ADL praises PM's comments on Arabs

Olmert calls on Israeli-Arabs to take responsibility for status, and not to "stand to the side complaining."

olmert arabs haifa 224 (photo credit: GPO)
olmert arabs haifa 224
(photo credit: GPO)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke of discrimination against Israel's Arabs on Thursday night, eliciting a supportive statement from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). "We welcome the prime minister's statements against discrimination and prejudices toward Israeli-Arabs and hope others in the political, religious and social establishment will follow," said the organization's National Chairman Glen S. Lewy and National Director Abraham H. Foxman. Olmert told Israeli Arab leaders on Thursday that years of discrimination against their sector must end, and asked them to reconsider the prospect of national service for youth within their own communities. "I don't deny and I don't cover up that for many years, there was discrimination," said Olmert, the final speaker at the First Prime Minister's Conference for the Arab Sector. The gathering, held at the Conference Center in Haifa and organized by the Israel Democracy Institute, examined the achievements of a governmental plan launched in December 2006. Olmert said he acknowledged years of deprivation in the Israeli Arab sector, but that the program his government had initiated following the Second Lebanon War was starting to show encouraging results, including lower unemployment in the Arab sector, more Israeli Arabs pursuing higher education, and general improvement in the quality of life among the Arab population. "I feel here today the winds of change and a joint responsibility, but we need your willingness to be an active part of this change and not [just] onlookers. You are an inseparable part of this state - you always were, and you always will be," Olmert said. In this context, Olmert urged the Arab leaders to reconsider the idea of Arab youth serving a year or two of national service as an alternative to the compulsory military service of the Jewish sector. Several months ago, Israeli Arab leaders rejected an initiative to impose national service on Arab youth, claiming that it was another way for the government to make the Arab teenagers part of the military. "This dispute is unnecessary and upsetting," Olmert said. "National service... is right for us as a society and it is right for the Arab sector and for the Arab youth... Why would you turn it into something it is not?" Finally, after praising the work of Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, Education Minister Yuli Tamir and Science, Culture and Sport Minister Ghaleb Majadle - "the first Arab minister in an Israeli government" - in developing Arab communities, Olmert said that great efforts should be made toward reeducating the mainstream Israeli public. "We need to look seriously into the question of how to change common prejudices against Arab citizens of Israel, the expression of racism against them, and narrow-mindedness. We need to educate Israeli society for equality and partnership," Olmert said. "Israeli-Arabs are not a strategic threat, and I don't see them that way. Discrimination against the Arab residents exists. Some of it is intentional and some not, but it has an influence, and the Israeli public should be educated [to see] the Arab public as an equal part [of society]... It's the government's responsibility to make this sort of a change, but also the Arabs'," he added. A report presented at the conference regarding trend changes in the Arab sector showed that as educational gaps between the Arab and Jewish populations keep shrinking, many Israeli Arabs struggle to find a job in their field. They also earn less and eventually make a smaller contribution to the Gross National Product (GNP) - less than half that of their Jewish counterparts. According to the report, a similar ratio of Arab (60%) and Jewish (61%) men worked in 2006, while only 19% of Arab women worked in that year compared to 54% of Jewish women. The report showed further that more Israeli Arabs were pursuing higher education, but many of them struggled to find jobs in their fields.