The Jewish Agency is seriously interested in increasing its involvement in the Israeli-Arab community and in working with Druse and Beduin, the agency’s board of governors was told during the opening of their triennial gathering in Tel Aviv on Sunday.
As recently as five years ago, the agency did not employ any Druse or Arabs, while today there are 75 on the payroll and around NIS 10 million is allocated to programs among the non-Jewish minority groups in Israel, agency representatives said.
“As a Zionist I believe that this is important for the future of our democracy,” agency chairman Natan Sharansky announced, addressing board members during a session on the subject.
“It is so important nowadays to strengthen our society,” he asserted, calling the work currently being done only “the beginning.”
Faiz Suad, one of the directors of the agency’s Project Ten in Kibbutz Harduf in the Lower Galilee and the surrounding Beduin villages, said that he initially believed that the Jewish Agency only existed for Israel’s Jews and that when it began operating in his village, sending “young Jewish people all over the world to volunteer in Arab communities,” it was “very special.”
Branded as the agency’s “Global Tikkun Olam initiative,” Project Ten sends Jewish youth to work in vulnerable communities around the world and in Israel.
According to Suad, who is himself a Beduin, the program has helped to strengthen bonds between Jews and Arabs, and has helped to bring many of the participants closer to their own Jewish identity.
He recalled one young woman from Hungary who celebrated Hanukka for the first time during her time in a local village.
As they learn to embrace their Jewish identity they also help the local Arab youth learn English and give them skills that will help them advance in life, he said.
Safi, a 35-year-old Druse reserve IDF officer, said the opening up of programs for minority youths is “good for Israeli society because when you act for minorities it sends the message that is a democratic and tolerant and open society, creates a rapprochement and brings people together.”
Many young Druse are desirous of further integrating into society, realizing the benefits to be gained for further advancement and cooperation, Safi said.
Not everything is roses, however, with organizers admitting that it is sometimes hard to get participants in their programs to come to meetings such as Sunday’s due to fear and the lack of acceptance of the Jewish Agency’s involvement in the Arab sector among many.
However, Safi said, that may be changing.
“I would like very much for the members of the Knesset elected by the Arab minority to be working hard for integration and representing the real interests of their electorate” instead of using existing inequalities to score political points, Sharansky told The Jerusalem Post.
“As a former minister I can say a lot has to be done [in terms of] positive action. A lot can be done. JAFI [the Jewish Agency for Israel] made a decision that integration in Israeli society is also an important part of our Zionist dream.”
Inbal Freund of the agency’s social activism unit agreed, telling the Post that while the “main mission is to connect Jewish and Diaspora Jewry, we are also building Israeli society,” and that bringing “Jewish values to wherever we can in this country – this is the new Zionism.
“This is how we build the country today,” she said.