From left: Former National Security Council chairman Maj.-Gen.(res) Uzi Dayan; Alan B. Slifka, chairman and founder of The Abraham Fund Initiatives; Dr. Faisal Azaiza, a lecturer at Haifa University. (Photo: Israel Hadari)A joint Arab-Jewish council has called on all of the parties in Israel’s upcoming general elections to make equality and improved relations between the two sectors a key plank in their political platforms.

The declaration last week by the Abraham Fund Initiatives Public Council asked all of politicians to commit themselves to “quick, firm action” towards creating “stable and secure” relations between Israeli Arabs and Jews, closing social and economic gaps between them, and to easing the tension that has increased between the two groups over the past two years since the outbreak of the current conflict.

“Co-existence combined with tolerance, understanding, and mutual trust as the only model for life together in the state,” the declaration stated. “Retreat from this model would be a disaster for both sides.”

The Council, which initiated the resolution, is a body composed of prominent Israeli Jews and Arabs all of whom are recognized leaders in their fields as well as strong advocates for coexistence and public opinion shapers, and who meet regularly for dialogue. The group is chaired by former Justice Minister Professor David Liba’i, Dr. Faisal Azaiza, a lecturer at Haifa University and leader in the Arab-Israeli community and businessman Dov Lautman, chairman of Delta Galil Industries.

Seated around a table in Tel Aviv’s Beit Sokolov building, the group also urged others who feel as they do to speak out.

“The Council calls on Jews and Arabs who support co-existence efforts and equality, and they are the decisive majority in Israel, to have their voices heard on every level, government, community, media and academic in order to deepen the awareness of reaching a life of coexistence and bringing substantive changes for the Israeli society that is more tolerant and secure,” the declaration stated.

The council applauded recent polls finding that a majority of Jews and Arab citizens of the state, believe in living together and in peace side by side, and that a majority of Israelis believe that there is no alternative but to promote co-existence.

The council’s position was endorsed heartily by their guest speaker, former National Security Council chairman Maj.-Gen.(res) Uzi Dayan, who said that integration of Arabs and Jews is “critical” to the state’s future.

Dayan said that fostering trust between the minority and the majority must become a top national priority. Today, he pointed out, Arabs compose 19 percent of Israel’s population and by 2020 they will constitute about 24% of the Israeli population.

Dayan stated that while moving ahead with practical initiatives was vital, that a dialogue about “conceptual issues” had to take place at the same time as “true integration.” Both sides, he said, must articulate their vision of a future for the Middle East. “Good will is not enough,” he said.

The day after the council meeting was held, an “Abraham Fund Initiatives” ceremony took place marking its distribution of more than $890,000 to 50 carefully selected projects which advance coexistence, cooperation, understanding and equality between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel.

At the ceremony, Alan B. Slifka, the New York businessman who is the chairman and founder of The Abraham Fund Initiatives, called upon the Israeli government to create a Ministry of Coexistence with a mandate to advance coexistence between Arab and Jewish citizens.

Among the projects awarded grants from the Abraham Fund:

** The Center for Humanistic Education at the Ghetto Fighter’s House for a training program in tolerance and democracy for the Israeli Police.
** Mada: The Institute for Leadership and Democracy for Immigrants for an ongoing series of meetings between Arab journalists and their professional counterparts who immigrated recently from the former Soviet Union.
** Sikkuy: The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality for a project promoting affirmative action in the workplace for Arab citizens.

Dan Pattir, Executive Vice President of the Fund said that this year’s change in the name of The Abraham Fund to The Abraham Fund Initiatives this year “reflects a strategic decision by the Fund to develop more proactive advocacy initiatives.”

The Fund Initiatives was founded in 1989, with the goals of education and advocacy for coexistence between Jews and Arabs in Israel. Since its inception the Fund has contributed more than 8 million dollars to hundreds of projects.