My Two Shekels: How should we respond to a survey supporting removal of Israeli-Arabs?

My Two Shekels: How should we respond to a survey supporting removal of Israeli-Arabs?

by Rabbi Laura Janner-KlausnerMy two shekels

This survey does not reflect the Judaism, nor the Zionist vision, on which the Israel that I love, and of which I am a citizen, was founded. Even if the survey is flawed, it certainly reflects a significant shift in Israeli politics away from the centre to the right.

Such a survey would have been very different 10, or even five years ago. I am worried by this and the changing attitudes I experience on my regular journeys between Israel and Britain. I have faith that opinions can and will shift. Israel is one of the fastest sociologically changing countries in the world. I remember hearing as a teenager the mantra: “Israel will never make peace with Egypt.”

However, when the then-President Anwar Sadat showed visionary and courageous leadership by coming to Israel, by speaking in the most symbolic place of Middle Eastern democracy – the Knesset – this shifted the discourse in a totally new direction.

It was a symbolic gesture that totally altered national opinion and Israel’s future. The Israel that can be, that surely must be, is a society built on Jewish values and the Declaration of Independence: love towards the stranger, the pursuit of justice and a drive for equality regardless of race or religion.

In reality, Israeli Arabs are not ‘strangers’ but full citizens with citizens’ rights and responsibilities. There are outstanding examples of Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinian Arabs working together on a daily, almost mundane, basis.

You might not have heard of Sikkuy. Meaning “chance”, it is a shared organisation of Jewish and Arab citizens, working to implement full equality between Arab Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel.

They work with the authorities and the public to achieve far-reaching change. Look at the Abraham Fund building a shared future for Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens, advancing coexistence, equality and cooperation.

The Leo Baeck Education Center in Haifa conducts shared existence activities and social outreach programs in conjunction with Haifa’s Arab community, aimed at increasing opportunities for frequent and meaningful contact.

These are but three examples, snapshots of the vital work being done to ensure a brighter future of coexistence. If Israelis are presented with a more compelling vision for coexistence, then views towards Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel will change.

Moving beyond initial feelings of sadness or pessimism, our response to this survey must be to redouble our efforts to strengthen the Israeli voices and organisations dedicated to building bridges and relationships of trust across the divide.

This includes dialogue both between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs, and between Israeli Jews and Palestinians on the West Bank and even, in the future, in Gaza – however unimaginable that may seem at present.

• Laura Janner-Klausner is senior rabbi to Reform Judaism

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