Jewish Philanthropy: Arab Israelis Shun Meeting with Jewish Donors

Theseus&Procrestes
Photo by Mythic Journeys

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.

In this post, I will tell you some truths about Israel with Hebrew, Arabic, and some Greek thrown in.

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

Greekgod

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

AnonymousGreeks

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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12 Responses to Jewish Philanthropy: Arab Israelis Shun Meeting with Jewish Donors

  1. thenewjew says:

    Yeah, it’s crazy. I saw it.

  2. Shai says:

    Interesting post, Maya.

    There is no question at all that there is a lot of room for improvement, both in how the Jews relate to the Arabs of Israel, and how the Arabs relate to the Jews of Israel. That said, I think that some people are wreckless and foolish in their anger at Israel and the Jews of Israel. People who should know better, who speak of Israel and her people with words like “apartheid”, “genocide”, “racism”, “massacre” and the like, should know better. If they want to see an improvement, they’re not going to get Israeli sympathy for their cause that way (I’m not speaking specifically of the groups you mentioned, though my criticism may apply to some of them on an individual level), but rather will reinforce Israeli apathy.

    My sense is that they care less about the Palestinians than they claim to, that rather they are seeking to soothe a personal itch, because rather than work toward reconciliation they stoke the fires. It is absolutely non-negotiable that Israel is a Jewish Democratic state. That is the law of our land. You want to negotiate boundaries? Fine. But not the very principles our state is founded on. Isn’t part of the matter that we’re working to establish an Arab state that can give expression to their narrative? Why do we have to give up ours?

    In our Declaration of Independence we welcome all, specifically including Arabs and non-Jews, to assist in building the country – holding out our hand in mutual brotherhood. Our statement of our expectations is explicit. To have our hand refused because the mere fact of such a state is distasteful for some is insulting. It is not just a “difference of opinion”. In our conflict, it has led to sedition and blood letting. I think it’s important to keep the fact in mind here, that our enemies do not argue according to Robert’s Rule of Record, and never have, not before or after 1967 or 1948.

    The following has become somewhat of a “theme” for me in my posts, but I think there’s truth to it; Israel’s political system (and some other Jewish institutiosn) that breeds apathy, and fosters the sense of a zero-sum game, and those who are not in the parliamentary cabinet have very little influence on how budgets are spent. For this to change, the system has to be more amenable to being influenced, not just to influence. Jews (speaking here of the typical citizen) is not much more sanguine about his ability to influence our system than Arabs are, and to behave as though the inequality is because we are digging in our hills to keep it this way is absurd. You want things to be better? Find ways to support regional representative politics, not party politics, and you’ll find lots of representatives in Arab communities that support the vision of teh Declaration of Independance forming alliances with Jews who support that vision (but we’d have to find another name for “pork-barrel politics”). Save us all from a system that doesn’t work.

    Then, there is a world-wide change in the “culture” of how political problems are addressed, a change that features exaggeration, tendentiousness, that prevents unsubstantiated or spurious claims or innuendo as fact, that casts blame by association, that sees human rights as something that depends on your group-identity rather than your human-identity when you’re Arab, and human fault that depends on your group identity rather than your human identity when you’re Jewish, that depends on the loudness of a claim rather than the logic of it, has achieved the unsatisfactory result that those who would not only tolerate but welcome complete equivalence between all citizens in Israel throw their hands up, believing the matter to be not only pointless, but to have within the seeds of undermining the Jewish state. Such attitudes drive us into a corner, they don’t advance the objectives supporters of equal treatment seek to achieve.

    Problems of equal treatment are more complex than are frequently represented.

    First, we see that the problem in Israel isn’t only with minorities who aren’t Jews. All minorities in Israel have once suffered, or still suffer from the problem of discrimination when they don’t have representation at the national level of government, and the proof of that is and was ample. From the Black Panthers of the 70’s to the Ethiopians today, there has always been an outcry regarding the unevenness of political largesse in Israel. Russian immigrants, though a large portion of the population, only achieved respect as a political force once they integrated and stopped being “olim”, and many still are discriminated against. Tribal cultures trust insiders, and that’s true for Arabs not less than Jews.

    It is not worse, or better, that that largesse isn’t spread to Arabs, it is part of the same problem and it needs to be fixed. But the Arabs have to build the state with us, not merely relate to it as some sort of benefits despensing machine, measuring shortfalls only on one side of the equation. Arab public schools and localities would have long ago reached equality, I claim, if the politicians that represent their constituency had political platforms, public statements and actions that showed they measured equality not only in terms of what they receive from, but in what they give the State in terms of allegiance, service and taxes. They’d certainly have been part of government coalitions if this were so, well before the chareidi parties who are anti-Zionist. Most Jews I know would welcome that, and wish that all Arabs would feel the same way about Israel as the Jews, Israeli Druze, and some Beduin feel. But they don’t. They see themselves as Palestinian not only as a community, but as a nationality.

    Second, Jews in Israel feel they are being targeted by those who wish them harm, not just Palestinians, and some of them Jews. From many, they don’t see a harmless suggestion in the claims made about the discrepancies. THe claims are frequently made by people whose political voice denies the legitimacy of a Jewish state at all, who denies us our right to our thousands of year old national narrative as though it is less legitimate than those of other nations (especially that of the Palestinians), who deny Jews and the Jewish community that supports Israel the right to support each other with institutions that Israel established to encourage that relationship, who easily reverse causality in our conflicts so Jews are seen as the primary source of the conflict, and who see Israelis and Jews generally as usurpers of Arab indigenous rights, who deny the existence of Mount Zion under the Al Aqsa Mosque. Some even claim the Palestinians are actually descendants of the Jews, and the Jews are a mongrel nation. We are rightfully suspicious of people who villainize us, whether they are from the outside of Israel or within, and the spirit of cooperation requires not less sensitivity to one side as it does to the other – I’m not referring to equivalence in sensitivity in terms of money, but in open mindedness. A willingness to deal with the complexities of the situation, and not to bumper-stickerize the matter.

    Third, culturally one way that Israel is different from other democracies is that it has a covenental, not a contractual approach to democracy. There is built into it a sense that there are very basic rights due to all humans, but your rights as a citizen are on a sliding scale, depending on societies perception of where your loyalties lie, and whether you wish to contribute to your society. I would estimate based on voting patterns that about half of all Arabs have a sense of loyalty to the state, on some level – even if it’s only pragmatic. But the remainder consistently vote for Arab political parties that wish to destroy anything Jewish, which is to say covenental, about Israel. Now, this may seem perfectly logical to the kinds of people I mentioned in my second point – chances are, your view of Democracy is more like the French – based on a philosophical outlook toward democracy and from where the power of government arises. In fact, though, British and American democracy were (though they are becoming less so) more covenental, having derived their approach to governance from the sense of government that was derived from the Tanach. It surprises me that the very same people who criticize Israel for having her own brand of democracy, are often quick to give their imprimatur to the development of an Islamic form of it in Iraq. They are not quick to call Iraq an apartheid regime, and they have no expectations of integration and equal rights from any of the Arab nations surrounding us, so many Israelis sense the complaints are not meant to improve things for Arabs and Jews as much as it is to sink the Jews.

    Fourth, few who bash Israel are quick to celebrate what they’d see as successes. Even civil rights in a country like the US took years to take hold, well over 200 from the time it was established. It is my view that we are doing fairly well under the circumstances, and that Jews especially who are critical should move here and live here, and put their lives on the line, and their properties, and their families, and their taxes, and work for change. When you’re here, when the killing and hate hits close taking a neighbor, or their child, or a teacher, even as peace talks are ongoing and its clear other options for settling our arguments are available, from here I accept the criticism. I have more respect for Amira Haas, a Haaretz reporter and a Jew even though I disagree with just about everything she writes, then I do for those whose views are similar but pay no consequences for their view. I find such views from Jews to be wreckless and foolish, self-flattering and pompous.

    My own view is that we have sought an almost impossible ideal, since both sides of the equation have two competing national narratives. A national narrative that is forced on a population is hardly useful in uniting them. I don’t know why it’s so anathema, but I think as much as possible the boundary line between Arab and Jewish communities should be redrawn so that Arab communities are governed by an Arab state, and Jewish ones by a Jewish state, just as the original partitition plan proposed. I say this out of frustration taht the vision of the Declaration of Independence of Israel seems to be unacceptable by many Arabs in Israel, not because I think this solution is ideal. But at the end of the day, we have as much right to our view of our national story as they do, and I think those who are quick to accept a “thick” understanding of other cultures and polities should be able to extend us Jews in Israel that credit, too. We deserve it not less, and we should not be expected to relate to Arab parties that propose the dismantlement of Israel as a Jewish Democratic state and the half of Arabs who elect them as comrades, when they clearly do not see us that way, either. Both Judaism and Democracy have a place for the “stranger”, but being a “stranger” in both comes with responsibilities, not just rights. Those who want to advance the place of Arabs like Ameer Makhoul. We don’t want to give equality, as Jews, just because it’s in our self-interest (not shooting ourselves in the foot). We want to because it’s right to. But I think we can expect more than Makhoul offers in return.

  3. Sirus B. says:

    Shai, you said that “as much as possible the boundary line between Arab an Jewish communities should be redrawn so that Arab communities are governed by an Arab state…” But what do you think about the information in this article?

    Palestinians Who Prefer Israel

    http://www.danielpipes.org/article/5314

  4. thenewjew says:

    Interesting article, Sirius. Thanks for the link. What’s your take?

    Maya

  5. thenewjew says:

    Shai,

    I know you’re against it, but I seriously think you need a blog. Others deserve to hear your thoughts and opinions and while I find your comments here thoughtful, interesting, and completely relevant, I think you may be outgrowing the comment box medium.

    Maya

  6. Shai says:

    Maya, I’ll just limit my comments, unless someone responds directly to me.

    Sirus B., I think that it’s a pity that we could not make it work better than it has. There would still be very many Arabs in Israel even after such a redrawing of the boundary and that’s fine. But I don’t think Israel’s primary obligation of building a Jewish Democratic state is served by the ideal of offering a better life to these Arabs than Arab countries do. We all have “preferences” regarding what we’d like to receive, but citizenship for me is as much about what I’d like to give.

  7. thenewjew says:

    Hey Shai,

    Please don’t misunderstand me. It was a high compliment to your devotion. Certainly don’t limit yourself– I would very much like to hear what you have to say. Your generosity of spirit as displayed in your comments is both welcome and respected. 🙂

    Maya

  8. Nidhi Gupta says:

    I think the fonts in the comments section is very small. I can’t even read it. Website designers should do something about it.

  9. Armando says:

    I found it This will give them more of an insight to who you are, by showing them how you spend your time, and you can bond over shared activities. In this manner clients and the advice givers use only the right amount of time based on the nature of a good and healthy relationship. And there seems no better time to know than during this Christmas season, when a loving man wants to assure he gets the love of his life the right gift.

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