February 24, 2003
American Jews have a sense of profound pride in the State of Israel and its accomplishments since its establishment in 1948. As Jews, we all share in Israel’s destiny and share responsibility for maintaining Israel’s survival and security as well as her democratic, spiritual, and moral character.
Israel’s Declaration of Independence promises a democracy based on equality, freedom, and justice for all her citizens. For fifty-four years, through wars, terror, and economic difficulty, Israel has remained committed to these values.
The current situation for many of Israel’s citizens is bleak. The ceaseless terror attacks, which Israelis are forced to face every day, the collapse of the peace process, and the downturn of Israel’s economy have only heightened an already difficult situation for Israel’s vulnerable communities. We strongly support the United Jewish Communities’ Israel Emergency Campaign and other American Jewish initiatives, which are intended to help those segments of Israel hardest hit by the violence and to provide protection against terrorism. We also support the efforts of Jewish organizations to help sustain Israeli cultural and educational institutions during these difficult times.
Nevertheless, the level of poverty in Israel is at an all time high, with one in four Israeli children living below the poverty line. The gap between the rich and poor in Israel has continued to grow, with Israel now rated second in the Western world, after the United States, as having the largest gap in income. The hardest hit tend to be Ethiopian Jews, recent immigrant communities, Mizrachim (Jews from the Middle East and North Africa), and/or families living in smaller development towns. Arab citizens of Israel, roughly 20 percent of the population, also suffer tremendously from these problems and their opportunities for advancement and growth are limited.
Our concern for the future of Israel’s character as a Jewish, democratic state, combined with our commitment to Tikkun Olam, compel us to examine seriously these inequities in Israeli society and seek ways to assist in ameliorating them. The American Jewish community has a long history of creating innovative programs to help develop Israel’s social infrastructure. Yet, more work needs to be done.
Therefore, although much is being done in Israeli society to help alleviate these problems, we as an American Jewish community need to renew our commitment to assist those Israelis in greatest need. We should do more to help address the social and economic inequities within Israel. This includes narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor, improving educational opportunities for all Israelis, especially in development towns and immigrant communities such as Ethiopian Jews, and ensuring that all citizens of Israel are treated to an equal share of social services.