Israel has appointed its first Muslim Cabinet minister. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, the move is being hailed as an important step for the long-suffering Arab minority in the Jewish state.

The Israeli government says the appointment of Raleb Majadele as its first Muslim Cabinet minister is historic. Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

"I think [the] time has come to have an Arab minister in our Cabinet," said Shimon Peres. "And I congratulate this election. I think it's timely and right."

Majadele says his appointment gives the Arab community a sense of belonging.

He said he hopes to help improve the plight of Israeli Arabs, who make up 20 percent of the population and who complain of discrimination. Majadele said he also wants to promote coexistence between the two peoples inside the state, and to prod Israelis and Palestinians toward negotiations and a peace agreement.

The Knesset, Israel's parliament, has always had Arab lawmakers - today, there are 13. But the Arab parties are anti-Zionist, and therefore, do not sit in the government. However, Majadele is from the predominately Jewish Labor Party which is the senior partner in the government coalition.

Arab parliamentarians like Abbas Zachour criticized the appointment.

Zachour said it is wrong for an Arab to sit in an Israeli government that supports Jewish settlements and Israel's occupation of the West Bank.

Hawkish Israeli opposition leaders accused the Labor Party of making a political appointment aimed at winning Arab votes. And within the government, the only Cabinet minister who voted against the appointment described it as "a fatal blow to Zionism."

But Majadele, who is a minister without portfolio, is undeterred by the criticism. He says he can help his people most by serving in the government.