Times of crisis can push societies to their extremes, inspiring solidarity, courage and compassion on the one hand, and straining capacities for resilience and tolerance on the other. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in Israel, where the conflict with Hamas galvanized a powerful sense of national community and, at the same time, increased tensions and acts of incitement between the country’s own Arab and Jewish citizens, deepening societal divisions.
Israel’s challenges as a nation are not few. While all eyes have been on activities across the borders, it is important to remain aware of the impact of these events within the country itself. In recent weeks, there has also been a sharp rise in violence between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens, including attacks on Arab individuals in public, clashes between joint Jewish-Arab rallies and counter-demonstrators, stone-throwing against Jews by Arabs, all-to-frequent cries of “Death to Arabs” in the streets, and flagrant expressions of hatred and intolerance on social media. There are reports of a significant rise in attitudes of intolerance among Jewish students, and an unsettling number of Arab employees that were dismissed for expressing their views about Operation Protective Edge.
These tensions are threatening to the society’s future. It is deeply concerning to those of us who see it as our mission to support all Israelis in time of crisis and uphold the country’s cause in the eyes of the world.
It is often said that no other democratic country faces the same challenges and is held to the same moral standards as Israel. This usually refers to the difficult realities Israel must navigate in response to threats like those imposed by Hamas. Today, as Israelis seek to emerge from the summer’s crisis, this challenge includes healing the rifts between its own citizens and reinforcing the efforts of government and civil society organizations, leaders and volunteers who have long been promoting tolerance and inclusivity throughout Israeli society. A more inclusive Israeli society is important for Israel and for Jewish people everywhere.
I am proud to be at the helm of an international Jewish organization that is at the forefront of reaching all Israeli citizens in need. During this recent crisis JDC provided respite, emergency services and support to elderly, disabled and at-risk Arab and Jewish communities in Israeli regions within the direct range of attack. More broadly, since Israel’s Arab citizens are among the country’s most vulnerable and poor, they fall inherently within JDC’s mission. For example, JDC has taken a leading role in increasing Arab citizens’ employment in order to close poverty gaps and boost economic growth for the nation as a whole.
In recent years Israel has made increasing Arab socioeconomic participation a national priority; it has invested billions in enhancing inclusivity and removing barriers to higher education, professional employment, regional development and leadership. These efforts are an important part of Israel’s continued economic strength, and a fulfillment of the promise of its Declaration of Independence of equal opportunity to all citizens, Jewish and Arab alike.
The serious escalations between Jewish and Arab citizens this summer have damaged trust and placed the social and economic gains made over the last decade at risk. As we extend our support to Israel in the tenuous days ahead, let us also support its efforts to heal these divisions, protect the gains that have been made, and continue on the path of inclusivity and tolerance, for the sake of its future and our own.
Alan Gill is co-chair of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues and executive vice president and CEO of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).