To help Israel’s Arabs is to support democracy
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The New Israel Fund has been attacked for supporting an Arab charity that wants to diminish Israel's Jewish character. Its chairman replies
A few weeks ago, a group of New Israel Fund supporters spent an evening in Nazareth celebrating the 15th anniversary of Women Against Violence - an Israeli-Arab charity focusing on domestic violence. NIF was singled out with gratitude for providing essential financial and professional support over many years.
Events like this one - with groups from all sectors of Israeli society - reflect what NIF is about, and contrast starkly with the caricature of our organisation painted by Dan Kosky of NGO Monitor on these pages last week, when writing about Adalah, an organisation working for the rights of Israel's 1.3 million Arab citizens. What Mr Kosky misses is the reality that in the state of Israel, this 20 per cent of the population is an important part of society. Nobody concerned about the security and prosperity of Israel can, or should, ignore these citizens.
He did acknowledge: "NIF can justly be proud of an impressive record of achievement. Their work to promote civil rights, women's rights and minority rights has secured their reputation as an anchor of Israel's voluntary sector." For 29 years NIF has been engaged in tikkun olam, investing over £100 million in more than 800 Israeli non-governmental and voluntary organisations, helping them achieve the highest standards of advocacy, transparency, accountability and service provision for all Israel's inhabitants.
Yet, despite all her achievements, Israel faces an existential threat from internal conflict. Years of unrest and the consequences of waves of immigration have created a splintered society with wide-ranging inequalities - one where the work of NIF's programmes in both the Jewish and Arab sectors makes a powerful contribution.
For most of Israel's Arab citizens - Christians, Muslims, Bedouin and Druze - institutional discrimination is a constant, as the government's own Or Commission admitted in 2003. Central to our belief is that both Israelis and diaspora Jews must support the goal of a just and ethical Israel, and hold the Israeli government accountable for its policies and practices. NIF is right to support Adalah, an organisation working successfully through public advocacy and the courts to counter that discrimination and achieve the rights of equality that are a cornerstone of Israel's Declaration of Independence.
Mr Kosky objects to Adalah's preference for a "democratic, bilingual and multicultural" state over one with a Jewish cultural framework. But this is one of several visions of Israel's future - Israeli high school citizenship classes teach youngsters to consider six alternatives. Adalah's proposed draft constitution is also one of several participating in Israel's long-running public constitutional debate. Just as we Jews in the diaspora expect - indeed demand - equality before the law, so the Arab minorities in Israel expect what UK Jews already have: equality with the majority in every respect, and recognition of their particular needs as a minority. We should not be surprised if those denied these rights are unhappy and want to see change. But all this is far from advocating the "annihilation of the Jewish state", as Mr Kosky irresponsibly states.
For him, supporting minorities means only the ones you agree with. We at NIF believe in an Israel that is Jewish and democratic, and we support free expression of the various views, concerns and voices of our grantees - whether we agree with all their positions or not - so long as they work within the framework of Israel's laws and democratic processes. NIF will continue to support them in the interests of sustaining that very democracy.
A relevant question for Jewish supporters of Israel in the diaspora is how much they contribute to promoting cohesion between Jewish and Arab Israelis by helping to narrow the formidable gap between the two communities. NIF for its part will continue to support those Israelis - Jews and Arabs - who work selflessly to reduce conflict, heal divisions, advance prosperity and build a more secure society for all its inhabitants.