US Reform rabbis: More rights for Israeli Arabs

Reform rabbis call on government to up funding for infrastructure and education in the Arab sector.

Pal school girls 298 (photo credit: )
Pal school girls 298
(photo credit: )
The largest rabbinic organization of Reform Judaism has urged Israelis to reject "proposed laws that would limit the citizenship rights" of Israeli Arabs and called on the government to increase funding for Israeli Arab infrastructure and education. The Central Conference of American Rabbis, an umbrella body for some 2,000 American Reform rabbis, said in a statement Wednesday that it "supports all efforts to realize the promise of full and equal citizenship rights and privileges for all Arab citizens of Israel, as envisioned in Israel's Declaration of Independence. Furthermore, the CCAR opposes any proposed laws that would limit the citizenship rights of and equal governmental services to non-Jewish citizens of Israel." The statement followed a resolution in June on the issue, as well as the group's national convention, which was held in Israel in February and also dealt with Israeli Arab issues. While praising "notable efforts, some of them governmental," to help Israel's minorities, "the civil rights and benefits of citizenship afforded to Arab citizens of Israel are not on par with those offered to Jewish citizens," the organization said. The statement specifically cited Israel's divided education system, in which each of the four major population sectors - secular, national-religious, Arab and haredi - has its own school network. "Even if 'separate but equal' is preferred by both Jews and Arabs in Israel, that separate education must truly be equal, including funding at every level," the statement said. "An American ideal would be that you would have joint schools, but that doesn't mean that it's appropriate for Israel," said Rabbi Barry Block, senior rabbi at Temple Beth-El in San Antonio, Texas, and chairman of the CCAR Resolutions Committee. "It's a call for [equal] civil rights, exactly like what it says in the [Israeli] Declaration of Independence," added Block. The resolution endorses the mission statement of the Inter-Agency Task Force On Israeli Arab Issues, an American umbrella group of large American Jewish organizations - including federations, the Conference of Presidents, ADL and others - that seeks to support Israeli Arab civil society and development. Partly, said Block, the statement came in response to the campaign rhetoric and subsequent election success of Israel Beiteinu. "Israelis should elect who they want to elect. I don't want to suggest we oppose that. But it is absolutely unacceptable to us to require loyalty oaths in order to retain citizenship, or anything that would restrict freedom of assembly," he said, referring to two unsuccessful bills proposed by the party. According to Block, the concern for the condition and integration of Israeli Arabs is shared across the American Jewish mainstream. "The Reform Movement can be fairly cast on the Left in many cases," he said, "but the inter-agency task force is as mainstream as you can get in American Jewry. So we're not taking any radical position, but making clear there is an American Jewish consensus." Asked about Israeli Arab leaders' anti-Zionist rhetoric and rejection of Israel's Jewishness, Block said that ordinary Israeli Arabs preferred integration to the rhetoric of their leaders. "We all have our leadership issues, and the Palestinians have among the worst leadership issues in the world. Most of the Arab world shares these problems," he said. While admittedly left-leaning, Block noted that the CCAR had supported Obama's settlement-freeze policy yet lauded Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's speech at Bar-Ilan University demanding that a future Palestinian state be demilitarized and recognize Israel as a Jewish state. An Israel Beiteinu spokesperson declined to comment.