon. We must work to return a sense of trust between the Jewish and Arab populations – between the Arab population and the public sector – and confidence demands listening, investment, willingness and commitment. The positive forces within the Arab community must receive backing and must feel a sense of security – both because they deserve it, and also because only then will they be able to carry out a real battle against the Jihadist Salafist threat that harms them even more than it does us."
The President concluded by repeating his congratulations for the Government’s recent decision regarding economic assistance for the Israeli Arab population. He said, "The recent resolution by the Government on a system-wide plan for the economic integration of the Arab population is a step in the right direction. The plan has many detractors among the Jewish population, and it is clear why. But it is the correct and essential step, for it is a decision that represents a systemic change of direction. The funds for the rehabilitation plan are earmarked for the goal of bridging the gaps between Jews and Arabs. It is an important five-year plan. Its implementation is significant in Israel’s efforts to regain responsibility for its Arab citizens. It is true that there are still large gaps, and the education budget – despite the efforts of the Ministry of Education – has not yet reduced those gaps. But this plan is changing the situation."
The President ended by stating, "In our struggle for Israel’s security we must be just and strong, strong and just. My wish for us all is that through our combined thinking, we shall navigate the State of Israel and Israeli society toward a safer horizon."