Olmert on Arabs

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke about discrimination against Israel's Arabs on Thursday night, eliciting a supportive statement from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). "We have frequently spoken out against manifestations of prejudice and racism and stereotyping of others. 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 lobby's National Chair Glen S. Lewy and National Director Abraham H. Foxman. Speaking at the First Prime Minister's Conference for the Arab Sector, Olmert called on the Arab-Israeli public to take responsibility as citizens, and not to "stand on the side complaining." According to Olmert, "the Arabs of Israel are not a strategic enemy and I do not look at them as a strategic enemy. In Israel there is discrimination against the Arab public, partly unintentional, but influential. We need to educate Israeli citizens that the arabs in Israel are valuable citizens. Even so, social change cannot be made only on the shoulders of the government." Whilst detailing the work of government offices to further Arabs in Israel society, he said that the program initiated by his government following the Second Lebanon War had started to show encouraging results with the reduction of unemployment in the Arab sector, increase in the number of academics, a rise in the number of new classes and general increase in the quality of life among the Arab population of Israel. He called on the Arab public to be more involved, and to take responsibility that would bring about change. "We need you to take responsibility yourselves," he said, and rather than standing to the side and criticizing, to act as "full partners and citizens in the state of Israel." "I feel here today a wind of change… but we need your willingness to be an active part of this change and not viewers from the side. You are inseparable part of this state, you always were and you always will be," Olmert said. The prime minister also urged the Arab leaders to reconsider Arab youth serving one or two years of national community service, an alternative civil service to the compulsory military service of the Jewish sector in Israel. He called the dispute "unnecessary and upsetting." Speaking of the education system, Olmert said that Israel "needs to look seriously into the question how to change common prejudices against Arab citizens of Israel, racist expressions against them and narrow-mindedness. We need to educate the Israeli society for equality and partnership." Shelly Paz contributed to this report.