(photo credit: Courtesy)
British Jewry is to be congratulated.
With the establishment of the UK
Task Force on Issues Facing Arab Citizens of Israel, it is showing that sincere
supporters of the State of Israel are not afraid of tackling the country’s most
pressing domestic challenge: the full integration of the Arab minority into its
economic, cultural and political life.
While the Declaration of
Independence promises “complete equality of social and political rights to all
its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race or sex,” this worthy goal has
never been met.
Indeed, the socioeconomic gaps between Jews and Arabs
continue to widen each year. As the recent annual poverty report published by
the National Insurance Institute noted, the Arab sector is the country’s
poorest, with 56.9 percent of families living below the poverty line, as
compared (to the still shocking) national average of 20.5%.
The aims of
the British task force, which is backed by a number of leading mainstream
communal organizations, are clear and simple: To deepen UK Jewish engagement
with, and understanding of, issues facing Israel’s Arab citizens and leverage
communal resources to provide effective solutions; to ensure that engagement
with the issues is sustained; to encourage member organizations to work with
Israeli partners to strengthen civil society activity, including Jewish and Arab
leadership, and to build links with international partners engaged in similar
endeavors to ensure effective engagement with the issues.
those, of course, who will say that British Jews should concentrate their
resources on Israel’s Jewish citizens only, but this narrowminded attitude
misses the point. As the cochairs of the UK Task Force recently wrote: “British
Jews who care about Israel should care about its 1.5 million Arab citizens.
Fully integrating the Arab minority is vital to Israel’s prosperity and
[and] is central to the state’s economic prospect, as well as
its global standing as the one true democracy in the Middle East.”
a matter of shame that we need a reminder from British Jews as to the importance
of integrating the country’s Arab citizens. In recent years, hand-in-hand with
the despicable rise in power of Israel Beiteinu and the racist passions it
encourages, there has been a hardening in Israeli-Arab attitudes to Israel as a
Jewish state, which can only be damaging to the country’s future.
annual index of Arab-Jewish relations, conducted by University of Haifa
sociologist Sami Smooha, tracks this growing alienation. Support for the
proposition that “Jews in Israel are a people who have a right to a state” has
declined from 75.5% in 2003 to 60.8%, while support for “two states for two
peoples” has plummeted from 88.8% to 65%.
Those Arabs who list Israeli
citizenship as the most important aspect of their personal identity have
dwindled from 29.6% to 19.8%, while those who identify primarily with the
Palestinian people have gone from 18.8% to 32%.
Furthermore, the number
who believe that “despite its shortcomings, the regime in Israel is a democracy
for the Arab citizens as well” has fallen from 63.1% to 50.5% while the minority
that supports using “all means, including violence” to achieve political ends
has jumped from 5.4% to 13.9%.
These are truly frightening figures and
demand a concerted reaction on the part of the country’s leadership. No country,
and certainly not one that faces the challenges this one does, can afford this
level of alienation among 20% of its population.
But our leaders have
turned a blind eye to this problem. It’s not hard to imagine Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu making an impassioned speech about anti-Semitism in Europe
should, say, a leading bishop instruct his flock from the pulpit not to rent out
properties to Jewish tenants.
And yet, when Safed’s Chief Rabbi Shmuel
Eliyahu issued a halachic ruling last month prohibiting Jews from renting homes
to Arabs in the center of the town, there was no condemnation from any senior
Eliyahu, who let us not forget is employed by the state, has form
on this issue. He was charged four-and-a-half years ago with making racist
remarks against Arabs, but the charges were dropped after he promised to retract
them. Puzzlingly, there has been no move on the part of the legal authorities to
reinstate these charges after his recent outburst and Eliyahu continues to bring
home a healthy salary each month from the state coffers.
The situation in
Safed is particularly disturbing. There are 500 Arab students enrolled at Safed
Academic College, who have been the target of ugly public attacks, which even
culminated in violence against three of them. Eli Tzvieli, an 89-year-old Safed
resident, has meanwhile received death threats after renting an apartment to
Beduin students. And yet nobody, not even the national student union, has come
out in support of these Israeli citizens seeking to live close to their place of
The UK Task Force on Issues Facing Arab Citizens of Israel
certainly has its work cut out for it.The writer is a former
The Jerusalem Post.