The Jewish Quarterly
May 20, 2008 - 3:55pm

Israel's Arab citizens comprise 18% of its population yet have languished on the margins of Israeli society for decades. Failed peace talks and political stalemates have convinced a growing number that Israeli Arabs will not only play an important role in a peace settlement between Israel and her Arab neighbours but could also hold the key to the future internal stability, security and prosperity of the Israeli state. Empowering them with the necessary social and political muscle will require a rethink on the part of most Israelis. Here, four key workers consider the possibilities.

Charles Keidan from The Pears Foundation

“I would like to be like a Jew in the UK,” pleaded Dr Amal Jamal in a speech to the London symposium on Israeli Arabs hosted by The Pears Foundation in 2007.

Dr Jamal, an Israeli Arab Professor of Political Sciences at Tel Aviv University was not appealing for the right to join the Zionist Federation of Great Britain or the United Synagogue. Rather, he was making a demand for Israel to afford him the same rights and opportunities that many Jewish people now take for granted living in Britain.

This statement, far from isolated, reflects the emergence of powerful Israeli Arab voices invoking a new era in Arab-Jewish relations centered around a civil rights struggle in Israel.

Although divergent in content and outlook, these voices underline an increasing self-confidence amongst Israel’s Arab citizens and accumulating frustration at entrenched discrimination. And the resolution of Israel’s external conflict may even sharpen these divisions rather than reduce them.

In this context, it is important to review Israeli responses to this phenomenon as well as the responses of Jewish communities outside of Israel, who exercise considerable, if changing, influence on various aspects of Israeli life. Such a re-think is a self-evident necessity given the centrality of these issues to both Arab-Jewish relations in Israel and to the future of the State itself.

The emerging Arab visions split into two broad approaches, one characterised by a ‘rejectionist’ discourse and the other by a more ‘inclusionist’ discourse.

The ‘rejectionist’ discourse concludes that the historical record of sixty years of discrimination, hostility, mistreatment and suspicion is a priori evidence that full equality will never be achievable in a state that defines itself according to its ethnic character. Thus the demand in recently published papers, known as the ‘Future Vision’, for the creation of a bi-national state in Israel, which, in effect would lead to a three state solution across Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

Conversely, the ‘inclusionist’ discourse, articulated by figures such as Mohammad Darawashe, point to a ‘Shared Vision’. This vision is no less bleak in its analysis of historical discrimination and injustice but seeks to identify ways that Arabs and Jews can prosper within existing structures. The ‘Shared Vision’ calls for statutory agencies to ensure equality and equal treatment, fair representation in the public sphere, confidence building measures between Arab and Jewish leadership at national and municipal level and effectively building ‘onto’ rather than denying Jewish conceptions of the state.

Although much of the ‘Future Vision’ and ‘Shared Vision’ narratives remain aspirational, there is general agreement that these perspectives, and the intellectual and social pressures they embody, are already changing the conception of Arab-Jewish relations both in Israel and abroad. They require urgent attention, which I will review across three areas: the Israeli State, Israeli society and Jewish communities outside Israel.

At the State level, the recommendations of the State Commission of 2003, headed by Judge Theodore Or, and follow up report in 2004, highlighted entrenched discrimination in the allocation of State resources and demanded their immediate reversal.

“The principle of equality obliges an allocation of distributable resources according to egalitarian principles…in our context, this implies a reduction in the budget to the Jewish sector in order to advance the equality of the Arab sector.”

This is a significant statement with serious implications in the context of State spending per capita up to five times higher for Jews in some spheres. Unsurprisingly, given the scale of the challenge, the recommendations relating to the equalisation of resource allocation have been only partially implemented or not implemented at all. Major structural inequalities persist particularly in housing, land and education. Arab representation and participation in Israel’s public sector and public life also remains exceptionally limited including in the Government, civil and diplomatic service as well as the media.

At a social and societal level, figures highlighted in a recent presentation by the Abraham Fund at the 2008 Herzliya Conference, reveal high levels of mutual suspicion, distrust and racism between Arabs and Jews. Greater social efforts to increase interaction and understanding are clearly needed but are beyond the scope of this article. But one recommendation is that Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust Memorial, presents its exhibit in Arabic as well as Hebrew and English. Israel’s Arab citizens are one group, out of many the world over, who may especially benefit from deepening its understanding of, and engagement with, some of the pre-state experiences of the Jewish people. Yad Vashem’s recent launch of its Arabic website is a positive development in this context.

And what is the correct response of Jews outside of Israel to the challenge of Arab-Jewish inequality?

There are three main approaches that Jewish community leaderships around the world have adopted in varying degrees, summarised in three words: deny, ignore, confront.

A large minority of Jews deny these issues and remain intoxicated by an idealised metaphysical vision of Israel far removed from contemporary empirical realities.

Another approach is to ignore this issue either because it could draw further criticism towards Israel or because, unlike the external conflict, this is a domestic problem and, therefore, responsibility for its resolution resides with the sovereign state and its citizens.

I have some sympathy with the latter position but the internationalisation of ‘minority rights’ discourses around the world is likely to increase scrutiny in any event.

But the main reason that the bravest Jews outside of Israel are confronting these issues is to make a positive contribution to the country’s well-being by beginning to reverse the harm already done.

As two North American Federation representatives stated in a landmark memorandum following a recent trip to explore the ‘condition of the Arabs’:

“The Government-created gap between Arabs and Jews is widened by our Tzedakah, our attempt to make things right…How many parks have been constructed in Arab villages?”

Not many, of course, but the situation is actually worse. Major Jewish Foundations often leverage significant resources from the Israeli Government for schemes where the beneficiaries are exclusively Jewish.

Some Jewish donors and communal Federations are waking up to this challenge. In the UK, for example, the United Jewish Israel Appeal, is belatedly investing in projects with Arab beneficiaries. But the amounts directed to Arab beneficiaries are still small and the exact figures are not readily available. Until at least 50% of overall charitable donations in the Galillee are directed towards its Arab citizens, who make up half of the population, then this funding is simply slowing down the rate of discrimination rather than reversing it. While funding continues to be allocated according to ethnicity not need, Jewish communities actually risk exacerbating inequalities between Arabs and Jews.The emerging consciousness of this reality represents a considerable dilemma for Jewish communities who are torn between what they should do, faced with this picture, and what they can do. What they will do remains to be seen.

Coalitions such as the North American Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues are helping Jewish communities to manage the strains of this awakening. But, changes in funding alone are not enough. Changes are also required in patterns of thinking; changes of consciousness and the self-confidence to address an educational deficit about Israel’s domestic realities. This necessitates immediate action to deepen Jewish engagement with these realities. In practice, this means substantial changes to the programming and content of the traditionally Zionistic Israel tours, education in Jewish schools and sermons in the synagogues.

If we want to see the transformation of the rejectionist ‘Future Vision’ into a ‘Shared Vision’ of Israel’s future then urgent action must be taken. And Jews outside Israel have an important role to play.

It is an open question as to whether, in my lifetime, the day will come when Jews in the UK will turn to Dr Jamal and say: “I would be pleased to live like the Arabs in Israel”.

Charles Keidan is Director of The Pears Foundation and is writing here in a personal capacity

Mohammad Darawshe from the Abraham Fund Initiative

The future of Israel as a democratic state demands that it resolve the problems of isolation and discrimination faced by its largest minority community. Despite the important work of civil society organizations, only official governmental leadership can guide Israel towards a shared future; otherwise equality and coexistence between Arabs and Jews in Israel will forever be limited in geography and scope. To this end, there are a number of key measures, which if taken, would ensure the equal participation of Israel’s Arab citizens in Israeli society, creating a mutual Jewish-Arab society in Israel.

Introduction of legislation preventing discrimination and promoting equality

Institutional inequality must be addressed, particularly the severe disparity in budgetary and resource allocations which favours Jewish over Arab communities. Legislation promoting social inclusion, equality in employment and access to services, with formal legislation guaranteeing these rights, is urgently required.

Establishment of statutory agencies for inclusion and equality

Independently-operating, government-funded institutions to draft and monitor legislation and policy must be established. Their role would be to institute, supervise and enforce local and national partnerships between communities, encouraging the implementation of the necessary legislation.

Developing a shared vision in partnership with Arab leadership

Regular dialogue between government institutions and Arab leadership must be instituted to guarantee the participation of Arab citizens in decision-making processes. This dialogue should aim to develop a future acceptable to both populations, combating the current separatist tendency of each. A common aim must position all of Israel’s citizens as equal shareholders in the future of the State, increasing their desire to embrace the obligations of citizenship, together with its rights.

De-legitimizing exclusion and inequality

Government institutions must serve as a model for inclusion and equality by guaranteeing fair representation of Arab citizens in the public sector. The public will follow this example as exclusion and inequality become delegitimized.

Creating ‘shared spaces’

It is imperative to develop new spaces that will serve all sectors of Israeli society and provide forums for interaction and partnership between the communities. These spaces should extend across education, leisure and workplaces.

 These vital steps will be effective in both strengthening Israeli democracy and maximising the wealth of cultural diversity. Action of this nature will also promote social stability, economic growth and improved economic, national and personal security. In addition, it will facilitate regional and international legitimacy, fulfilling the vision of Israel’s declaration of independence.

Diaspora roles

The perception of Israel from the outside is that of a troubled country, and this is reflected in its unpopularity. The Jewish Diaspora is a big part of the State of Israel’s tapestry and in the same way it matters how Jewish minorities are treated abroad, it matters how minorities in Israel are treated. The Diaspora has assumed responsibility for Israel and within that is a duty incumbent on the Jews of the world to help its Arab citizens achieve civic equality.

This is also important in a diplomatic context. How Israel is seen in the Arab world is as important as in the rest of the world — to be sustainable, Israel needs normal relationships with its neighbours. How Israel treats its Arab citizens is an obvious yardstick the countries around it will use when evaluating its behaviour, especially when the anecdotal evidence suggests that they are marginalised and abused. This counts for a lot when Israel talks about wanting peace. Positive changes aimed at achieving equality could turn the Arab citizens of Israel into the most effective ambassadors of its desire for peace.

To change perceptions of Israel it would help immeasurably were the mistakes of the past to be admitted — as they are in any other open society — whilst proudly acknowledging that there are 200 organisations working hard to change things. The Abraham Fund Initiatives is at the head of this movement, working closely with the Israeli government, Arab leadership and across all sections of society to improve relations between Jews and Israeli Arabs in a range of areas. Things have changed in the last few years and at last the Diaspora has realised the urgency of the situation and begun to pitch in. This contribution is vital in the attempt to make things better..

Mohammad Darawshe is Director of Development for Europe and Israel at The Abraham Fund Initiatives.

Jafar Farah from the Mossawa Centre

In the last seven years, tensions in Israel between Jews and Arabs have reached new levels. This has caused a growth in extremism and ensured the mood in communities is one of pessimism. The external conflict in which Israel is embroiled has led to a total disregard for the human rights of its domestic Arab minority — race-related violence, tolerance of public incitement to hatred, socio-economic discrimination, and the passing of discriminatory legislation are all rising too. With the Arab community suffering significant public and structural injustice, internal relations between different groups have also become strained, increasing volatility and violence.

In a series of demonstrations in October 2000, 13 Arabs were killed by Israeli security forces. An official investigation committee was formed, headed by former Supreme Court Justice Theodore Or. The official report recommended that the police officers involved be the subject of a criminal investigation. Instead of heeding this advice, a second ministerial committee was formed, headed by former Minister of Justice Tomy Lapid.

In neglecting the advice of the Or Commission, the suffering of the victims’ families has been completely ignored. The State’s failure to bring to justice Commander Alik Ron and the 13 security personnel, who were responsible for what the Report recognised as criminal acts, served only to further alienate the Arab community, widening the rift between Arab citizens and the Israeli State. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz’s recent decision not to indict the police officers involved represented a betrayal of the trust the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel placed in their own country’s judicial system. The high-profile nature of the killings rendered this betrayal even more painful.

A further 28 Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel have been killed since October 2000 by Israeli police forces, Jewish citizens and IDF soldiers, in race-related violence. There have been no instances of Jews killed by these groups.

The government’s lack of accountability has given the world the impression that Israel regards the murder of Arab citizens by their own State as acceptable. This has stirred a fear in the Arab community that at any time or place they are at risk of being ‘mistaken’ for terrorists or criminals and killed without hesitation. As a result, many Arabs feel that they are viewed as enemies.

Alarmingly, there has also been an increase in the rhetoric of hate and the incitement to hate, with the Arab community its target. On May 10 2004, Yisrael Beyteno party leader Avigdor Lieberman was quoted on the Jerusalemites news website as saying that ‘Arabs of Israel should be expelled’. Lieberman’s ministerial position brought this agenda into the mainstream, and public support for transfer has risen accordingly. In that vein, surveys conducted at the University of Haifa revealed that 64% of Jewish respondents supported the State in encouraging the immigration of Arab citizens out of Israel, 37% believed that ‘when Arab terror strikes, violent responses of Jews against Arabs are desirable’, while 39.5% agreed that ‘All Arabs should leave the State of Israel’.

Imagine waking up in the morning, turning on the radio as you have your morning coffee, to hear the Deputy Prime Minister proposing your citizenship be revoked and that you be transferred from your home. What are the chances of finding a job when you are candidate for transfer? With the peace process deadlocked, Israeli political forces are instead investing their efforts in complicating matters by threatening to transfer one-fifth of the State’s population. Israel’s Arab minority supports the two-state solution outlined by the Roadmap for Peace as an end to the enduring tragedy of the region. However what it cannot accept is that leading Knesset officials are proposing to strip Arabs of their Israeli citizenship by forcibly moving them into a Palestinian state.

The past year has seen a further increase in legislative efforts to limit the rights of the Arab minority. This includes a bill discriminating against Arab citizens with regard to land allocation, and another that allows the government to eject Bedouins from land that it claims is owned by the State. A further bill gives preference to those citizens who have either served in the army or participated in national service when it comes to working for the government, and the Knesset continues to approve the discriminatory, ‘temporary citizenship law’. All these proposed laws directly contradict the tenet that Arabs should be treated as full and equal citizens, and any plan for the future needs to recognise this.

The State-sponsored sense of disaffection among Arabs in Israel has been exacerbated by the Israeli government’s mistreatment of Bedouins in the south of the country. The State has accelerated plans to demolish homes, passed increasingly racist legislation, and cut funding for the neediest sectors of the Arab population. Israel must address the needs of the Bedouins by allocating funding for social and health programs targeted specifically at them. Israel’s failure to do so thus far has destroyed the faith of Arab citizens in the democratic system of which they are supposedly a part. It is crucial that in the coming years, anti-racist legislation is passed, particularly as the Knesset is in the midst of creating the Israeli Constitution, which is currently in draft form.

That there are ‘two economies in Israel’ is unarguable, even in the opinion of Ranan Dinor, the director of the Prime Minister’s Office. Child poverty, high rates of infant mortality, and unskilled labour forces are the result of systematic socio-economic discrimination. In the last few years, only 4% of the State’s annual development budget has been allocated to the Arab community, which will only increase financial need and negatively effect economic growth.

There is also a dire need to repair damaged relationships within the Arab community and to prevent further escalation of violence amongst different religious groups. On February 11 2005, in the village of Mughar, the Arab-Christian community was attacked by members of the Arab-Druze majority . Homes and businesses were damaged and the community was psychologically scarred. The State needs to invest time and money in ensuring positive relations, not only between Jews and Arabs, but also within the various Arab groups.

Israel’s current security agenda has failed. Walls, wars, and occupation have brought security neither to the Jews nor to the Arabs; this lose-lose reality has led us nowhere. For the last few years, the system has failed to give any measure of justice to the Arab community, and is therefore responsible for the disturbing and deepening mistrust of the State of Israel by its Arab citizens. Living together, in peace, is the only alternative available to the region - all other options have failed.

Our mission must be to strengthen democracy and minority rights in Israel. We need to achieve equality for the Arab minority in Israel by promoting human rights and ensuring the adoption of democratic processes by the State and its Jewish citizens. We must transform inter-communal relations between target groups – not only those between Jews and Arabs, but also those involving other populations, including Russians, Ethiopians, Mizrahim and Reform Jews. Cultivating understanding and respect for the human rights of all, regardless of ethnicity, will lead to the eventual prevention of conflict and violence.

The State and all its citizens should strive to ensure a true multicultural and intercultural society with full individual, civil and cultural rights accorded to all factions. To achieve this goal, socio-economic and political discrimination against minority groups must be eliminated. In any future legislation, the State of Israel must guarantee:

1.     Full equality of rights on a civil-individual and national-collective basis.

2.     Full democratic participation and representation in the governmental administration, decision-making bodies and judiciary systems for people of all backgrounds.

3.     Recognition of the Arab minority as a ‘national minority’ and an ‘indigenous population’, whose distinct collective identity should be protected through historic, linguistic, religious and cultural rights. This should include the right to self-administrate educational, religious and cultural institutions, similar to the power accorded to the ultra-orthodox community and Kibbutzim.

4.     Appropriate representation for the Arab community in the State’s system of symbols.

5.     Recognition of the Arab-Palestinian minority’s special relationship with the Middle East, and their right to develop cultural, familial and religious relationships with others in the region.

By granting Arab citizens the rights and recognition that all national minorities deserve, Israel can begin improving its relationship with the Arab community, working towards establishing peace between all who live within its borders, and eventually, peace with its Arab neighbours. The Arab minority is a unique community that can contribute postively to the peace negotiations in the region, and they should be encouraged to do so by the State.

Jafar Farah is Director of the Mossawa Center: The Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel.

Douglas Krikler from the UJIA

Looking at the contributions of my fellow debaters, one thing is obvious, and for the editor probably disappointing; there seems to be very little argument over the need to address the long-standing inequality between Israeli Arab and Jewish communities in Israel. Nor did the brickbats fly when the United Jewish Israel Appeal, the central agency in British Jewry’s relationship and engagement with Israel, decided that its programme for the long-term regeneration of the Galil should address the needs of all citizens of the region — 50% of whom are non-Jewish.

So what is the basis for this apparent consensus? To some extent, it appears to be reflective of an increasingly pragmatic approach, where enlightened self-interest is the motor for action —⎯ one that recognises that the creation of islands of Jewish opportunity and inclusion in a sea of Arab alienation and despair is not a recipe for stability or security in Israel.

Similarly, it is in part informed by an equally pragmatic analysis of the economic reality.The failure of a large minority to engage in the productivity of the State is both a drain on the country’s national resource and a missed opportunity to harness the potential to contribute to and gain from economic growth.

However these attitudes are not in fact new; their roots lie in the past, with historic circumstances allowing them to return to the fore. In 1925, David Ben-Gurion addressed a meeting of Brit Shalom, a non-Zionist organisation, on the subject of the relationship between Jews and Arabs in British Mandate Palestine. He advised that there were three alternatives: rejecting the idea of a Jewish state, which was clearly unacceptable; hoping for a socialist utopia where distinctions of ethnicity and class would simply melt away, which was clearly unattainable (even if for him, desirable); or the creation of a just and Jewish democratic state, founded on ‘social and national justice as one’ — the only viable option. In other words, Ben Gurion was advocating the building of a country where national justice for the Jewish people does not contradict social justice for all. Eighty years on, this aspiration remains.

So why has this debate taken centre stage now? To what extent might this be because today’s generation of Diaspora Jewish leadership has grown up with the existence of Israel as their only experience, unlike the preceding generation who saw the establishment of the State and witnessed the very real, existential threats of the early decades? Punctuated by the wars of 1967 and 1973, where defeat would have meant annihilation, the key priority for Diaspora Jewry in Israel’s first three decades at least was simply to help ensure her survival.

Today, we are also informed by our understanding of and experience in the changing world of philanthropy. Although we recognise that it is primarily the responsibility of government to address structural inequalities, we also recognise the realpolitik which dictates that government is necessarily constrained by short-term political priorities (in Israel at least as much as elsewhere). We, on the other hand, as philanthropists and NGOs, are able and increasingly determined to intervene in a way that is not only long-term and consistent, but also dynamic, creating local frameworks that government can — and does — support and adopt more widely.

The acceptance of Israel’s permanence seems also to be reflected in the approach of Israeli Arabs themselves. The emergence of proposals from within that sector for a blueprint for the majority-minority relationship proves this, as does their resistance to any suggestion of border alterations that would make them citizens of a future Palestinian State. There is now an increasing desire on the part of Israeli Arabs to determine the framework within which they will enjoy a status of civic equality, economic integration and political representation. While this process will not be without difficulty, it will showcase the ability of Israeli society to grapple with difficult issues. Israel is taking a lead in these matters in a way that other liberal democracies would do well to learn from.

As well as the pragmatic motivation behind giving greater rights to Israeli Arabs, it is also the case that now Israel’s existence is no longer in question, today’s generation — in the Diaspora and in Israel itself — determines its relationship with the Jewish State within a framework of global concerns and values.This is extremely significant. Jews have always been at the forefront of social action — from leading the opposition in apartheid South Africa to the civil rights movement in America — and today, Jews are disproportionately represented in demanding action over the ongoing tragedy of Darfur. Increasingly, they are doing this specifically and identifiably as Jews, and this forms a fundamental part of their own Jewish expression. It is a theme that we see daily at UJIA in our work with Jewish youth movements across the religious spectrum, in Jewish schools and in universities.

The consensus regarding the need to address issues of equality in Israel is not confined to the pages of the Jewish Quarterly. Many of the large Jewish federations in America, and indeed the World Jewish Congress, have moved this issue up their agenda. As broad-based agencies, these bodies, including UJIA, are unlike family foundations that act according to the vision of their principals. Nor are they single-issue pressure groups whose support base is self-selecting and politically homogenous. They all have a responsibility to take a lead in determining priorities, without ever losing sight of the fact that the impact of their work derives from being genuinely a collective communal response to the challenges that Israel faces.

Douglas Krikler is Chief Executive of the United Jewish Israel Appeal.

Symposium convened by Paul Usiskin, Chair of Peace Now, UK.


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