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Milestone conference explores role of Arab minority in Israel

July 10, 2008
Est. Reading: 2 minutes
Photo credit: Ryan Anson for Interpeace

A conference hosted in the Israeli port city of Haifa, on 10 July 2008, addressed the situation and challenges facing Israel’s Arab minority today and the progress that has been achieved so far.

The convention has been interpreted by various observers as a historical milestone. It also represented an important result of Interpeace’s effort with the National Committee of Local Arab Authorities since late 2005 to define the role of the Arab-Israeli community and to develop a common standpoint on the future constitution of Israel.

The conference included three forums on education, economic development and local government policy. These were attended by Education Minister Prof. Yuli Tamir, Interior Minister Meir Shetrit, Science, Culture and Sport Minister Raleb Majdele, the Israeli Democracy Institute and also by the “Future Vision” group from the National Committee of Local Arab Authorities, authors of the influential report “The Future Vision of Palestinian Arab citizens in Israel” (May 2006). This is the main compononent of Interpeace's project working with the Arab Israeli community.

During the conference’s concluding session, former Prime Minister Olmert stated, "The Israeli Arabs are not a strategic threat and I don't see them as a strategic threat. There is discrimination against the Arab population in Israel; some of it is unintentional, but it has an effect. The citizens of Israel must be taught that the Arabs in Israel are citizens of equal rights. However, social change cannot rest solely on the leadership's shoulders." Mr. Olmert emphasized the measures that had been enacted on behalf of the Arab sector but conceded that Israel had not yet reached a suitable relationship with its Arab citizens.

Mr. Olmert expressed his hope that dialogue such as that being conducted at the conference would lead to the disappearance of racist expressions from Israeli society and would constitute the basis for an improvement in Jewish-Arab relations in Israel. He asserted: “I believe that, today, we have added a significant chapter and I hope that it will be an historic turning point that will lead to an improvement in the status of Israeli Arabs in the country.”