Skip to main content

In Israel, coronavirus crisis improves Jewish-Arab relations

Contrary to past emergency situations, the COVID-19 crisis seems to have helped improve the relationship between the Jewish and Arab communities.
A festive Ramadan float drives through a street in East Jerusalem to bring celebrations to people under the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) movement restrictions, May 3, 2020. Picture taken on May 3, 2020 REUTERS/ Ammar Awad - RC2NHG90NRE2

On May 3, the Finance Ministry released its plan for the country to end its coronavirus lockdown and return to normal. The plan includes the opening of malls, hotels and gyms and the gradual reopening of schools in the hope that all restrictions will be ended by mid-June. A state of emergency lasting almost two months and a partial mandatory lockdown were enforced in response to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, and particularly the spread of the virus in Israel. Now that an end to the crisis may be in sight, it is important to ask how it has impacted Arab-Jewish relations in Israel. Did it add fuel to the fire and fan the flames of animosity that have been spreading in the country over the past few years, encouraged by none other than the prime minister himself, Benjamin Netanyahu? Or did it actually strengthen the shaky relationship between the two communities?

The truth of the matter is that Israel has long gotten used to the idea that emergency situations (most of them based on politics or security) tend to increase tensions and exacerbate preexisting animosity between the Arab and Jewish communities. The best example of this is the Second Lebanon War. As I wrote in an earlier article in Al-Monitor, while 19 of the 44 Israelis killed in the war were Arab, the preponderant feeling at the time was that Israel’s Arab citizens were not fully part of the country or its struggles. In contrast, the COVID-19 crisis seems to have helped improve the intercommunity relationship. The fact that the virus did not distinguish between Arabs and Jews played an important role in reconciling them. So did images of Arab doctors and nurses (some 20% of Israeli medical staff are Arab) fighting relentlessly on the front lines in the battle against the virus.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.