Where both ZOA and NIF have got it wrong

Work for civic equality for Israeli Arabs, but tell it like it is

By ABRAHAM H. FOXMAN, KEN JACOBSON
March 5, 2007 20:46
3 minute read.

 
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For those of us who are seriously committed to creating equality for Israel's Arab citizens but who are also highly concerned about assaults on the legitimacy of the Jewish State from without and within, recent articles in The Jerusalem Post by representatives of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and the New Israel Fund (NIF) leave a feeling of discomfort. The ZOA article by Lori Lowenthal Marcus, the President of the Philadelphia district of the organization, takes shots at Jewish funding that goes to Israeli Arab groups that are against the Jewish state. Unfortunately, in the article one hears nothing about the importance of Israel addressing the issue of inequality. The Interagency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues was created to address this very issue understood that the problem of inequality and discrimination against Israeli Arabs is a matter of great concern and should be a priority for Israel. This is so for strategic reasons - while much attention is drawn to extremist statements and activities by some Israeli Arabs, the real story is that during decades of conflict between Israel and the Arab, for the most part Israeli Arabs have remained loyal to Israel. The Or Commission, after the shootings in 2000, made it clear that this loyalty should not be taken for granted and that Israel must do far more to create a sense of continuing ownership in the country by Israeli Arabs through financial, education and cultural steps toward equality. It is also important for reasons of principle - Israel is a state predicated on the belief that it must be Jewish and democratic as described in its Declaration of Independence. Israel has a moral obligation to make sure that democracy is fully realized by combating any form of discrimination or unequal treatment. And, it is important regarding Israel's image in the world, not among its enemies (for which only Israel's disappearance would satisfy) but among those who hold more complicated views. What Israel does can have impact, as we see in the reaction to its disengagement from Gaza. Treatment of underprivileged minorities is an issue in dozens of countries; Israel can set an example in how it addresses the problem. Image is not a peripheral matter but fundamental to Israel's strategic interest. It is therefore troubling that in an essay on American Jews and the Israeli Arab issue that the ZOA saw fit not to mention these important matters. UNFORTUNATELY, the New Israel Fund piece by Larry Garber and Eliezer Ya'ari fails to take seriously enough the challenges and dangers embodied in the opposition to a Jewish state as reflected in the Future Visions document. We agree that the need to progress on achieving equality for Arabs should proceed despite such positions. But how to proceed, the impact on the possibilities of achieving broad Jewish support in light of these positions, and the question as to whether economic and educational equality will even satisfy such groups are all important issues that NIF ignores. It is critical that American Jewish organizations, particularly those in the Task Force, who are committed to equality, send a very clear message to groups like Mossawa, an Israeli Arab civil rights group, and the other authors of Future Visions, that their views on the Jewish State and its symbols and policies are unacceptable and will inhibit the ability to get broad support for programs we believe in. If such positions persist, it will be harder and harder to separate out efforts to delegitimize Israel by enemies around the world from similar efforts from within. Indeed, such trends will play into hands of those in Israel who do not seek true equality and even into the hands of those whose solutions go way beyond not pursuing equality. The simple truth is that the denial of a Jewish State is not merely something we should "disagree" with. It is, in fact, a challenge to all the work that we engage in to realize to the greatest extent an Israel that is both Jewish and democratic. For our part, we will strenuously continue our work to achieve the goal of true equality, but let us not minimize the very real threat that Future Vision presents to finding reasonable solutions and reconciliation. Foxman is National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, and Jacobson is ADL Deputy National Director. They are members of the Executive Committee of the Interagency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues.

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