On the street outside our hotel in the heart of Jaffa is an Israel barely recognisable from the hostile atmosphere within the Labour Party, on the campus of UCL and in sections of the media. We wake to the sound of the muezzin call to prayer echoing down narrow streets.
Soon after lunchtime, on the pavement outside a flea market, a minyan gathers for Mincha prayers. And as sunset arrives, Jews and Arabs gather outside their businesses to engage in the combat of Shesh Besh.
Late in the evening, an impromptu chuppah is erected in an alley and the joyous singing of a Jewish wedding rings out. On the Jaffa beach, women in full burka bathe in the waters close to Orthodox Jewish bathers and secular swimmers in bikinis.
Such scenes offer evidence of gentle coexistence between 6.7 million or so Jews and two million Israeli-Arabs. But as we learned at the last Israeli elections, when Benjamin Netanyahu cautioned Jewish citizens that the Arabs were going to the polls ‘in droves’, there still is much mutual suspicion between communities.
At the forefront of the battle to confront these prejudices and create shared values and a more equal society is The Abraham Fund Initiatives (TAFI). It is the pilot for many projects, such as the teaching of Ivrit (by Jewish teachers) in Arab schools and Israeli-Arab teachers in Arab schools, which have been scaled up by government.
In education a great achievement of recent years has been the leap in the number of Arab students moving into higher education. In 2006 just 9.7 percent of eligible Arab young people made it to higher education. By 2016, the number had risen to 16.1 percent. But as Professor Asayed Khateb of the University of Haifa argues there is still much to be done before universities, one of Israel’s great treasures, become shared spaces.
Access to higher education and, in particular, second and third degrees for Israeli Arabs is made more difficult by language requirements.
The abraham fund initiatives is at the forefront of the battle to confront prejudices & create shared values
There is no representation on Israel’s higher education council for Israeli Arabs and Arabs are hopelessly under-represented on the administrative staff and faculty. In contrast, Israeli Arab academics and PhDs are to be found on faculties in Europe, on the West Bank, in Jordan and the USA. TAFI is working on a series of programmes being rolled out on campuses across Israel designed to combat the obstacles to Arab progress in higher education.
A far thornier task in creating a shared society is overcoming the lack of security in Arab towns. During my visit to Israel time was spent in Kafr Kassem, a town close to the green line, where 56 Arabs were killed by IDF forces during 1956 clashes. The memory of that creates suspicion of Israeli policing even though the town has an organised crime problem resulting in 15 recent murders. The only killing to be fully investigated was that of an Israeli Jew and was resolved with 24 hours. The others never have been fully probed.
These are not the easiest moments for Israeli causes, however noble they may seem. Trump, Brexit and refugee issues mean many donors are looking inwards rather than to Israel for giving.
Yet if peace is to be advanced, prejudice overcome and prosperity extended, then the cause of a shared society becomes more important than ever.