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What American Jews Can Do for Israel’s Democracy

By Mirele B. Goldsmith and David Krantz

Just weeks ago, many American Jews were deeply upset by reports of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s last minute appeal to Jewish voters to come to the polls to counter the strong turnout by Arab Israelis.  The prime minister of Israel should represent the nation’s highest ideals, not purposely exacerbate ethnic tension and undermine Israel’s democracy.

Netanyahu apologized after the election for his remarks, but the problems facing the Arab minority in Israel remain.  Despite their strong showing in the election, the Arab parties’ influence in the Knesset is likely to be limited.  Discrimination will continue and the principle of equality for every citizen will be undermined.

Israeli Jews often seem surprised by the depth of concern that American Jews show for Arab Israelis.  But the situation of Arabs in Israel speaks to us.  We know what it is like to be in the minority.  We are grateful for the welcome we have received in America.  We take pride in the way we have fought to be accepted as Americans, and how our success has opened the way for other immigrant groups.  We see a parallel between our experiences and those of Israel’s Arab minority.

Is there anything we can do from here to ease the tension between Arabs and Jews and strengthen Israel’s democracy?

The answer, surprisingly, is yes.  Because as American Jews, we can vote for the World Zionist Congress that in turn selects the leaders of the Jewish National Fund in Israel.  Like other Israeli institutions, the JNF could do much better in meeting the needs of Arab citizens. Our votes can make that happen by putting the right leaders on the board of directors of the JNF.

Environmental activism is one of the bright spots in relations between Arab and Jewish Israelis.  Despite the lack of official support, there are many grassroots efforts to work together to protect shared resources and improve the quality of life for all.  Alon Tal and Orr Karassin, the Aytzim (Green Zionist Alliance) representatives on the board of directors of JNF in Israel, have been leaders of many of these efforts.

Thanks to Tal and Karassin, the JNF is changing.  Recognizing its past mistakes, the JNF has hired Ralab Majadlah, a former member of Knesset and Israel’s first Arab minister, as an advisor.  JNF’s Land Development Committee has decided to prioritize projects in the Arab sector and has budgeted one million shekels to help Arab municipalities prepare the detailed plans required to receive JNF funding.  Several projects are now moving ahead, including a bike lane in Rafah — the first such resource in an Israeli Arab community; restoration of a stream in Rahat, the second largest city in the Negev and the largest Bedouin city in Israel; and a stream restoration initiative that will connect the Arab city Sakhnin with Jewish communities in the Galilee.

American Jews put Tal and Karassin on the JNF board of directors by voting for the Green Israel slate in past elections for the World Zionist Congress.  By voting now, we can affirm the new direction taken by the JNF, increase the number of change-makers on the board, and take another big, green step toward peace and understanding between Israeli Jews and Arabs.

Whether or not Prime Minister Netanyahu goes beyond apologies to repair the damage done to Israel with his campaign rhetoric, we can do our part by voting green in elections for the World Zionist Congress.

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