Road map for a shared society in Israel

Leadership demands creating a vision, and a strategy to fulfill that vision.

A rabbi and a sheikh at a prayer session for Muslims and Jews in Gush Etzion. (photo credit: ELIAZ COHEN)
A rabbi and a sheikh at a prayer session for Muslims and Jews in Gush Etzion.
(photo credit: ELIAZ COHEN)
As Israel watched its elected officials focus on political survival this past year – reaching a climax this week with pronouncements and maneuvers that no one really understands – a group of lay leaders worked to generate a vision for Israel and a plan to achieve it. The issue they sought to address was the Jewish-Arab relationship within Israel.
The reality of Israel’s 20% Arab minority is not going to disappear. With that in mind, a team of Jewish and Arab representatives from the public and private sectors worked for the past 16 months to create a set of policies to build partnerships that include Arab citizens of Israel who want to be citizens of Israel and enjoy the successes of the State of Israel.
These leaders presented their recommendations – the “Road map for a Shared Society” – at the Givat Haviva conference this week. I was honored to be asked to respond to their recommendations at the conference, and was impressed by what I saw and heard. While I strongly disagree with certain points and recommended changing some of the text, the overall road map is excellent, and I believe most of it can and should be adopted by any Israeli government, regardless of political leanings and ideologies.
Education is the No. 1 mechanism to generate coexistence and tolerance between Arabs and Jews in Israel, and to create a society in which we share what we can. The committee recommends focusing first and foremost on the teachers, requiring schools of education and teacher- training colleges to include a mandatory course on the different sectors in Israel, including the Arab-Jewish divide.
In addition, as recommended by President Reuven Rivlin, teachers from all sectors would spend time teaching in schools from different sectors. Special training would be included for principals, since they are the ones who set the tone of tolerance among their staffs and student bodies.
Economic development in the Arab sector is vital if we want to truly reach for equal opportunities and a shared society. To this end, the road map calls for establishing hi-tech employment centers in Arab areas, and five advanced industry centers in leading Arab towns. In addition, there must be investment in public transportation to facilitate mobility and access from the Arab villages to centers of employment. Finally, and perhaps most important, the subject of employment and career development must be introduced in Arab high schools.
The arts are an area in which Jews and Arabs can easily work together. The road map recommends the establishment of a forum of Jewish and Arab representatives to create a “shared cultural language” of Israel in the arts. Both populations can gain from the background and experiences of the other, and working together within a non-threatening framework such as the arts can generate a restorative and inclusive discourse between Arab and Jewish societies.
It is clear that without greater involvement of moderate Arabs on a government level, it will be almost impossible for this sector to feel – and be – truly equal in Israeli society.
To this end, the road map recommends setting a target of 20% Arab representation among students in Government Studies programs that include experiential components such as internships in government agencies. An infrastructure needs to be created for effective monitoring of the rate of employment of Arabs in state companies and agencies.
The forum acknowledged the gap in community and private construction planning between the Jewish and Arab sectors, calling this breach a detriment to the Arab sector that holds back progress toward equality. The road map thus calls for a “pilot project for planning initiatives for Arab communities,” a master plan to be implemented in five Arab communities, with a national project oversight committee overseeing and administering those plans. It would include exploring cooperation in land use between and Arab and Jewish local governments, with shared public facilities such as cultural and athletic venues where possible. Such a project would require the state to budget state-owned lands for these projects – a worthwhile investment to gain control over illegal construction, and all the negatives associated with a lack of proper community planning that currently leaves the Arab sector with inadequate infrastructures across the board.
I applaud the leaders and staff at Givat Haviva for the hard work that went into preparing these proposals. While I disagreed with some of their suggestions, I believe that most of the road map – including all of the elements detailed above – would be acceptable to even the most right-wing of Israeli governments. I pray that the proposals find a receptive ear in government, and that we can start working on fulfilling a vision all Israelis should desire: a society in which upstanding citizens can live together in harmony and with equal opportunities for all.
The writer served in the 19th Knesset with the Yesh Atid party.