President Rivlin: Israel must offer its Arab population an alternative in order to fight extremism

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin speaks at the 2016 Institute for National Security Studies conference Jan. 18. (Kobi Richter/TPS)

Ramat Aviv (TPS) – Israeli President Reuven Rivlin addressed the significant level of support for Islamic extremism among many Arabs in Israel and discussed various ways to solve the problem at the ninth annual international conference of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) on Monday evening.

“The Islamic State is already here and that is no longer a secret,” said President Rivlin. “I am not speaking about territories bordering the State of Israel, but within Israel itself.”

The existence of the Islamic State in Israel has come in the form of support from many Israeli Arabs, which comprise approximately 20% of the Israeli population.

“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 the Islamic State,” explained Rivlin.

In fact, a number of Israeli Arabs have been arrested over the past year on allegations of support for the Islamic State.

Much of the sympathy for ISIS has been displayed in the religious sphere. However, support for Islamist terrorism has been expressed in secular circles as well.

“We are today seeing the influence of extremist ideas even in areas and groups identifying as secular,” noted Rivlin. “We have seen the waving of the black flag of the Islamic State in various villages and at political rallies, some which have included the participation of members of Knesset.”

Despite the terror threat emanating from a significant portion of Israel’s Arab population, President Rivlin emphasized his belief and vision that both Jews and Arabs could live together side-by-side.

“When I took upon myself the promotion of the 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, rather that it is our destiny to live together,” the Israeli president said.

Rivlin also made sure to stress that he is not in any way overlooking the phenomenon of support for Islamic extremism among many Israeli Arabs.

“At the same time, I am not doing this out of naiveté,” Rivlin said. “Unfortunately, the tension between the Arab and Jewish communities will not fade away in the next few years.”

Rivlin said that Israel is not holding the entire Arab population responsible for the growing sympathy for Islamic extremism.

“The State of Israel certainly does not regard the whole Arab sector as an enemy nor as a group entirely tainted with extremism and Islamic fundamentalism,” Rivlin added.

Rivlin did, however, accuse the Arab leadership in Israel of overlooking the growth of extremism among Israel’s Arab population.

“I do not for a moment absolve the Arab leadership of responsibility,” Rivlin stressed. “The voices that blame the ‘occupation’ as the source of all ills while displaying sympathy and understanding for attacks on innocents represent a serious problem.”

Rivlin stated that it is Israel’s responsibility to provide Israeli Arabs a much better future than the one being offered by Islamic extremist groups.

“The State of Israel must create an alternative that does not fear a positive and secure Israeli Palestinian identity and at the same time does not in any way accept the delegitimization of the State of Israel or affiliation with the worst of our enemies,” Rivlin suggested.

“If children are growing up without a dream, without hope or without aspirations, with the feeling that their blood and their lives are of a lesser value in the State of Israel, then we must think of how to 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,” continued Rivlin.