Arab village 88 224.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Childhood memories from the 1980's conjure up images of Jewish National Fund
certificates, issued in my great grandfather’s name, hanging over the dining
table in my parents' home in Israel. As a child, I looked at these impressive
JNF certificates every day, meal after meal, and they helped anchor my family's
connections – and that of Diaspora Jewry- to the settlement of
Such reminders of the bond between Jews in Israel and the
Diaspora are still around, although they have changed somewhat. My parents in
law live in a Moshav in southern Israel. Evident there almost everywhere - from
libraries to irrigation systems - is the massive donor commitment of major
Jewish institutions such as the Jewish Agency and the JNF. Unlike the modest
certificates of the past, the certificates are large and
Still, they point at the continuing investment by the
Diaspora in the Jewish communities in Israel.
But donations flowing to
Israel from abroad rarely reach Israel's Arab communities, which I often travel
to for my work. Their towns and villages are poor, underdeveloped, lacking
adequate infrastructure and unable to provide the most basic services –a result
of the state's long-standing discriminatory policies, which fail to provide Arab
citizens with a fair share of state resources.
Jewish donors give
primarily to Jewish communities and organizations; their generosity rarely
shines on Israel's Arab communities. These communities are hence bereft of both
government and philanthropic investment. The unequal distribution of
philanthropic resources compounds the budgetary discrimination in the
distribution of state resources. Private contributions to Israel amount to $2.5
billion per year, approximately 6 percent of net government expenditures. This
is a significant sum, which aggravates the inequality, also because philanthropy
tends to focus only on particular areas.
The historical reasons why
Jewish philanthropy invests mainly in Jewish communities are obvious. However,
the practical implications of this policy are deeply disquieting. It may not be
easy to hear but the truth must be said: The exclusive allocation of Jewish
donations from abroad to Jewish Israelis deepens the inequality between Jewish
and Arab citizens which is one of the significant causes of the alienation and
frustration that Arab citizens express toward the state and its Jewish
But why should Jews give to non-Jews in Israel? It is because
the state of Israel cannot be a stable, safe, and morally based democracy if
minority representing 20% of the population continues to suffer from
discrimination and inequality.
Indeed, some Jewish institutional leaders
understand this, and therefore, they have begun to demand that funds be divided
equally among all Israelis.
The Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli Arab
Issues has taken a dominant and important leading position in educating American
Jewry on these issues, pointing in the right direction.
In Israel, a
titanic struggle is now taking place between the forces that seek to promote
democracy and equality and the forces that aim to deepen the inequality and
separation between Jewish and Arab citizens. The latter act by various means to
maintain discriminatory practices against Arab citizens; deprive Arab citizens
of their right to citizenship, or to attach discriminatory conditions to this
citizenship. One example is the Loyalty Act that passed a government vote this
week. The democratic camp is struggling to protect Israel’s fragile democracy,
and demanding for both unconditional equality in the allocation of resources and
actual equality to all citizens – without distinction between Jews and
Jewish philanthropy has a critical role to play in this struggle.
Standing on the side, let alone maintaining the almost exclusive flow of
resources to Jewish citizens, will widen the gaps and further escalate the
internal conflict between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. This is a
tremendous challenge facing Jewish philanthropy, perhaps the greatest in its
history. Can this challenge be met? Ron Gerlitz is co-executive director
of Sikkuy: The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel.