Right of Reply: Yes, we proudly support Mossawa

Listening to Israel's discriminated-against Arab minority is no sin.

israeli arab 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
israeli arab 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The New Israel Fund was attacked in this newspaper by Lori Lowenthal Marcus of the Zionist Organization of America for funding Mossawa, an Israeli Arab organization that participated in preparing the Future Vision paper issued last December ("Not with my money," February 14). We profoundly disagree with the author's prescription for dealing with that document, and of course with her rejection of NIF and other organizations seriously engaged with Jewish-Arab issues inside Israel. As our long-time supporters know, the New Israel Fund has been funding, supporting and training Israeli civil society organizations for 27 years. We support groups that advocate for human and civil rights; social justice and economic equity; religious pluralism; and the environment. We also have always been crystal-clear in our support for a Jewish and democratic state, which we are convinced is imperative for Israeli security. We proudly support activists who reject the idea that women should be forced to sit in the back of haredi buses, or that Israel's Russian and Ethiopian at-risk youth are unimportant, or that poor communities should have no voice in their own future. In our view, both Jewish and democratic values require that Israel's political and economic elites listen to the disempowered voices of Israeli society. It therefore goes without saying that we have long supported the work of groups representing the most disempowered minority in Israel - Israeli Arabs. We are not backing away from this commitment. As has been recognized by various official bodies, including the Orr Commission established after the tragic events of October 2000, Israeli Arabs remain second-class citizens - in education, in income, in land ownership, and in representation among government policymakers. In this respect, Israel has largely failed to fulfill the promises of its Declaration of Independence, which promises equality to all citizens. That is why the Interagency Task Force on Israeli Arabs, comprising the leadership of the American Jewish community, is focusing its energies on these issues. THE FUTURE Vision report mostly deals with practical, everyday issues on which reasonable people, both Jewish and Arab, can negotiate or agree. That leaves the admittedly provocative preamble that focuses on the Israeli Arab historical narrative, on a general call for recognition of collective rights, and on what many see as a de-facto insistence on the establishment of a binational state. Let us be clear: To the extent that the report differs from our basic principle of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, we disagree with the conclusion. However, we also profoundly disagree with the idea that we should immediately recoil from any support or dialogue with the groups who participated in the preparation of the Future Vision paper. The difficult section of this document presents an Arab narrative of Israel, which is at odds with the Jewish one. Simply put, we do not accept a historical rendition that ignores the sustained Jewish 3,000 year-plus connection with the land of Israel, or the legitimacy sanctioned by the 1948 United Nations resolution authorizing the establishment of the State of Israel. Moreover, reference to colonial policies and a belittling of Israel's democratic institutions serve to provoke rather than enlighten the reader. Nonetheless, we do not believe it is productive to negotiate narratives, which must be recognized and acknowledged. The question is how to live together as citizens of the same state holding different narratives. Indeed, the document is important precisely because it is written by Arab citizens of Israel who assume a two-state solution and want to define their place within Israel after the creation of a Palestinian state. By focusing on the future, and looking toward eventual reconciliation, the Future Visions paper and process may signify the beginning of genuine dialogue. Unlike the ZOA, the New Israel Fund would welcome such a process of dialogue, even as it would require addressing painful and sensitive issues by both Jews and Arabs. We see our role as serving to bridge two embittered and historically victimized communities. The New Israel Fund itself comprises a wide range of views, but we fully embrace the difficulties of being a democratic organization supporting a democratic state. And we appreciate that our approach is not likely to appeal to those whose notion of Israel contemplates ethnic cleansing or a self-perpetuating discriminatory system. However, we do believe that our supporters, including many leaders of the organized Jewish community in Israel and the Diaspora, recognize the importance of promoting dialogue - and of building the Israel that we know to be possible. Garber is the Executive Director and Ya'ari the Executive Director in Israel of the New Israel Fund.