February 26, 2001
In the wake of the Palestinian violence which erupted in September, 2000, and spread among Israel’s Arab citizens, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) calls for continuing support by the organized Jewish community for coexistence projects in Israel designed to improve relationships between Israeli Jews and Arabs.
Nearly twenty percent of the total Israeli population – about one million people – are non-Jewish citizens, including approximately 720,000 Muslim Arabs, 160,000 Christian Arabs, 80,000 Bedouin Arabs, and some 80,000 Druze. Israeli Arabs and Druze are full citizens with civil and political rights. No other state in the Middle East grants such freedoms to its minority citizens. They are represented in the Israeli Knesset, judicial system, university student bodies and other institutions within Israeli society. Members of the Druze and Bedouin communities serve in the Israel Defense Forces.
At the same time, troubling social and economic disparities exist between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens. These differences are a product of a variety of complex elements, including such disparate factors as: neglect of the Arab sector by successive Israeli governments, distrust due to the ongoing conflict between Israel and her Arab neighbors, shifting demographic realities, and the demise of industries, such as textiles, which traditionally employed Israeli Arabs. These disparities are perpetuated by significant budgetary gaps between Israeli Jews and Arabs in such areas as housing, education and employment.
Many Jews – including those long-involved in Jewish-Arab coexistence projects – expressed surprise and shock at the level of violence during the riots in September 2000, and with the evident depth of frustration in the Israeli Arab community. Grievances, including legitimate ones, can never justify the riots, blocking of roads and intersections and other violent and lawless acts committed by a small minority of Israeli Arab citizens. We seriously condemn such violence and anyone who expresses support for any acts of terrorism, including such acts carried out by Hamas and Hezbollah. We reaffirm that Israel was created as a Jewish state, must continue to be supported as a Jewish state, and categorically reject any suggestions that would compromise the institutions that make Israel a Jewish state.
While the violence left a scar on Israeli society, it should also demonstrate that legitimate grievances of the Israeli Arabs should be addressed seriously and systematically. We applaud the Israeli government’s decision to significantly increase its financial commitment to predominantly Arab communities within Israel – to improve both infrastructure and social conditions. We believe that increasing the economic opportunities available to Israeli Arab citizens, and addressing their civil rights concerns, will help to reduce the level of tension within Israeli society and strengthen Israel’s security. We also commend the government’s decision to establish a commission to investigate Israel’s response to Israeli Arab rioting.
For many years a number of American Jewish organizations, including Jewish federations, have funded co-existence projects in Israel aimed at bringing together Israeli Jews and Arabs. To date, there are about 150 such programs in Israel, most with support provided by American Jewish organizations.
These programs are aimed at bridging the gaps between Israeli Jews and Arabs by deepening Israeli democracy and pluralism. They seek to break down stereotypes, offer bilingual education for Israeli Jewish and Arab children, provide employment counseling for Israeli Arabs, support Jewish-Arab community centers, and many other social and cultural programs designed to bring Jews and Arabs together in joint activities and events.
We applaud the efforts by many of our communities to enhance Israeli Jewish/Arab relations and urge the continuation of such efforts. We further encourage community relations agencies to work in partnership with local federations, where appropriate, to strengthen these co-existence programs and to include access to such programs on their missions. Through such efforts, we support Israel’s commitment to maintain a strong vibrant democracy with active participation by all its citizens.