In 2008, together with partners from across the Jewish community, Pears Foundation established the UK Task Force on issues relating to Arab citizens of Israel. In 2017, having realised its mission to educate, engage and empower the UK Jewish community on these issues, the decision was taken to wind down the operations of the Task Force and transfer its educational work to UJIA.
The following post is co-authored by the Task Force Co-Chairs Sir Trevor Pears and Michael Wegier, Chief Executive of the UJIA.
2017 marks the 7th anniversary of the UK Task Force on issues relating to Arab citizens of Israel, and marks the realisation of our vision for the organisation: “The British Jewish community supporting an inclusive Israeli society”.
Over the last 7 years, more than 5,000 people attended 200 UK Task Force educational events and sessions in the UK. Our events, hosted by community organisations and synagogue communities from across the religious spectrum, helped raise awareness of issues relating to Arab citizens of Israel within the British Jewish community. Nearly 200 members of the Jewish community participated in six study trips including religious leaders and youth leaders alongside representatives of charitable foundations and Israel-related organisations. UKTF provided over 100 sessions engaging 3,500 young people and as a coalition organisation were able to reach the whole spectrum of the British Jewish community. By framing the issues relating to Arab citizens of Israel in a Jewish context we succeeded in ensuring that there was a shared language that could be used in our engagement and education work.
As an awareness-raising exercise it has been a tremendous success. Before the UKTF there was almost no engagement by Jewish communal organisations with minority issues in Israel. With such engagement now widespread we are winding down the activities of UKTF. It’s a rare thing indeed – a Jewish communal organisation, established with a clear goal, achieves the goal and is then wound up so that communal resources can be focused elsewhere. No rows, no histrionics, no funding crisis – just a plain and simple achievement of a limited goal.
We realise only too well that success in awareness-raising is very different from successfully achieving change on the ground in Israel but that never was and could never have been our task. Ultimately that is up to Israel’s citizens. What we hoped to achieve and have succeeded in doing, is to make the Jewish Community here in the UK aware of the problems and supportive of efforts within Israel to positively address the issues facing Israel’s Arab minority.
We are immensely proud of the UKTF’s achievements which include: expanding our coalition from five to thirty-nine Jewish communal organisations; running six successful study trips to Israel; including issues relating to Arab citizens of Israel in educational programming across the British Jewish community. We have fostered partnerships to affect change and acted as a trusted voice on building equality between Jews and Arabs in Israel. Significantly, we have achieved this in ways which authentically address issues of social and political equality, while also strengthening British Jews’ connection to Israel.
As the UK Task Force winds down, its core youth education activities are being transferred to a new Education Officer role at UJIA. The Education Officer will continue to engage on the issues with young people through youth movements, schools, and student organisations. We know full well that there is still much work to be done in Israel but now from a position of knowledge and commitment the British Jewish community will play its part in supporting Israeli efforts to address issues of equality as an engaged and supportive diaspora community.
We want to take this opportunity to sincerely thank our coalition members for their hard work and continued commitment to raising awareness of the issues facing Israel’s Arab citizens. We are immensely proud of our coalition members’ involvement with the UK Task Force, and of how our community has come together around this important issue.
An edited version of this post appeared in the Jewish Chronicle in September 2017.