Reflections on Equality and Community in Shared Society Work

Panelist calls on community and police to address issues impacting Bedouin society at the Safe Communities roundtable in Ar’ara BaNegev. (© 2019 Dana Schmerzler)

The Abraham Initiatives’ mission is to “fulfill the promise of full and equal citizenship and complete equality of social and political rights for Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens.”

As I’m preparing to return home to a country where racial justice and equality are on the forefront of conversation, I’ve been drawn back to this mission statement in my reflections on what I’ve learned from the past nine months interning with the organization. In my time living and volunteering in Lod, I’ve had the opportunity to work closely within different communities in the city. Although I’ve learned so much and gained many valuable relationships from each of these communities, seeing the divisions that persist between societies here has made my work with The Abraham Initiatives all the more meaningful to me. As an intern this year, I’ve appreciated the opportunity to learn from the organization’s multifaceted and community-focused model of working towards equality and shared society in Israel.

While The Abraham Initiatives invests heavily in dialogue and positive interactions, especially through the Education for Shared Society projects, I’ve been continuously impressed with how the organization goes beyond encounters in their drive for shared society. Many of the projects I’ve worked on this year focus not only on bridging the divides between Arab and Jewish populations, but also the gaps in areas such as personal security, socioeconomic levels, media coverage, and academic achievement. For example, I’ve had the opportunity to assist in translations for an Academia as Shared Space video campaign this year, which focuses on making universities more welcoming for Arab students. Although the number of Arab university students has been rising, most schools lack a comprehensive diversity and inclusion policy and have a higher drop-out rate for Arab students. These videos focus specifically on informing Arab students about their rights and easing their passage into universities that are often Hebrew-speaking and Jewish-majority. Working on this project, I’ve seen how a shared academic space is contingent on making universities as accessible to Arab students as they already are for most Jewish students. In other words, shared society is only possible if the social, economic, and political inequalities facing Arab citizens are also being addressed.

Throughout my internship, I’ve especially appreciated working with the Safe Communities initiative on projects that provided even deeper insight into how to act on this philosophy through a community-focused model. The Safe Communities initiative aims to combat the high rates of crime and violence facing Arab society and bring the level of security and safety felt by Arab citizens up to the same level as Jewish citizens. Most recently, I’ve been working on an English presentation for the 2019 Personal Security Index, which provides data and analysis from a survey of attitudes among Arab citizens on issues related to policing and violence. Through extensive in-person interviews, the report centers the voices of Arab citizens in identifying pressing issues and pinpointing root causes. I’ve also attended two regional workshops this year that brought together community leaders from Arab society with police and government officials in order to improve cooperation in reducing violence and crime. Each time, I was impressed by how the Safe Communities team constantly strives to keep their policy work rooted in conversations with community leaders.

At a moment when, as an American, racial equality is an issue at the forefront of my mind, I’m grateful to have spent the year learning from a shared society organization that operates on a model of shared society based on equality and community-driven change. Of course, the fight for equality in the U.S. and Israel look different. The outburst of protests and strikes against violence in Arab society last October was, in part, a response to a history of police and state neglect. As a result, demonstrators largely called for a stronger police presence in Arab localities that would be more in touch with the community.[1] In the U.S., on the other hand, the current wave of protest comes in response to a long history of institutionalized racism and police brutality. After countless failed police reform efforts, demonstrators are largely calling to defund the police and redirect resources to other channels to meet community needs.[2] However, working with The Abraham Initiatives highlighted the importance of listening to and investing in marginalized communities in addressing any of these issues. When the October protests broke out, the organization was already involved in many of the key issues and had policy solutions prepared for the government.[3] Placing community voices at the center of the conversation is an essential part of building a more equal and just society, here in Israel and back home in the U.S.

Reflecting back on this year, I’m walking away with a deeper understanding of how to center equality in shared society work and a model for how to root that work in community connections. These lessons, though seemingly abstract and theoretical, are ones that I learned from and saw play out largely through interpersonal relations. The morning greetings, day-to-day interactions, conversations during long car rides, and above all, shared dedication to the work with and among such a diverse staff here has been a foundation for the successes of this organization, and for everything I’ve learned here. These relationships are what breathe life into the organization’s mission and model for achieving shared society. As I’m returning home and thinking about what it means to work for equality in my own country, I know that the lessons I’ve learned here will continue to strengthen my approach to addressing issues of inequality.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/as-violent-crime-spikes-in-israeli-arab-towns-so-does-anger-over-a-double-standard-in-policing/2019/10/15/d774587c-eb6c-11e9-a329-7378fbfa1b63_story.html

[2] https://www.npr.org/2020/06/03/869046127/american-police

[3] https://abrahaminitiatives.org/these-are-the-next-steps-needed/

About the Author
Claire graduated from Tufts University in 2019 with a B.A. in International Relations and Anthropology. She is currently living in Lod, Israel as a Yahel Social Change Fellow, where she teaches English at a local elementary school and works at an after school program for at-risk youth. Claire is also an intern with the Abraham Initiatives, a non-profit organization that seeks to build shared society and promote political and social equality for both Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel.
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