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A new organization whose members include academics and senior Education Ministry officials is initiating the formation of a public committee that will define, for the first time, the ministry's official policy on teaching coexistence between Israeli Jews and Arabs.

The group met recently to discuss this matter with Education Minister Yuli Tamir who, according to participants in the meeting, expressed her support for the initiative.

"So long as the ministry has no policy on the matter, the existing activity in this area that is gradually decreasing will continue to rely on the goodwill of nonprofit organizations and private individuals," said Israel Prize laureate in education, Prof. Gabi Solomon of the University of Haifa.

The organization was born after a seminar several months ago in Nazareth attended by some 40 educators, including school principals, researchers, Education Ministry officials and activists from nonprofit organizations promoting coexistence, led by the Abraham Fund.

A position paper prepared some two weeks ago stated: "On one hand educating for coexistence has stalled and awaits an updated vision, and on the other hand, is fighting for its survival in the absence of public support and sufficient financial backing."

The paper added that this reality "is especially difficult given the fact that the expressions of racism have spread as legitimate cultural norms" in Israeli society.

The new organization's steering committee's members include, among others, Miriam Darmoni, who is responsible for implementing the Kremitzer report at the Education Ministry, Prof. Daniel Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University and Prof. Solomon. Based on previous studies, the position paper establishes that a tiny percentage of Jews in Israel took part in organized encounters with Arabs and also reported that the encounter changed their attitude toward Arabs for the better.

As a basis for its activities, the group is proposing the recognition that different groups in society, that share the same citizenship and live together in the same strip of land, will find a way to live their shared lives in equality based on recognition and the granting of mutual legitimacy.

Among other things, it has been proposed that the public committee formulate plans suited to the participants' identities and the various age groups, create a binding "standard" for living together, and institutionalize cooperation with civil social organizations active in this area.

Tamir said she is now looking into "the ways of integrating and promoting the values of coexistence in the education system.

"The multicultural and multinational structure of Israeli society requires teaching the students to recognize and respect those who are different."