Dr. Ahmed Tibi, founder and chairman of United Arab List-Ta’al and deputy speaker of the outgoing Knesset, undoubtedly has the highest public profile of all Arab MKs and is among the most vociferous critics of Israeli government policy.
Social issues are at the fore of the current election campaign. Why aren't we hearing Arab MKs weighing in on these issues and not only on the Palestinian issue?
"That's a stereotypical question. A statistical breakdown of the Arab MKs' Knesset work shows that more than 80 percent of their activities are in the socioeconomic arena. For example, I introduced the law mandating compensation for flight delays, which was passed this year. I also submitted a bill to regulate the practicing of paramedical professions, and one to end the practice of firing guns at weddings by doubling the fines, as well as the draft law on preventing cruelty to animals, and more."
Why don't we hear about this?
"It's sexier from the media perspective for you to hear my speech in Ramallah or my visit to the United Nations than to cover my activities with respect to the industrial zone in Taibeh, for example, which looks like the industrial areas that were built after World War II. Why doesn't my work on the need to retrain unemployed teachers in nursing, for example, get coverage? Or on violence within the Arab community? Or my activity as chairman of the Parliamentary Inquiry Committee on the Integration of Arab Employees in the Public Sector? We are 20 percent of the population, but less than eight percent in the public sector. The doors are barred shut. We don't get admitted. Young Arabs receive two certificates: a college diploma and an unemployment benefiits card."
And that is only because of discrimination?
"They always say, 'there are budget cuts.' But where's the affirmative action to hire Arabs in order to reduce the practice? We are still far away even from the government target of 10 percent."
It's actually in the field of medicine, one of the most desirable professions in Israel, where we find a fair number of Arab professors.
"Too few, and they are there despite being Arab and not because they are Arab. The Arab doctors in the hospitals are among the best. By the way, there are Arab pharmacists as well, and on that matter I want to put in a good word about Jews: Super-Pharm is a company that hires Arabs, that opens its doors to Arab pharmacists, in management and at all levels. They employ Arabs and they are profitable also, and their security is not compromised – and miracle of miracles, neither has the security of the State of Israel been ruined by it. "I am saying that the failure to hire Arabs injures not only the Arabs' right to employment but also the Israeli economy."
Your position, which is very pro-Palestinian and therefore very anti-Israeli, does not bring Jews and Arabs together. It creates alienation.
"I'm not trying to be nice. I am trying to be just. I am not against the state, I am against its policies. I am against the occupation. I am for equal rights between Jews and Arabs."
You use the terminology of racism.
"Because there is racism."
Israel is a racist state?
"Yes. There are three systems of government that the government in Israel maintains: For Jews, democracy; for Israeli Arabs, ethnocracy, a policy of discrimination based on racism. Twenty percent of the population is discriminated against. There is no area of life in which Jews and Arabs are equal – not land, not education, not employment, not sacred properties and not building plots, except for one: On election day everyone is 'one person, one vote'" (he says this in English). "And the third system of government in Israel is a system of apartheid in the territories that were conquered in 1967. I am fighting to end both the ethnocracy and the apartheid. I want to be equal."
Doesn't part of this apartheid result from the way people in the Arab villages behave? From the fact that the police cannot go there, that people don't pay taxes, that the mayor is elected on a tribal basis?
"If you please, I shall be more critical than you: There are Arab local governments that are run properly, but there are also ones that are run in a scandalous manner. The whole foundation of voting on a clan basis is primitive. It must be eliminated. That criticism is made in Arabic, in intra-Palestinian arguments within Arab society. There is corrupt management in some of the local governments."
What about tax evasion?
"Who is evading taxes? Jews evade paying a thousand times more in taxes than Arabs. The problem is only with the payment of the arnona (municipal taxes). Say there's a community with no industrial zones, no infrastructure, no public services, 60 percent of the children are below the poverty line, the lowest salary levels. You can't expect people in this situation to pay the same arnona as in Ra'anana and Kfar Sava."
You supported the doctors' strike. Is it okay that physicians whose average monthly wage is NIS 30,000 should get more?
"There are doctors just starting out, whose salaries are disgraceful and embarrassing, and the same for nurses. I also supported the nurses' strike. Physicians should be rewarded for the wonderful, humane and enormous work that they do. If Israel wants to be in the OECD then the level of salaries for doctors, nurses and teachers should be the average for these professions in OECD member states."
Whose salary would you cut? Where would you save money in the budget, besides security?
"First of all: security. Fifty percent of the state budget is for security, the expense of the settlements and the occupation. I also said the salaries of Israel Electric Corporation employees should be cut. Also, income taxes on the very wealthy should increase and the corporate tax rate should go up by another five percent."
Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich chose not to talk about the occupied territories during the election campaign and to deal only with socioeconomic issues. Was that a wise move?
"I am very disappointed by the positions that Yacimovich is putting forth. It's as if to say something like, 'It doesn't matter where the borders will be, what's important is what's within the borders.' That is a terrible sentence. What do you mean, 'It doesn't matter where the borders will be'? So it's okay to conquer more, to oppress more people. And to say that the allocations to the settlements must continue? How can there be social justice with the continuation of spending on the settlements?"