Editor’s Notebook: Toward a Shared Society

Editor’s Notebook: Toward a Shared Society

Michael Jacobs

Atlanta Jewish Times Editor Michael Jacobs is on his second stint leading the AJT's editorial operations. He previously served as managing editor from 2005 to 2008.

Mohammed Darawshe delivered a valuable lesson Monday night, June 6, on the difference between coexistence and a shared society in Israel.

It’s a shame that only about 40 people gathered at Congregation B’nai Torah to hear him — perhaps because he’s not Jewish, perhaps because the ever-controversial New Israel Fund sponsored the event and supports his nonprofit organization, Givat Haviva.

Mohammed Darawshe speaks to Congregation B'nai Torah
Mohammed Darawshe speaks to Congregation B’nai Torah

But Darawshe is an Israeli citizen, an Arab, a Muslim. His family has lived in the same village in Israel for 800 years and 28 generations.

He is committed to an Israel where his four children and their children will want to remain and thrive as full citizens alongside neighbors of all faiths. He doesn’t want to be welcomed as a stranger; he wants to be treated as an equal by his fellow citizens.

Darawshe, the director of planning, equality and shared society for Givat Haviva, said he was a supporter of coexistence until the outbreak of the Second Intifada shattered the concept. Within months, he said, 182 coexistence organizations shrank to 27.

Darawshe said a horse and a rider can coexist and be happy with their roles while one is riding the other. But after the ride, one is going to eat hay in a stable, and the other is going to eat steak in a castle.

“Coexistence is not good enough,” he said.

Unlike coexistence, a shared society aims for actual equality and shared power.

The discussion of the lack of equality between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens wasn’t pleasant, but it also wasn’t mindless Israel-bashing. Darawshe wasn’t trying to attack his country any more than civil rights leaders in the South in the 1950s and 1960s were trying to tear down the United States.

He pointed out that the Israeli government, in a 2003 report and in a 2007 statement by then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, has acknowledged systemic, institutional discrimination.

If admitting the problem gets you halfway to a solution, how does Israel finish the journey? Darawshe preaches patient changes that gradually break down separations within Israeli society.

Problem: Israel has separate educational systems for Jews and Arabs, and student busing is impossible. Solution: Bus teachers so that Jews learn from some Arabs and Arabs learn from some Jews. Such exchanges are reaching 60,000 Israeli students a year and can be scaled up.

Problem: Arabs, despite making up 21 percent of the population, are 3 percent of the students at the Technion. Solution: Assign Jewish upperclassmen as mentors to new Arab students so they don’t drop out for social reasons, and provide a prep school process for students who just miss admission. Within 13 years, Arabs make up 23 percent of Technion students, including 30 percent in computer science and 50 percent in medicine.

Problem: Jewish and Arab towns have no connections and are strangers. Solution: Pair up neighboring towns and have them choose mutually beneficial projects they can do together, in the process establishing lines of communication.

Problem: Only 17 percent of Arab women are in the workforce. Solution: Invest in day care and public transit in Arab villages, among other efforts, and within eight years the participation rate doubles.

Those examples of practical progress toward a fair shared society, Darawshe said, will help Israel live up to the vision of the modern state’s founders and Judaism’s principles.

It’s important to understand that he was not here to talk about Israeli-Palestinian peace or a two-state solution. He didn’t talk about Gaza or the West Bank or mention Palestinians because he is focused on what is happening within Israel.

Maybe building an Israeli society Arabs can take pride in, as opposed to one that meets the lower standard of being superior to other Middle Eastern nations, will pave the path to peace; maybe not. It doesn’t matter because whatever happens with the non-Israelis living between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, Israel has a responsibility toward its own citizens — all of them.

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