Israel’s Declaration of Independence is so many things: a snapshot of a unique moment in the Jewish story, a blueprint for the collective Jewish future, a dream and a reality in equal measure, but it’s also definitely something we should all read more often.
When news broke recently of the approved NIS 15 billion investment into the Arab sector in Israel, I was drawn back to this section:
“THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
As both an Israeli and British Jew I am beyond proud of Israel’s achievements in many of these pledges, particularly its democracy which gives all Israelis a voice, but reality shows us that we have fallen short in the development of Israel ‘for the benefit of all its inhabitants’.
While Arab Israelis are economically well off compared with Arabs elsewhere in the Middle East, and with more political rights and freedoms, it cannot be denied that compared with Jewish Israelis, there isn’t the equality espoused in our founding document.
Fifty per cent of Arab citizens live under the poverty line, compared with 20.9% overall. While there are many reasons for this, underinvestment has played a key role and United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA) welcomes this major cash injection serving 22% of Israel’s population.
The money is set to go towards housing, education and public transport and has the potential to transform the future, not just for Arabs but for all citizens of Israel, by closing unacceptable gaps that tend to fuel and exacerbate tension.
UJIA has been working with partners – including the Israeli government – to close these gaps in the Galil for over a decade and I have seen first-hand the long term positive impact we can have.
About half of the 1.2 million Israelis living in the Galil are non-Jewish and mainly Arab. The area is deprived overall, but there is no doubt that Arab Israelis are the worst off and reach lower levels of education and employment. I know that the issue of Jews and Arabs in Israel can be fraught, but we have the ability to make things so much better in spite of the broader geo-political web of problems.
Western Galilee College, near Akko, is providing training and education to a student population that is 50% Arab and 50% Jewish – almost unique in Israel. UK Jewry donated £3.2 million to UJIA so that we could build on this success by creating a New School of Management at this groundbreaking college. I felt so proud at the School’s opening in November 2014, and seeing Jewish, Arab, Druze and Christian students all together, celebrating this step forward was a clarifying experience.
Another great example is the Nazareth based start-up, Tsofen, which helps qualified Israeli Arab technology and engineering graduates into jobs which match their skill level.
For those who might say that UK Jewry are better off donating just to Jews, they should ask themselves: what is the effect of Arab citizens working hard to get educated and trained, only to find themselves unable to get a job in their field in contrast with their Jewish peers? Not only is UJIA doing the right thing by helping Israelis regardless of background, but we are helping to secure Israel’s future.
One of the authors of the NIS 15 billion investment plan, Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, described it as “a historic step on the way to advancing social equality,” – I hope she is right and I hope that Diaspora Jewry continue to show support in any way that they can.