Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the timeline for the second intifada. It happened in the early 2000s. This version has been corrected.


Israeli Arab news anchor Lucy Aharish talks with a colleague at the i24news studios April 15 in Jaffa, Israel. Aharish, who hosts a morning news show in Hebrew, will take part in an Israeli Independence Day celebration, and not everyone’s happy about it. (David Vaaknin/For The Washington Post)

Having access to both Jews and Arabs is not easy for most journalists in Israel. Not so for Lucy Aharish, a Muslim Arab who grew up in a Jewish town in southern Israel.

A TV anchor and news producer, Aharish says her challenge, instead, is to break stereotypes and be unafraid to sound clichéd when she talks about the need to view people in this complicated society — Jews, Muslims, Christians, Israelis or Palestinians — as human beings.

Aharish, 33, is the country’s first Arab Israeli woman to present the television news in Hebrew. On Wednesday, she will claim another rare title as she and 13 other Israelis being honored for achievements in their professions light torches at a ceremony marking 67 years of Israeli independence.

Her participation in the Jerusalem event is a bold step for a member of the Arab population, which generally shuns Israeli Independence Day. Palestinians refer to the set of events that led to Israel’s founding as the Nakba, or the Catastrophe.

“I’ve had threats, people cursing me, some telling me I’m a filthy woman or a disgrace to my family,” Aharish said of the reactions from Jews and Arabs — including members of her extended family — to the announcement that she would be among the torch lighters.

“I’ve had threats, people cursing me, some telling me I’m a filthy woman or a disgrace to my family,” Lucy Aharish said. (David Vaaknin/For The Washington Post)

She will not be the first Arab Israeli chosen to light one of the torches. But over the past two decades, wars and failed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have left Israel’s Arabs — about 20 percent of the country’s population — more marginalized than ever. And that has made Aharish’s participation in the ceremony particularly controversial.

The torch lighters are selected by a committee that each year focuses its choices around a theme. This year, it picked people viewed as having broken through a glass ceiling.

“Every day I feel like I am breaking the glass ceiling,” she said recently in the studios of the multilingual i24 news channel, where she presents the evening news in English. She hosts a morning news show in Hebrew on the popular Channel 2.

Growing up in Dimona, a depressed town in Israel’s periphery, she said that just moving to the Mediterranean metropolis of Tel Aviv was a big achievement. She also studied theater and political science in Jerusalem, appeared in a handful of TV dramas and sometimes felt like “the only Arab in a whole Jewish system.”

Aharish began her journalism career in 2007, first as a reporter on Arab affairs for news outlets and then as a host for Israel’s national television channel.

“When I first started working as a journalist, one of the managers commented on my Hebrew, saying I had a problem with pronunciation because I am an Arab. I told him it was not because I am an Arab but because I come from a place where people speak like that,” said Aharish, referring to the accent in her home town.

Even so, she hired a teacher to improve her grammar. Each such setback, she said, “made me more stubborn and determined.”

“The problem with the Arab minority is that it sees itself as a victim,” said Aharish. “Yes, there is racism against Arabs in Israel; yes, the Arabs do not get their entire rights. But I am not a victim of Israel; I am a human being and a citizen.”

Some observers say those sorts of bold views make her an apt choice for the ceremony.

“The fact that Lucy is lighting a torch is a dramatic point,” said Ron Gerlitz, co-executive director of Sikkuy, the Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel.

“On the one hand, she can speak out strongly against what [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu said on election day,” said Gerlitz, referring to Netanyahu’s much-condemned warning last month that Arab citizens were heading “in droves” to the polls. “At the same time, she sees herself as part of Israeli society.”

On election day, Aharish dedicated the first segment of her live show to discussing Netanyahu’s comment. A few days later, she appeared on a prominent news show to express anger that the “prime minister, who is the prime minister all the citizens of Israel,” would make such a statement.

That outburst drew sharp criticism from Jewish Israelis, who dismissed her because she is an Arab, as well as from Arab Israelis, who asked how she could agree to be part of the Independence Day celebrations. They accused her of waking up too late to the discrimination her own people face.

“As Arabs, we want to recognize the symbols of the country. But the symbols of the country do not want us; they exclude us,” said Nohad Ali, a professor of sociology at the University of Haifa and an expert on Jewish-Arab relations. “Lighting a torch on Independence Day, a day that was a catastrophe for her own people, is simply not acceptable to the Arabs.”

Aharish, who spent her early years surrounded by Jews, acknowledges that it was not until she attended college in Jerusalem that she started exploring her Arab roots. That was during the height of the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising against Israel, in the early 2000s. A friend took her to see the wall Israel was building to separate the West Bank from Israel.

“We got to the wall, and I said: ‘Is that it? What’s on the other side? There are people there, and I have no idea who they are or what they are thinking,’ ” she said. “That’s when I began to question things.”

Asked whether she has figured out any answers, especially about her dual identity, Aharish said: “I am on the wall. It’s a privilege to be on the wall. . . . You get a panoramic view.”

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