(photo credit: AP)
"We must make every effort to achieve equality, mutual respect and tolerance between Jews and Arabs," President Shimon Peres said in a statement Sunday, reacting to an Association for Civil Rights report on racism for 2007, which revealed that 50 percent of Israel's Jewish population believe Israeli Arabs do not deserve equal rights.
"Democracy gives everyone the right to be equal yet different," said Peres in the statement released by Beit Hanassi. "We all have to educate ourselves towards understanding and respecting the other, and we must endeavor to live together in this land where attitudes should be based on consideration and respect for all, regardless of religion, nationality, race or gender."
Peres said it was untenable to accept the report and simply forget about it. It was a crucial item on the national agenda, given the harsh and intolerable reality, he said.
"Israel's Arab population cannot continue to live like this, but neither can the Jewish population continue to live with these statistics," Science Culture and Sports Minister Ghaleb Majadle said of the report.
"It is a problem of the state of Israel and the Jewish citizens in Israel," said Majadle of the data, which also revealed that 75% of Jewish Israelis said they would not live in a building with Arab neighbors. Additionally, according to the poll two thirds of Israeli youth believe Arabs are unintelligent, uneducated, unclean and violent.
Racism in Israel "crosses all lines," National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told reporters, noting that it was aimed not only against Arabs but against Druse and Ethiopians as well.
Ben-Eliezer, who vowed to bring the issue up in Sunday's cabinet meeting, noted the segregation of four Ethiopian pupils in a Petah Tikva school last week.
Pensioners Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan said that the situation of the Arab minority necessitates "great consideration and great efforts on our part to deal with it and bring about a situation where they feel equal among us in every way."
Environmental Protection Minister Gideon Ezra said that Israel must pay special attention to all acts of discrimination, but emphasized that "it needs to be rectified from all sides, not just one."
Construction and Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim criticized the report, calling it "totally pro-Arab and pro-Palestinian."
"The claim is that since they the minority, everything is the fault of the majority. Civil rights need to be equal for everyone. We must ask: What is happening on the other side, what is the minority's behavior towards the majority? Can Jews go and live in Arab buildings or Arab neighborhoods, for example? The report does not relate to the sentiments of Israeli Arabs about Israeli Jews," Boim said.
According to the poll, more than 50% of Israeli Jews said they would refuse to allow Arabs into their homes. Most off those polled said they supported separating Jews and Arabs in entertainment centers and were in favor of the Arabs leaving Israel. Moreover, 2007 saw a 100% rise in the number of expressions of anti-Arab sentiment by Israeli Jews, the report said.
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