Israeli Arab unrest spurs U.S. giving


NEW YORK, Dec. 5 (JTA) – The recent spasm of violence among Israeli Arabs was not entirely unexpected, say those whose work focuses on Arab-Jewish coexistence.

Groups like Givat Haviva, the Abraham Fund and the New Israel Fund long had known that unrest was simmering among Israeli Arabs, who felt their plight was neglected by the government.

Since the state’s creation 52 years ago, observers say, the Israeli Arab question has been relegated to the back burner of Israeli politics. More existential issues have dominated the landscape.

If there is any silver lining to the Israeli Arab riots that accompanied the first few days of the Palestinians’ ongoing uprising, some analysts suggest, it’s that the hot-button issue of Jewish-Arab relations within Israel will have to be confronted head-on.

Even if Israel and the Palestinian Authority return to the negotiating table, the stark fact will remain that some Israeli citizens took up arms against the state and, in response, security forces killed citizens they had sworn to protect.

“In some ways, the genie is out of the bottle, and there’ll be no way to stuff it back in,” said Staci Light, director of development for The Abraham Fund, which is devoted to Arab-Jewish co-existence projects in Israel.

“If we want a Jewish state, and want it to be a democratic state, we need to pay attention to the minority,” Light said. “We, as Jews who lived as a minority for 2,000 years, need to be more sensitive to their needs.

This, she said, should not come at the expense of Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, or the security of the Jewish state.

Light’s sentiment of “no alternative” is echoed by leaders of the New Israel Fund and Givat Haviva, two institutions that promote democracy and civil rights in Israel.

But it’s been a tougher sell to some of their supporters.

NIF, for example, supports hundreds of Israeli Arab nongovernmental organizations.

Some NIF members express concern that the Israeli Arabs “crossed a red line by resorting to violence,” said Norman Rosenberg, the group’s executive director.

“They feel Israel is again under siege, and the focus at this time should be on the Jewish community, not on the rights of Arabs.”

While “one or two significant donors” have indicated they intend to cut or halt their support to the group, Rosenberg said, they have been far outweighed by increased donations from established sources and a surge in first- time donations.

NIF will contribute an extra $1 million to $2 million next year to the Israeli Arab projects it supports in Israel, more than double the usual sum.

The Abraham Fund reports a similar pattern. On one recent day the fund received a $25,000 first-time gift from a private family foundation, then a $5 check from an indigent Jewish grandmother in Brooklyn, Light said.

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