A broad swath of center-right American Jewish groups is expressing shock and outrage that millions of dollars being raised by Jewish federations in North America for the post-war recovery effort in Israel is being used in part to help Israeli Arabs.
"To placate Israeli Arabs in the north who were celebrating Israel’s defeat is totally absurd," fumed Helen Freedman, former director of the Americans for a Safe Israel. "Let the Arab countries take care of them. They are a fifth column that is working to support Hezbollah and Hamas, and we foolish Jews are saying there is no difference between Israeli Arabs and Jews who were victims of this war."
Stephen Savitsky, president of the Orthodox Union whose own Israel emergency campaign merged with that of the United Jewish Communities, said he was unaware that the UJC money went to help Israeli Arabs. Told it does, Savitsky said he plans to ask the UJC to "segment the money" raised from OU members "to make sure it goes to the places we want."
He said that before the campaigns were merged, the money the OU raised was designed to "help Jews in need." He said it went to provide entertainment and food to those in bomb shelters and that "whoever was in the shelter we serviced; we didn’t discriminate."
But the idea of the campaign, Savitsky said, was to "raise money to help Jews in need." "There may be non-Jews up there [in northern Israel who were helped], but that was not the purpose of why we raised the money or provided the services," he added. "We hope it is going to Jews because that is what we are here for: to help any Jew in need. … If we help in Haifa and there are non-Jews there, we should not discriminate. But we would not go to an Arab village or town to give services."
A spokesman for the UJC said the money raised did not go to municipalities but rather to provide services for those in need: Jews and Arabs alike.
Freedman said figures supplied by the UJC indicate that fully one-third of the money the UJC has collected is designated for Israeli Arabs. But Howard Rieger, the UJC’s president and CEO, said the "figure is on the order of 3 percent."
When pressed, Freedman backed off the one-third figure. "But it sure doesn’t come out to 3 percent," she insisted.
Rieger, when asked for a breakdown of the money, said that of the $92 million spent to date from the Israel Emergency Campaign, a total of $9 million, or some 10 percent, "went to [Israeli] Arabs." He said the campaign has thus far raised $329 million in pledges, and defended the decision to use the money to help Israeli Arabs and Druze.
"About one-third to one-half of those killed [by Hezbollah rockets] were Israeli Arabs, as well as Druze who serve in the Israel Defense Forces and died in the IDF," he said. "We were getting kids out of harm’s way [in the north], and we think it is a fair and valid use of the funds" to help Israeli Jewish and Arab youngsters.
Rieger said his organization was asked at the very beginning if it wanted to treat Israeli Jews and Arabs differently and that "our answer was no."
"We’re proud of that," he said. Asked about distribution of the rest of the money, Rieger said a committee is expected to decide that in about a month.
Freedman said, however, that she finds it distressing that the decision to use part of the money for Israeli Arabs was not widely known.
"I am sure that most people who give to the UJC have no clue that a percentage of their money is going to Arabs," she said. "I think they would be horrified. I have copies of letters from people who wrote to Howard Rieger denouncing" the move.
Among the e-mails Freedman said she received and shared with The Jewish Week was one from a man who called the help to Israeli Arabs "absurd," especially in light of the fact that the UJC "gave nothing" to the Jews made homeless by their expulsion from the Gaza Strip last summer.
Another writer wrote his response in rhyme: "How odd of God to choose the Jews, and how odd that Jews support those who want them to lose."
Steven Mostofsky, president of the National Council of Young Israel, said he was "really surprised" to learn that Israeli Arabs were benefiting from the Israel Emergency Campaign, which was launched shortly after the outbreak of the Israel-Hezbollah War in July.
"It’s not that I want to seem harsh or that this is an anti-Arab statement, but money raised from Jews because of a war against Jews should only be used for Jews," he said. "There are plenty of Arab not-for-profits in the United States. They should be supporting the Arabs. … Any money that is raised because of the recent war should go to benefit the Jews who suffered in the war: those whose houses and businesses were destroyed and hospitalized soldiers whose families need support."
Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, said he too was unaware of the UJC practice and asked, "How did they determine that money should go there and that their donors would wish that money go to Israeli Arabs?" "The people I know who give large sums to the [Jewish] federation would only want their money to go to Israeli Jews," Klein said. "I believe it is inappropriate for the federation to be directing money to non-Jews without their donors’ knowing."
Also expressing "surprise but not disappointment" that the UJC money is going to Israeli Arabs was Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
"Perhaps the UJC should have been more open about it," he said. "I would still have given them the money, but it may have given people who didn’t agree with the decision [to help Israeli Arabs] an opportunity to say I will not support it."
"I wasn’t consulted or briefed, nor do I believe I should be," Rabbi Epstein stressed. "For us to be concerned only about Jews I think is a mistake."
He pointed out that after Hurricane Katrina devastated portions of the United States, the Jewish community raised funds for all of those affected: not just the Jews.
But Klein noted that "most Israeli Arab Knesset members have praised enemies of Israel at one time or another, and that many Israeli Arabs blamed Israel and not Hezbollah for the damage done during the war."
"That makes one legitimately question whether Israeli Arabs are as loyal to the state as Israeli Jews," he said. "In my 13 years of speaking around the country, I regularly hear concerns about Israeli Arabs not being committed to Israel as a Jewish state, and whether this could undermine and endanger Israel from within."
Ami Nahshon, president and CEO of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, which supports programs that promote Israeli Jewish-Arab coexistence, said it is "very dangerous and irresponsible for individuals affiliated with any particular organization to make sweeping generalizations about the loyalty of the Israeli Arab community. Data repeatedly shows that the vast majority of Israeli Arabs are loyal and do not participate in terrorist activities. Very few Israeli Arabs have been accused or convicted of terrorist activities" and there are 1.2 million Israeli Arab citizens."