Arab youths in Israel who perform national service will be ostracized by their communities, the leader of the Arab Balad party warned on Saturday.
Jamal Zahalke was speaking at a conference of the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, a body that coordinates the activities of Arab organizations in Israel.
Young Arab men and women who did national service would be boycotted by the community, he predicted, and would not be able to find marriage partners.
Israeli Arabs are not required to serve in the military or perform national service like their Jewish and Druze counterparts, though some volunteer. According to Zahalke, Israel is encouraging Arabs to serve the state in order to weaken their identity and make them assimilate into broader Israeli culture.
“It is not a topic for discussion, it’s grounds for a battle, and we can fight,” he said, according to Army Radio.
The ministerial committee for equalizing the burden, also known as the Peri committee, is not pushing mandatory service for Israel’s Arab citizens.
Still, the government is expected to present target quotas for national service participation among young Arabs. According to the Israel Hayom daily, the quotas are expected to start at 3,000 volunteers in 2014, and grow to 6,000 in 2017.
Zahalke’s statement raised the ire of other parliamentarians.
“Zahalke is preaching to Israeli Arabs that they should be freeloaders, taking what they can from the state without contributing,” said Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely on her Facebook page. “Since the establishment of the State of Israel, Israeli Arabs have enjoyed the benefits of healthcare, infrastructure, education, and other civil services. In truth, Israeli Arabs, too, must bear the burden as part of national service. One cannot demand equal rights without equal obligations.”
Zahalke’s statement mirrored similar warnings from Jewish ultra-Orthodox leaders, who have vowed to fight plans to draft members of their community into military or civil service.
Balad was founded in 1995 by Azmi Bishara, who later fled the country after being accused of passing information to Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War.
Balad politicians have been outspoken in their criticisms of Israel’s security policies and its identity as a Jewish state.
Balad MK Hanin Zoabi participated in the 2010 flotilla from Turkey in which nine Turkish citizens were killed after attacking Israeli commandos boarding their ship, the MV Mavi Marmara.