If you work in Jewish philanthropy in Israel, you know that there are two categories of donors: those who care for Israeli Arabs and those who don’t.
If your organization works with Israeli Arabs, you promote those efforts with vigor to pro-Arab donors, hoping that their interest will take root. If your potential donors are anti-Arab, then you don’t breathe a word of it, silently sectioning off that work.
Jewish Philanthropy and Israeli Arabs
Jewish donors from Europe and the United States visited Israel this week to learn more about the challenges facing Israeli Arabs in Israeli society. Seventy Jewish organizations were represented.
The trip is part of an ongoing effort to strengthen Israeli Arab integration and leadership in Israel. More than ever, there is a strong interest in improving the quality of life for Israeli Arabs– but not everyone is happy about it.
Ameer Makhoul, the head of Ittijah, an umbrella organization for Arab non-governmental organizations in Israel, refused to meet with the donors and cautioned others against it as well.
Makhoul’s complaint? He didn’t want to speak with anyone who saw Israel as a Jewish state. “Meeting with them means legitimizing and accepting their agenda and the framework of the State of Israel as a Jewish state. This is a multipurpose and diverse group that is trying to dictate our future,” he said.
Are you serious?
Let’s have some basic common sense on this issue. Someone wants to hear your concerns and priorities. They want to know how they can help you, your community, and those you serve improve to their lives. And you tell them you’re not interested?
Israeli Arabs: Meet Theseus and Procrustes
Perhaps we need to remind Mr. Makhoul of the story of Theseus and Procrustes, from where the phrase, “Make your bed and lie in it” originates.
Here’s the short version: Theseus was the son of the king of Athens. He had never met his father, so he traveled to Athens to meet him. It was a long and perilous journey. After many days, he came to the house of Procrustes, who offered him food and shelter for the night.
Tired Theseus was happy to agree. Procrustes left to ready the house and dinner, while Theseus relaxed outside. As he was waiting, a small girl revealed herself from the forest and whispered, “Do not go in there, for those who go in never come out.”
She told Theseus that Procrustes was called “the stretcher” for he had a magic bed that trapped anyone who lay on it. Then, she told him, Procruestes cuts off their legs if they are too long or stretches their bodies to fit the frame if they are too short. He steals their belongings and does away with them.
Procrustes appeared at the door and beckoned Theseus inside. Theseus followed. “You must be tired, traveler, come and lie down. I have a wonderful bed for you,” Procrustes said. “When you have rested you can tell me the great stories of your travels.” The bed did look comfortable, but in the corners of the room, Theseus saw ropes, pulleys, and an ax. Looking closer, he noticed blood stains on the floor.
“If your bed is so wonderful, please show me,” said Theseus, forcing Procrustes onto it. Immediately, the bed creaked, wrapping its iron limbs around him and trapping him forever.
Photo by Giopuo
What We Can Learn from this Story
Let’s cut the political overtones from the story and leave it at this. There is a reason for the axiom about making your bed and lying on it, but it doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be that way.
Yes, foundations should think deeply about the strings attached to donations and consider their consequences, but not to meet with potential donors who want to help you cuts your organization and its constituents off at the knees.
A Different Opinion
Ameer Makhoul may not be alone in his opinion, but not everyone agrees with him either. Shweiki Khatib, chairman of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, did meet with the donors.
“We have met and will continue to meet with Jewish figures in the past, present and future. We have our red lines, but we are obligated to say what we think and explain our situation to whoever wants to hear,” he stated.
Amnon Be’eri Sulitzeanu, director of the Abraham Fund for coexistence, concurs. “If there is discrimination and inequality and a situation that needs to be fixed, then the establishment is volunteering to take real action. To oppose that is simply shooting oneself in the foot.”
Arabs, Meet Jews; Jews, Meet Arabs
It is a simple fact of Israeli society that Arabs and Jews do not meet. They may exist simultaneously or come across each other in daily life, sit next to each other in university classes, or in a cafe, but for the most part, we do not have relationships with each other.
Israel is not an apartheid society (far from it), but it is a stratified one.
An Israeli Jew is not fluent in the life of an Israeli Arab and cannot tell you his concerns. Only an Israeli Arab can do that himself. Therefore, we need to hear the voices of Arab leaders and the real people they represent in order to understand their needs.
In an article for Global Voices Online about the prohibition on Israeli journalists traveling to enemy Arab states, I wrote:
“So I ask you: with governments setting tight strictures on media relations, how can journalists expect to get a real story? If they can’t talk to us and we can’t go and visit them, how can journalists be expected to accurately and truthfully report on the perspectives of real people living their lives?”
There is no way around it. We need to talk to each and learn from each other if we are ever to make meaningful coexistence work.
Photo by Jean-Etienne Poirrier
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