Arab citizens of Israel were warned by their leaders and government representatives on Saturday against volunteering for national service to the Jewish state.
Israeli Jews are required to serve up to three years in the army, but Arab citizens of the state have no such obligation. Nevertheless, every year hundreds of Arabs volunteer to defend the country.
Despite often complaining that Israeli Arabs are made to feel like social outcasts, Arab Knesset Member Jamal Zahalka declared at a weekend rally in Haifa that fellow Arabs who did national service along with their Jewish countrymen would be "treated as lepers."
"Anyone who does national service will become a leper and Arab society will throw him up from its midst," Zahalka told Israel's Ynet news portal. "We see volunteering for service as an attempt to Israelify our youths, and we have a major issue with that."
Zahalka heads the Balad Party, whose former chairman, Azmi Bishara, is a fugitive, having fled Israel during an investigation that later revealed he aided Lebanon's Hizballah during last summer's bloody 34-day war.
Saturday's rally was also addressed by Sheikh Ra'ed Salah, the head of the northern Israel branch of the extremist Islamic Movement. Salah has long maintained that Israel's Arabs should not only resist national service, but should violently rebel against the policies of the Jewish state. Salah has served several stints in jail for providing financial assistance to Hamas.