Arabic language signs in east Jerusalem 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
WASHINGTON – While the Israeli press has recently been filled with stories of
rising anti-Arab sentiment, a coalition of Jewish organizations in Washington
is looking to raise awareness and improve the situation of Arabs in
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“It’s in Israel’s strategic and moral interest to try to diminish
the disparities” between Jews and Arabs there, said Melanie Maron, director of
the American Jewish Committee’s Washington office.
The organization is a
major sponsor of a forum on the subject to be held at the Washington Jewish
Community Center on Sunday.
“The importance of it has only been
underscored by what we’ve been seeing in Israel, and some of the discomfort that
North American Jews feel about what they see coming out of the far Right in
Israel,” she said.
Just last month, dozens of Israeli rabbis urged Jews
to refrain from renting homes to Arabs. Though Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
strongly condemned the rabbis’ call, it was backed by 44 percent of the public,
according to a recent poll.
Sunday’s forum, however, had been organized
well before the rabbis announced their position, and will address systemic
issues such as economic inequality, empowering women and integrating the Beduin
More than 200 members of the local Jewish community are expected
to attend panels run by both Jewish and Arab speakers.
The event will
kick off with an address from Noam Katz, the Israeli Embassy’s minister for
public diplomacy, detailing the government’s efforts to reach out to and
integrate the Arab community.
“We understand that it’s an important
issue,” said embassy spokesman Jonny Peled of the decision to participate.
“There’s no doubt we face challenges and difficulties in Israel.”
agenda also includes a lighter take on the treatment of Arabs, with a screening
of an episode of the hit Israeli sitcom Arab Labor
. Written by Israeli Arab
journalist Sayed Kashua, it humorously explores the headaches and obstacles of
living as a minority in the Jewish state.
The show was also screened at
the JCC as part of Washington’s 21st annual Jewish film festival, where it was
warmly received. Laura Cutler of American University’s Center for Israel
Studies, who introduced the screening, explained that “this series really deals
with the complexity of being an Arab in Israel.”
Rabbi Sid Schwarz,
founder of PANIM and author of Judaism and Justice, who also helped organize
Sunday’s event, said the show and other parts of the forum were part of an
effort to educate the American Jewish community on the experience of Arab
But, he said, Arab Labor
also illustrates that the Israeli
public as a whole is aware of the problems that exist.
have their heads in the sand on this issue,” he noted.
He said that was
particularly important because American Jews could be reluctant to say anything
critical about Israel.
“They’re going to learn about the complexity of
the issue,” Schwarz said of Sunday’s forum. “They’re going to find out there’s a
long road to go to full equality.”