Many people view Israel as a Jewish state, which has both positive and negative connotations depending on what part of the world one lives in. However, one Christian Arab diplomat from Israel is tearing down such stereotypical assumptions about his country.
According to Israeli journalist Adi Schwartz of Tablet, 30-year-old George Deek lives as an Arab in a Jewish state and practices Christianity in a predominantly Muslim Arab world. What may surprise some people is that he is also a descendant of a Palestinian family who fled their home during the Arab-Israeli War of 1948.
"They told everyone to leave their houses, and run away," Deek said of his grandparents, who fled to Lebanon during that war. "They said they will need just a few days, in which together with five armies they promised to destroy the newly born Israel."
However, Deek's grandparents realized that the Jews did not kill all the Arabs, and the Arabs failed to win as promised. Fortunately, his grandfather, George, had some Jewish friends and learned some Yiddish.
"My grandfather looked around him and saw nothing but a dead-end life as refugees," Deek said. "He knew that in a place stuck in the past with no ability to look forward, there is no future for his family. Because he worked with Jews and was a friend to them, he was not brainwashed with hatred."
Schwartz reported that Deek's grandfather was able to get back into Israel thanks to one of his friends who worked at an electricity company. That bold decision also led to getting his job back as an electrician.
"The reason we have succeeded, and that I am an Israeli diplomat, and not a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon, is that my grandfather had the courage to make a decision that was unthinkable to others," Deek said of his family and relatives.
Based on his grandfather's experience, Deek thought that choice should act as a model for the entire Arab minority in Israel.
"Unfortunately, Arabs in Israel today are forced to choose between two bad options," Deek said. "One is assimilation-young Arabs look at their Jewish peers and decide they want to speak like them, walk like them, and behave like them. This attempt is a bit comic but also sad, since it is doomed to fail. In the end they are not Jews and will never be."
Deek pointed that the more common choice pursued by many in the Israeli Arab community is separatism. He noted that this point of view was "promoted by the Arab political and religious leaders."
"They say that we are not really Israelis, only Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, but this nuance creates dissociation," Deek said. "They speak about Arab cultural autonomy and about separation, which I think lead to extremism and animosity with the Jews. According to this version, a loyal Arab-Israeli must define himself first and foremost through being anti-Israeli."
Deek told Schwartz that both choices were bad options for the Arab Israeli community. He believed that there was a third way of embracing their culture.
"We can be proud of our identity and at the same time live as a contributing minority in a country who has a different nationality, a different religion, and a different culture than ours," Deek said. "There is no better example in my view than the Jews in Europe, who kept their religion and identity for centuries but still managed to influence deeply, perhaps even to create, European modern thinking. Jews suffered from the same dissonance between their own identity and the surrounding society."
Deek cited Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Baruch Spinoza, and Ludwig Wittgenstein as examples of Jews who influenced European thinking and culture. He contended that Arab Israelis can do the same for their country.
"We must contribute to the common good and be part of the Israeli mainstream in politics, economy, culture, fashion, technology, music, everything. We have our role models," Deek said. "Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran; Judge George Kara, who sent a Jewish president to jail; Weizmann Institute researcher Jacob Hanna; and authors such as Sayed Kashua and Anton Shammas, who are doing to Hebrew what Franz Kafka did to the German language."
According to Schwartz, Deek believed that the Arab minority in Israel could help create a bridge between the Jewish state and the rest of the Arab world through commerce, culture and literature.
"There is a challenge here for the Jewish community as well, who have to accept a minority that wants to maintain its distinct character and still be part of the decision-making process," Deek said.
Schwartz reported that Deek serves as an Israeli diplomat in Norway. He found that both Norwegians and Israelis shared something in common.
"Despite all differences, Norwegians and Israelis have in common the feeling that they know better than anyone else how to do things," Deek said. "Norwegians have this sense of geographical superiority toward the rest of the world; sort of 'we are far away and above all this' ... That's about the mentality of looking at the world from a higher pedestal."
According to Schwartz, Deek had to deal with the fact that until recently, Norway was considered one of the most hostile European countries toward Israel.
"If you ask me how many Norwegians think that Jews belong to an inferior religion, or that Jews control the world, the answer would be very little," Deek said. "But I think that the State of Israel itself has become a substitute for those same old anti-Semitic sentiments."
Deek pointed out that the Jews have suffered throughout history because of their religion and "racial-biological features." Now the focus has turned to the issue of human rights.
"The Jewish State is accused of committing all the gravest abuses at once: apartheid, genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, crimes against humanity," Deek said. "Just as Jews posed a challenge to the non-Jewish society throughout the ages, so does Israel pose a challenge to the world today. This is what I had to deal with: the Norwegians' ability to accept a Jewish State with all its uniqueness."
Deek contended that despite his complex identity, his survival in the Middle East depends on the existence of Israel. He argued that persecution in the Middle East would end once Arab nations recognized Israel's right to exist.
"The key to change is connected deeply to our ability as Arabs to accept the legitimacy of others," Deek said. "Jews pose a challenge because as a minority they insist on their right to be different. The day we accept the Jewish State as it is, all other persecution in the Middle East will cease."