The loyalty oath passed this week by the Israeli cabinet, while offensive to Israeli Arabs and many Jewish Israelis, is proving to be an educational boon to groups that work for Israeli Arab equality, an inter-ethnic delegation from Israel said here this week.
The issue of the status of Israel’s Arabs, who make up 20 percent of the Jewish state’s population, has been among several social problems long in the shadow of the country’s political and military needs, said Ami Nahshon, international president of The Abraham Fund Initiatives, a 21-year-old coexistence group.
The oath would require Palestinian and other non-Jewish prospective citizens to swear allegiance to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state.” It is aimed primarily at Palestinians who apply for Israeli citizenship after marrying Israeli Arabs.
The public debate over the oath, between its proponents who view Israeli Arabs as a potential Fifth Column and its opponents who consider the oath a weakening of Israel’s democratic character, has greatly raised the issue’s visibility in the last year at home and abroad, Nahshon said.
“Now the cat’s out of the bag,” he said.
Nahshon escorted an eight-member, Jewish-Arab delegation that spoke at some 20 public and private events in the New York area this week. Their itinerary included a meeting Tuesday morning with local rabbis at the Manhattan headquarters of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, and a panel discussion Tuesday evening at the JCC in Manhattan.
“If you care about Israel, then the welfare of Israeli Arabs certainly also needs to matter,” Nahshon told the rabbinical group.
While the delegation’s visit to the United States was not designed to coincide with the passage of the loyalty oath, the timing “helps us to put [the status of Israeli Arabs] on the agenda,” Amnon Be’eri-Sulitizeanu, the Abraham Fund’s co-executive director, said at the Clal meeting. “People understand what we’re talking about.
“I can see a big change” in Americans’ reactions from six months ago, Be’eri-Sulitizeanu said. “People are more aware of the issue. More people say that they’re angry” about the inequitable treatment that Israeli Arabs receive from the government.
The increase in awareness will help the fundraising and lobbying efforts of groups like the Abraham Fund that work on behalf of Israeli Arabs, he said. “More people are willing to engage.”
As part of its increasingly high-profile work, the Abraham Fund is strengthening its pubic relations activities in Israel, Be’eri- Sulitizeanu said. The Fund called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to withdraw its support for the oath, declaring that the oath “could cause enormous damage to the already fragile relationship between Jewish and Arab Israelis.”
As part of the delegation’s visit here, Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared this week “New York City Abraham Fund Coexistence Week,” and the Abraham Fund announced that it has received a three-year, nearly $1 million grant from the State Department in support of the Fund’s “bilingual, bicultural” educational programs.