Jews and Arabs in Israel need to focus on common values in order to foster coexistence and overcome the scars of the inter-communal violence in May and ethnic societal tensions more broadly, head of the Tzohar rabbinical association Rabbi David Stav said at The Jerusalem Post Conference on Tuesday.
Speaking in a panel discussion, Stav also rejected any idea that Jews should have greater rights than non-Jews in the State of Israel, saying that equal rights for all citizens was crucial for Israel as a democracy.
“I still believe that if there is a solution to coexistence for Jews ad Arabs it is based on a common denominator that we share together, and these are the values of faith, charity, and family,” said Stav.
“I know from a lot of meetings I have had with Arabs from Lod, Acre, Sakhnin, and other places, that we have so much in common and I urge politicians stop talking about territories and politics, and start talking about the values we share together.”
The rabbi said that although “we know that this Holy Land was given to Jewish people” it was essential that all citizens of Israel have equal rights, without which democracy in the country would be “impossible.”
Also on the panel was Rabbi Ari Lamm, CEO of the Bnai Zion organization who waxed lyrical about Hebrew civilization’s “story-telling” tradition and its importance for national unity and as a tool to fix political polarization.
“To keep a nation together you need stories, you need purpose, you need mission,” said Lamm.
“In the history of human thought, it has always and only been Biblical civilization and society which has shown us the blueprint for story-telling and a great shared moral common mission.”
Col. (ret.) Eran Lerman, Editor-in-chief, The Jerusalem Strategic Tribune, emphasized that in Israel’s conflicts with its regional enemies it was important to distinguish between violent extremists versions of Islam, as expounded and carried out by the Islamic Republic of Iran and its various proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas, and the broader Islamic world.
“Our common enemy is not Islam as a religion or civilization, which belongs to the community of civilizations that have contributed to world history, but a modern totalitarian version, or perversion of religion, which I would call modern totalitarian Islamism,” said Lerman.
It is important for Israeli diplomats and leaders to keep that in mind and express it… I’m gratified that Israeli leaders have Iftar dinners, I’m gratified to know that we understand this distinction and we bear in mind who the real enemy is.”
Returning to internal Israeli challenges, Dr. Gil Pereg, CEO of the Darca Schools non-profit organization which works to improve educational opportunities for school-aged youth in Israel’s periphery, lamented what he said was a low level of high-school matriculation in the country nationally.
He added that matriculation rates were even worse in the periphery which he described as “unfair and immoral and not sustainable,” and set out what needs to be done to reverse these trends.
“If you fund schools in a fair way, on a level playing field, and give schools [in weaker socio-economic areas of the country] the same amount of financial support that strong communities can offer, and secondly fix the leadership of these schools and bring in talented principals, then students in these schools can achieve the same as those in stronger parts of the country,” said Pereg.