Jewish-Arab coexistence needed

Where’s Israel’s Dr. King?

Arabs, Jews in Israel can learn some lessons from Martin Luther King. Once Jews and Arabs join forces, they will get to know each other better, and the connection created will be much more meaningful that the ties created in an occasional session of some kind of co-existence project.

By Reda Mansour, YNet News, August 20, 2009

Israel’s consulate in Atlanta, Dr. Martin Luther King’s hometown, recently unveiled a new project, The Rabin-King Initiative, in an effort to bring the Jewish community and Israel closer to the African-American community. The venture’s launch was preceded by two years of dialogue and study of the history of relations between Jews in America and Israel to the African-American community.

During his educational journey, I was surprised to discover the great role played by Jews in the movement for civil equality led by King and his comrades. Since the movement’s inception, Jewish volunteers from across American enlisted themselves to the cause. Jewish students traveled to the US south to assist with the voter registration of Afro-Americans and were not deterred even when some of them were abducted and murdered by white supremacists. Meanwhile, many Jews were among the bus drivers who drove whites and blacks together deliberately in a bid to end racial segregation in public.

Elsewhere, Jewish accountants voluntarily led large part of the movement’s fundraising effort, while Jewish lawyers volunteered to advance equality lawsuits at courts.

Another surprising lesson I learned had to do with King’s love for America. In almost every speech, he stressed the importance of loving the other and the need to co-exist upon the struggle’s end. People usually mention the non-violent struggle King preached for and won a Nobel Peace Prize for. Yet in all his speeches, King would laud America’s achievements and emphasize that the black struggle is not just for equality, but also for the right to enjoy the benefits of the world’s most democratic, wealthiest, and most advanced society.

King also initially chose not to slam the US over the Vietnam War. He thought that a minority fighting for equality must not appear to be criticizing its own country at a difficult hour.

In praise of joint action
These are two important lessons to be applied in the context of Jewish-Arab relations in Israel. The Jews in Israel need to be active partners in the Arab struggle for full equality. At this time we don’t see enough Jewish involvement in Arab struggles in the areas of education, employment, and development. In the absence of Israeli Jews, American Jews are again filling the vacuum today. Yet this is no substitute for the Jewish-Israeli civil society’s enlistment to this important cause.

Joint action for the sake of social objectives is important in and of itself, but it also serves as an important means to advance co-existence. Once Jews and Arabs join forces, they will get to know each other better, and the connection created will be much more meaningful that the ties created in an occasional session of some kind of co-existence project.

At the end of the day, the issues are shared by all of us, because there is no difference between a battered women’s shelter for Arabs or Jews, and the radiation emanating from a powerful cellular antenna does not affect Arabs and Jews any differently. We must immediately act in an effort to bring together social organizations that are active in the same areas. We should also learn the lesson of our neighbor, Lebanon – the separate civil society established by each sect there played a large part in the outbreak of civil war.

The second lesson needs to be learned by the Arabs in Israel. They must stress their desire to integrate into Israeli society. As long as this message is not clear, the Jews are right to be concerned that Arab Israelis are fighting for separation rather than integration.

The Arabs must also hold back their criticism over Israel’s relations with Arab states and with the Palestinians, because a minority should conduct itself sensitively at times of crisis involving its own state and foreign elements. The almost automatic identification of some Israeli Arabs with any rival confronting Israel, be it Hamas or Hezbollah, is their right, yet it does not serve the equality we aspire for.

The shared future of all of us in Israel will depend on the extent of mutual consideration given by Arabs and Jews to the sensitivities and difficulties of each side.

Reda Mansour is the consul general in the Israeli Consulate in Atlanta and dean of the consular corps

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