Resolution on Israeli Arabs could spur debate

WASHINGTON, Feb. 20 (JTA) — A resolution to support Jewish- Arab co-existence projects is expected to generate “vigorous” debate when delegates from Jewish communities around the country gather here next week.

The resolution is one of many the Jewish Council for Public Affairs will be debating at its annual plenum, which begins here Sunday.

Other resolutions up for debate:

• Express support for Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon’s “search for a secure and lasting peace in the Middle East” and call on the Palestinians to stop the violence and incitement against Israel;

• Urge the repeal of laws that require mandatory incarceration of first-time drug offenders;

• Advocate financial assistance to state governments to implement improvements in the nation’s elections system;

• Urge the redesign of Medicaid and Medicare to improve long-term care;

• Continue to call for a moratorium on the death penalty and study of factors that contribute to wrongful sentencing and convictions;

• Suggest participation in coalitions to combat child labor and sweatshop abuses;

• Urge the reduction of dependence on fossil fuels and the development of environmentally clean alternative fuel sources; and

• Urge an open debate on campaign finance reform.

The proposal to further Jewish-Arab coexistence projects, including bilingual education, employment counseling and cultural and social programs, comes after some Israeli Arabs turned to violence and joined in riots when the Palestinian intifada erupted last fall.

The draft of the resolution says the violence demonstrated that “legitimate grievances” of the Israeli Arabs should be addressed.

Martin Raffel, JCPA’s associate executive vice chair, said there is a growing awareness by Israelis and American Jews that more needs to be done to effectively integrate Israeli Arabs into Israeli society, but he expects the resolution will generate discussion.

To call on American Jews to fund some educational projects for Israeli Arabs but not to call on the American Jewish community to support Jewish education in America is ironic, says Nathan Diament, director of the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs.

But Diament said the O.U. had not yet decided its position on the resolution.

JCPA does support initiatives to improve communal financial support for day schools, though in 1999 it voted down a resolution that would have encouraged local federations to increase their allocations to Jewish schools.

Michael Futterman of the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Community Relations Council, which submitted the resolution on Israeli Arabs, says there were questions from organizations about some of the language used in the resolution but not about whether the resolution should be submitted.

Outreach to the Israeli Arab community is in Israel’s best interests, said Futterman, the chair of the JCRC’s Middle East Strategy Committee.

There was very strong consensus to press ahead, he added, saying that his local community has been funding coexistence projects for years.

The discussion will come at a time when Jewish federations and United Jewish Communities, the federation’s umbrella organization, are discussing the possibility of raising funds to improve social and economic conditions for Israeli Arabs.

Arabs make up 18 percent of the Israeli population, but generally are poorer and less educated than their Jewish counterparts.

The JCPA plenum, coming after the Israeli elections as the conflict with the Palestinians continues, is focusing heavily on Israel-related issues.

Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg is slated to address the participants.

The resolution on the peace process was originally drafted before the Israeli elections and before recent escalations in violence, according to Raffel.

The language was revised to reflect the frustration and anger on the part of the American Jewish community, Raffel said.

The proposed resolution states that Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat has to stop the Palestinian-initiated violence, cease anti-Israel incitement and stop Palestinian schools from teaching hatred toward Israel and Jews.

Peace will not be achieved unless the Palestinians and the Arab states begin to educate their societies for normal relations with the State of Israel, the draft reads.

The Jewish community was “traumatized” when the Camp David summit failed and the Palestinians spurned Israel’s offer, turning instead to violence, Raffel said.

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