Israeli Arab mayors study minorities on U.S. visit

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Mohammad Darawshe, left, and Emad Dahle spent a week learning how minorities in the United States get their voices heard. Photo by Suzanne Pollak
Mohammad Darawshe, left, and Emad Dahle spent a week learning how minorities in the United States get their voices heard.
Photo by Suzanne Pollak

The 30 Arab mayors who visited Washington and New York City came to learn how minorities in America are successful in having their voices heard.

“It’s the American culture that says there are no limits and that everything is possible,” said Emad Dahle, mayor of Turan, which is located northeast of Nazareth and has about 15,000 residents. He was impressed how minorities in America “are capable to make their own future.”


The mayors spent Feb. 5 – 10 in meetings with Jewish, African American, Latino and Arab organizations and businesses to learn how minority groups in America gain political and social standing. The event was sponsored by the InterAgency Task Force on Israel Arab Issues, a coalition of North American Jewish organizations, foundations, private philanthropists and international affiliates.

The 30 mayors represent more than 40 percent of the 72 Arab mayors in Israel.

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The mayors wanted to gain insight on becoming “more visible” in an effort to bring jobs and construction programs to the Arab areas, said Mohammad Darawshe, a director at Givat Haviva, an Israel non-profit that organized the trip.

In an interview near the end of the visit, Darawshe said that the mayors learned they need to have people in their towns obtain government jobs. “Work for civil service. Get on the inside,” Darawshe said the group was told.


While both Israel and the United States are democratic nations, Darawshe said the difference is that “Israel has a national identity” as a Jewish state, “basically leaving” 20 percent of the population “stateless.”

In the Arab areas, “we feel the suffering in the cities in the budget appropriations,” said Dahle. “We live in a democratic country but we do not get our full rights,” he said. “There is no development of industrial zones in Arab towns. This causes very high unemployment rates.”

Dahle said much of Arab poverty “is not incidental. This is a result of government policy.” More money is spent on educating Jewish students than Arab students, he said. “The Jewish press even writes about this,” Dahle said, adding, “All of these examples prove that the Arabs in Israel today do not receive their full rights.”

According to an article in Haaretz two months ago, students attending Jewish religious schools receive the largest piece of the pie from the government. The Education Ministry in 2012 allocated $3,965 per pupil to students attending schools in the national-religious sector, $3,600 per pupil to those attending in the ultra-Orthodox sector, $3,751 per student in the Arab sector and $3,400 to students in the public, secular Jewish sector – Israel’s largest school system.

Dahle was upbeat following meetings with business and non-profit leaders, including the American Jewish Committee. “The Arab community has never engaged” with Jews in the United States before, he said.

Baka El Garbia Deputy Mayor Ibrahem Mawssi was more than upbeat, stating that his first trip to America “was a dream come true.” He had expected to be met with hostility, and he was surprised how friendly and open people were. “They are full of good intentions,” he said, adding he was surprised to hear that Jews struggled for decades to be full citizens in America.

“When people battle alone, it doesn’t make the necessary results. We understand there is no way but to join hands with all the deprived hands of society,” he said.

The trip was financed in part by the Naomi and Nehemiah Cohen Foundation in Bethesda and Moti Kahana, a Jerusalem native who now lives in the United States and is active in providing loans for Arab women starting businesses.

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@SuzannePollak

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