The American Jewish Congress is launching a comprehensive study of the inequities between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel, said Henry Siegman, the executive director.
Jews in Israel and Jews abroad until now “have been totally obsessed, and rightly so, with Palestinians on the other side of the (green) line,” Siegman said this week during a visit here.
“Consequently, little attention has been given to the situation of Arabs inside Israel. (But) the time has come to do a study looking at the future of Israeli Arabs,” he said.
Siegman called the issue “in some ways more complicated” than that of the future of Arabs in the territories.
“Many of us had the sense that as difficult as it was, some day someone would draw the line” between Israel and the territories, and “the Arabs would be on the other side.”
“But Israeli Arabs are part of this country,” said Siegman.
They must find a way to define themselves as viable citizens, while Israel has to find a way to deal with the population in a manner consistent with its democratic principles, he said.
The beginning of the peace process can help spur the re-examination of the Jewish-Arab Israeli relationship, Siegman said. Jewish Israelis have been unable to “relate normally” to Arab Israelis while their children are on the front lines fighting, he said.
About a dozen Israeli academic and policy experts, including Arabs, convened under the aegis of AJCongress and were “anxious to see such a project take off and to be a part of it,” Siegman said.
The new project will be similar in scope to the study of policy options for the West Bank and Gaza that was executed for the AJCongress by the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies in 1989.
But Siegman stressed the new undertaking will be less concerned with what he called “general principles,” than with “practical policy” recommendations to narrow the gaps between Israeli Arabs and Jews.
“There have been many studies on the subject in many areas and yet there has not been much progress,” Siegman said.
“One of the questions that will be asked is, `Why not? What are the bottlenecks and how can they be (broken)?’
“We hope (the study) will produce the definitive blueprint,” he said.
He said funding is expected to come from several sources, including the Abraham Fund, which is devoted to Arab-Jewish understanding.
Siegman emphasized that AJCongress could “provide impetus for the study” but that the survey would be carried out by Israelis.