Is it possible to lessen the influence of the Muslim majority among Israel's large Arab community? That is the aim of new legislation proposed by Knesset Member and coalition chairman Yariv Levin (Likud), who wants to separate and boost the status of local Christian Arabs.
In fact, Levin echoes what several Christian leaders from Nazareth have told Israel Today in the past: that local Christians aren't really Arabs, anyway, as their presence in the land far predates the Muslim Arab conquest.
"My legislation would provide separate representation and a separate reference to the Christian public," Levin told the Israeli newspaper Maariv. "This is a historic and important step that can help to balance the State of Israel and to further connect us and the Christians, and I'm careful not to call them Arabs, because they are not Arabs."
Among the new laws proposed by Levin are:
The right for Christians to be registered in their national ID cards as "Christian," rather than "Arab";
Mechanisms recognizing Christians as a separate minority for the purpose of providing state benefits; and
Separate representation for Christians on regional and municipal councils.
Similar laws already exist for Israel's Druze minority, and Levin said there is no reason the same should not be true for local Christians.
The Christians "have a different character" than the Muslims or Arabs, he noted. "They can identify with the state" and in so doing should receive the same recognition and benefits as the Druze.
Levin went on to point out that "we (Jews) have much in common with the Christians. They are our natural allies, and a counterweight to the Muslims who want to destroy the country from within."
He believes that if Israel begins to show special recognition and grants preferred status to Christians, the effect will rub off on many Muslims who do not agree with the radical positions of their political leaders.
But, Levin said that unfortunately Israel has to date done too little to help Christians feel that the state has their back, in the same way that it does the Druze. Much of that stems from lumping all Arabs together when dealing with ethnic tensions and national security threats.
Levin hopes his new legislation recognizing Christians as a separate minority group will change all that, and help a growing number of local Christians take pride in their Israeli nationality.