In May of this year I wrote in this column about the founding of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues. I wrote then that “more than 170 representatives of American Jewish organizations and foundations gathered to discuss the challenges facing Israel’s Arab minority, and why this issue is important not only to Israel but to the American Jewish community as well.” I added that “I will continue to report to you on the progress of the Task Force and issues related to Israeli Arabs.” As promised, here is an update.
A recent meeting of the Task Force was addressed by Ze’ev Bielski, chair of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and the World Zionist Organization (WZO). He spoke at length about the commitment of JAFI to “take steps so that everyone in Israel should feel like they are full citizens.” He outlined the steps taken during the recent war to support the Arab communities in the North and reported that JAFI directly spent millions of dollars on the non-Jewish communities. He mentioned that he believes that Project 2000 (the twinning program between local Jewish Federations and Israeli cities) should eventually be extended to include Arab towns as well. It is not surprising that he spoke of the opposition that exists to this idea.
Other speakers active in the area in Israel discussed the challenges faced by co-existence organizations in Israel as a result of the war. It has been well publicized that Israeli Arabs suffered a high percentage of the war casualties. While an uninvolved observer might assume that the Arab communities would join their Jewish neighbors in solely blaming Hezbollah for the damage and destruction, the reality is more complicated due to historical and social issues. The groups working in this area are looking for the path towards a better understanding in that regard.
An interesting side note is that Task Force leadership called attention to the World Zionist Congress resolution calling on JAFI to fund Arab sector projects as a sign of growing Jewish communal support for our agenda. In addition, a UJC resolution on the agenda of the upcoming General Assembly in Los Angeles also quotes the WZO resolution. As a member of the WZO resolutions committee that moved this piece of business through the decision making process at the Congress, I am pleased with this positive impact.
Lest the reader think the entire American Jewish community is onboard, last Friday’s New York Jewish Week featured a lead headline which proclaimed “Center-Right Groups Outraged At Post-War Money To Arabs.” While I question the centrist qualifications of quoted groups such as Americans for a Safe Israel., ZOA, Orthodox Union and Young Israel, I am not surprised such sentiment exists. Howard Rieger, United Jewish Communities CEO, provided details on UJC and JAFI allocations in the Arab sector and, according to the Jewish Week “said his organization was asked at the very beginning if it wanted to treat Israeli Jews and Arabs differently and that our answer was no.”
Next month I will attend the General Assembly in LA and will share my observations on this and other issues on the agenda of the organized Jewish community.