A new initiative in Jerusalem, Lowering the Walls: Leaders Combating Racism in Jerusalem, is taking small but concrete steps towards creating a truly shared and inclusive city. The goal is to lower tensions between Arabs and Jews.
The initiative is being spearheaded by Shatil and IDC Herzliya (a civil society and an educational organization, respectively) and has brought together 16 diverse leaders from the public and private sector to focus on the critical role that bystanders play in enabling racism. Small actions by local community leaders that may appear insignificant can actually go a long way in combating these issues. To that effect, the initiative has spurred several encouraging developments – for instance, the project is bringing together Arab cab drivers and Jewish municipal parking inspectors to reduce tensions between the two groups, while the city´s human resources department is training city staff to better integrate Ethiopian-Israelis into the municipal workforce. In addition, the director of a local museum is curating an exhibit on how individuals can prevent injustices in society.
“This course was very important to me and I felt honored to participate”, said Merav Maor, executive director of the Museum on the Seam. “I would like to see as many trainings like this as possible.” These are the small but critical steps that must be taken by civil society to build a better, more inclusive world. Indeed, Club de Madrid´s Shared Societies Project, supports steps like these as a way to pave the road towards a more tolerant and inclusive society. More specifically, the initiatives of Shatil and IDC Herzliya fall under Commitment VIII and IX of Shared Society – education for shared societies and promoting appreciation of diversity. We are pleased to see work being done to promote these goals.
On February 2014, the Inter Agency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues published the report, «Shared Societies between Jewish and Arab Citizens of Israel: Visions, Realities and Practices». The report, which is presented in two parts, “is a conceptual overview of the key approaches, meanings and milestones of Shared Society work in Israel and a mapping of current government and civil society Shared Society initiatives to provide a more granular illustration of these concepts as implemented today”. Moreover, this report aims to record the attitudes and understanding of the officials in Israel, in regards to Shared Societies, as well as to evaluate the relevance of these definitions for American Jewish organizations interested in Israel, the Arab Society the relations between them.
For their research, the Inter Agency Task Force members focused on the work, the key approaches and the underlying principles of Shared Society programs developed by civil society and not for profit organizations. The author the importance and the impact that the Shared Societies Project has had so far, by stating that the “best and most concise framing of shared society itself has been articulated by the Club de Madrid“. The report listed different approaches identified as guiding each organization’s decisions and actions when advancing into a shared society:
- Part of Israel’s Multicultural Diversity: For some organizations the issue of Jewish-Arab Shared Society is addressed as part of the wider context of multiculturalism or diversity in Israeli society.
- Singular Issue: Other organizations believe that the Jewish-Arab divide is “singular” in both character and importance within Israeli society and that therefore Shared Society work should address it as a unique and particular issue.
- Focus on Inter-Communal Relations: Some organizations focus on creating better relations between Jewish and Arab communities or particular stakeholders within the communities (i.e. students, teachers, artists) through encounters, shared living education, and joint projects.
- State-Minority Relations: Other organizations believe that the focus should be placed on state-minority relations.
- Focus on Arab Society Internal Development / Economic Integration: Another group of organizations views the need to enhance economic development and capacities within the Arab community as a priority in working towards a shared, equal and integrated society.
- Inclusivity in Service Provision: A number of civil society organizations that provide services to the entire Israeli citizenry, give special attention to enhancing a Shared Society by purposefully developing specially tailored services for the Arab communities.
Additionally, the report offers a very informative list of the initiatives that have been taken both by the government of Israel has taken over the years, through the Ministry of Education as well as on local government level and by Civil Society and readers can find a list of efforts and projects that have been taken and various ideas for follow-ups that aim to create a society that may be diverse yet inclusive.
The Club de Madrid is very encouraged to have been included as a key reference in the work of a fellow organization and encourages the Inter Agency Task Force to continue its work on the issue of social inclusion and inter-communal relations between the Jewish and Arab groups, especially as it is operating in a region where the concept of “Shared Societies” is still relatively new.
Photo by The Social Venture Fund for Jewish-Arab Equality and Shared Society
The Club de Madrid has been collaborating with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) within the context of our Shared Societies Project for some years through the work of its New York office on global development issues and with global intergovernmental institutions. We have collaborated with them at the United Nations and co-hosted meetings at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund from which we developed the Shared Societies Global Agenda to Promote Long-Term Inclusive and Sustainable Growth. So we follow with interest the Stiftung’s work at country level and look forward to opportunities to collaborate.
Using a perspective similar to the Shared Societies Project, FES-Israel is engaged in public information and peace and social dialogue projects that reinforce political, economical, social and cultural ties between Israel and its neighbours and provides platforms for exchange for Jewish-Arab networks. Another common feature with the Share Societies Project lies in the FES-Israel’s effort to strengthen civil society and to promote pluralism and mutual acceptance, by organizing majority-minority dialogue and empowering disadvantaged segments of the Arab community, as well as immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, and other groups.
We noticed a recent piece of action research conducted by FES-Israel: “Local Decision Making – Involving Residents in Municipal Affairs in Akko”. It was part of comprehensive research by the Jewish-Arab Center at University of Haifa entitled “Akko as a Shared Space”, and its main goal was to promote and strengthen the relationship between Jews and Arabs living in the same city. The research’s objectives were to shed light on the impact of residents’ participation in local decision-making processes, to improve the local processes of decision making and, finally, to improve the residents’ quality of life, particularly the relations between Jews and Arabs.
This project is just one example of FES-Israel’s commitment to strengthening German-Israeli relations, remembering the past and promoting global social justice and democracy. It employs dialogue and debate through public events and encounter programs, political and socio-economic research and analysis, civic education and leadership training and political consulting in order to achieve their goals and missions. To this end, FES works closely with local partner organizations to jointly develop projects in the spirit of democracy, gender equality and peaceful co-existence.
Promoting “Shared Spaces” is a timely initiative towards supporting the global efforts to continue to seek the best approaches to building a Shared Society.