Don’t you wish sometimes that politicians would just set aside the their differences and join hands to work on making the world a better place? Isn’t that why they wanted to work in public service to begin with?
Avigdor Lieberman, the heavy hitting leader of Israel’s Yisrael Beiteinu Party, is laying aside his political guns and partnering with Arcadi Gaydamak’s Social Justice Party to promote Israeli Arab volunteering.
Promoting National Service for Israeli Arabs
Yisrael Beiteinu has just donated $128,600 to promote Israeli Arabs’ participation in Israel’s National Service. Reports from the Arab community assert that 76% of Arab youth would like to volunteer, but don’t know how to go about it. There is very little precedent and what with Israel’s often hostile perception of Arabs, it’s hard to get started.
Lieberman states: “These people need to feel wanted here in Israel and not the other way around… the volunteering issue is a crucial one, this kind of volunteer work can bridge gaps between Jews and Arabs and carries a positive message.”
Growing Number of Israeli Arabs in National Service
The number of Israeli Arabs in the National Service (Sherut Leumi) is growing: 2007 has the highest numbers of participation yet. Israeli Arab enlistment has grown almost 100% from 2006 to 2007 with 600 Arabs now serving in Israel’s 12,000 person force. Volunteers typically serve the community directly, working in schools, community centers, hospitals, nursing homes, and other social institutions.
Resistance from the Arab community is high and potential volunteers face expected challenges. Ha’aretz reports:
Still, many Israeli Arabs oppose such volunteering, calling it an attempt by the Jewish establishment to blur the Arab-Palestinian identity of the younger generation and “Israelize” them. Another claim is that the state is using the national service to indirectly recruit Arab youth for a kind of military service.
The question of national service– be it military or civil– is one that is gaining momentum in Israeli society. The Ivri Committee is expected to announce full compulsory service for all Israelis in their January meeting (currently only 75% of Israelis serve).
Mandating national service will necessitate an expanded and more inclusive approach, given that those who choose to serve in Sherut Leumi are very different than those who choose mainstream military service. National Service volunteers are predominantly women, and often religious, although there are many others who defer military service for a wide array of reasons.
Learn more about National Service: “Serving, but Not in the Army” (15 Q & As from YNetNews).
Lieberman’s Political Reputation
Before concluding, I must add a note about Lieberman to the uninitiated. All else being equal, Lieberman is best known for two things: his outstanding support from Israel’s Russian community and his overwhelming reputation as being anti-Arab. He has previously been accused of: “racist declarations and declarations that harm the democratic character of Israel.”
How Should We Think About This Donation?
In light of Lieberman’s persona, how should we think about this donation?
Whatever Lieberman hopes to gain from this donation and a possible alliance with Gaydamak, increasing Israeli Arabs’ ability to volunteer for Israel will only bring good things. We can be grateful for that.
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