three middle-aged women walk down a sidewalk holding signs in hebrew and arabic
Three women walk in a demonstration for coexistence in northern Israel on May 11, 2021. Their signs, from left to right: "Togetherness now"; "Love your neighbor as yourself"; and "United against the violence." (Photo/JTA-Jalaa Marey-AFP)

Israel-Hamas clash didn’t erase efforts for a shared society

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Ever since the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund opened its Israel office in the 1980s, we — and our Israeli partner organizations — have been at the forefront of building a “shared society” for all of Israel’s citizens.

This vision of a fair, equitable and just society for all — secular, religious, Arab, ultra-Orthodox, and immigrant alike — is critically important to ensure peace, equity and unity in Israel.

However, following the horrific violence between Jews and Arabs recently, our goal of realizing a shared society appears more tenuous than ever. Especially since the most violent unrest broke out in communities that had become living models of what a shared society might look like.

But even after such shocking and horrific violence, we believe that a shared society is not only possible, but critical — and more urgent than ever.

To illustrate, consider how quickly the violence was quelled — that was the work of all the hardworking Jews and Arabs who came together and refused to give up on a better future. Because a shared society is a peaceful society.

Federation’s Israel Office Director Barak Loozon, who works tirelessly to support and guide our Israeli partners in creating this better future — and was personally affected by the violence — has been hard at work since the violence subsided.

He has been facilitating panels, workshops and similar gatherings with Jewish and Arab leaders and advocates for coexistence. This included a Federation-hosted webinar during which our partners shared their experience and what the recent violence means for our work.

You might think they would have been wholly dismayed, but it was quite the opposite — and we find hope in what they have reported to us.

For instance, the number of people opening their eyes and minds to the idea of a shared society is growing each day — even in unexpected segments of Israeli society. Co-Impact CEO Nawa Jahshan Batshon, who spoke at our webinar, rendered the following stunning observation:

“[After the violence], business leadership took a very active and responsible role, to say what wasn’t being heard: that we need to accept and support each other so that we can work and live together.”

Furthermore, these meetups — including the Federation’s webinar, as well as an in-person conference that, for several of the event’s 120-plus guests, was their first major gathering since the pandemic started — have served as a salve for the prior weeks’ traumatic events. They have offered a space for frank, brutally honest and long-needed conversations, and they have given attendees a reason to celebrate: being alive, being outside and crossing old dividing lines to unite in the spirit of peace, collaboration and friendship.

These mixed gatherings and celebrations would have seemed unfathomable mere decades ago.

And being able to convene 120 people and their affiliated foundations for a day of celebration and reflection is shared society in action. It shows not only how valuable and important this work is, but also proves it can withstand conflict.

Consider, for example, some of the organizations that participated. These included Arab-Jewish joint ventures such as AJEEC-NISPED (Arab-Jewish Center for Empowerment, Equality and Cooperation in the Negev), which provides financial and moral support to the often marginalized and underserved Bedouin community. And pioneering organizations such as Living Together, which advance systemic change in academia, education, culture and the public sphere. Also, Co-Impact, which does the same for the private sector by advancing Arab employment as a priority within Israel’s biggest companies.

As you can see, the violence has not snuffed out the dream of a shared society.

If anything, the dream is stronger than ever.

At the Federation, we will continue our decades-long effort to lead and support the visionaries building Israel’s shared society. This may not make for compelling headlines, but it will help secure a peaceful future that offers equity, unity and well-being for all who call Israel home.

This work has never been more vital — or needed more urgently — than it is now.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of J.

Danny Grossman
Danny Grossman

Danny Grossman is the former CEO of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund. He is currently writing a memoir of his time as a U.S. diplomat/human rights officer stationed in Leningrad during the Cold War.