By Ben Murane, Executive Director
“Shared Society and Combatting Racism” is one of our most important overarching issue areas – and its importance has increased even more following the recent street violence between Jewish and Palestinian citizens inside Israel.
We’ve invested in Jewish-Arab partnership since our founding and we have just launched the Shared Society Emergency Fund to pour urgent resources into this work. Even amid the shocking and tragic events of recent weeks, we have seen our investments bear fruit.
Why not Jewish-Arab “Coexistence”? Why “Racism”?
Let’s take a step back first. “Coexistence” is a lovely idea. But it has flaws, so years ago we started using “shared society” instead. Why is that distinction important?
Maybe it’s possible for a marginalized population to coexist peacefully alongside their surrounding society, even if their position remains abjectly second-class. Maybe. But in reality, it’s unlikely that relationships across deep and lasting inequality will remain peaceful for long. Coexistence is not the goal – equality is.
Indeed, many efforts at improving relations between Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel failed because, despite many bowls of hummus, the status of the Palestinian participants continued to decline in broader society. As we have seen, systemic inequality since Israel’s founding has fueled deep resentment within Israel’s Arab population. Even as many Arab individuals achieve professional success, actions within the highest levels of government – like the passing of the Nation-State Law and anti-Arab incitement by Israel’s top politicians — have erected barriers to true systemic equality which are difficult to overcome.
That’s why the model of “shared society” is a crucial distinction.
A shared society is one that is truly shared among its citizens, where each member feels valued and where each has a say in decision-making. That means a say in decision-making at every level of government.
In practice, bringing people together for shared society means action towards mutual interests and undoing systemic inequalities. In Israel that can mean an adjoining Jewish and Arab town co-create a joint economic project or a shared green space. It means signs in Arabic and Hebrew in all places. It means seeing Arab experts on TV who aren’t there just to represent “the Arab opinion.” And it means Jewish-Arab partnership at the top of Israeli government, which has never truly been tried – until now.
We also believe in calling the gap between Jews and Arabs – and the gaps between kinds of Jews – for what it is: racism. Anti-racism work may look different in a country like Israel, where Jews and inter-Jewish inequality exist in a diversity of skin tones, religious streams, mother tongues, and countries of origin. It’s still racism and we work against all of it. LEARN MORE: Join our expert panel on Monday, June 7th to learn more about cutting-edge strategies happening on the ground right now.
Bridging the Divide – and Confronting Extremism
The tragic events of the past month are a new low-point in Jewish-Arab trust.
We are urgently investing even more in initiatives that foster cooperation on the local and national levels; combat racism, extremism, and incitement; advance public legitimacy for Jewish-Arab partnership; and bring representatives of Palestinian citizenry into local and national decision-making.
NIF’s work during this time is focusing on three primary strategies:
- Launching a 1 million shekel fund to support new shared society initiatives;
- Supporting long-term work to advance shared society; and
- Responding swiftly to emerging needs.
Launching a Special Fund for New Shared Society Initiatives
We are raising $100,000 to help support a new, one million shekel fund to support new initiatives that help keep communities safe, rebuild trusting relationships between neighbours, and re-inspire a vision for a shared future.
Supporting Long-Term Work to Advance Shared Society & Combat Racism and Extremism
We are also raising this $100,000 to increase support of the key organizations advancing these goals, many of which are leading initiatives to meet the current challenges in addition to their ongoing work.
Our strategy focuses on creating shared spaces for Jews and Arabs at the national and local levels, including in the media, and on delegitimizing expressions of racism in the general population and by public figures.
Canadian donations in recent years have been responsible for funding the leading Jewish-Arab and anti-racism groups, such as Sikkuy’s success in increasing Arab representation in the media; Givat Haviva’s development of joint economic projects between neighbouring Jewish and Arab towns; Shatil’s Health Forum in the North that opened a new radiology center; and Tag Meir’s rapid-response visits to victims of hate crimes and terrorism. This work must continue in even greater amounts.
Responding Swiftly to Emerging Needs
The $100,000 we raise will also support a robust rapid response funding pool that enables NIF in Israel to address crises and utilize opportunities as they arise. Just look at the many inspiring Jewish-Arab solidarity events across Israel – and legal action in defence of human rights – these past two weeks for examples of swift and brave counterreactions that push back on extremism and violence.
I am pleased to announce here that NIFC is immediately funding two emergency projects right now. We are providing urgent funding for Tag Meir to expand its powerful “Flower Parade” in Jerusalem to four other mixed cities. And we are funding the Follow-Up Committee on Arab Education, the leading NGO dealing with Israel’s Arab school system, to support teachers as they address the aftermath of the intercommunal violence with children and parents.
The Work of Repair Begins Immediately
The damage of the past weeks – physical and emotional – will take work to repair. That work will be done by smart and innovative Jews and Palestinians who will bravely stand up against extremism and rejectionism within their own communities.
Doing these things on a regular day in Israel is already hard. To do it during and after rockets fall on both sides of the border is even more amazing. Israeli civil society has within itself what is necessary to fix what has been broken.
And each time Jewish extremism raises its ugly head, there is also a pushback, led by everyday Israelis who realize that if something is not done from within Israeli society that it will tear itself apart. A growing movement in Israel knows the answer to Jewish and Palestinian extremism and violence is Jewish and Palestinian partnership, including within government.
But they shouldn’t have to do it alone.
So long as you and the thousands of New Israel Fund of Canada supporters are here, they won’t be.