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A new organization of academics and Education Ministry officials is establishing a committee to define, for the first time, ministry policy on education that helps Jews and Arabs live together in Israel.

The group met recently with Education Minister Yuli Tamir, who participants said expressed support for the initiative.

"As long as the Education Ministry has no policy on the matter, the existing activity - which is on the decline - will continue to be based on the goodwill of nonprofit associations and private individuals," said Prof. Gabi Salomon of Haifa University, who has received the Israel Prize in education.

A position paper put out by the group two weeks ago said racist speech has permeated Israeli society.

"On the one hand, educating toward living together has stagnated and awaits an updated vision, and on the other hand, we will fight for its existence in the absence of widespread public support or sufficient financial support," the paper said. "This reality is particularly difficult in light of the fact that racist expressions have become legitimate cultural norms in society."

Citing previous studies, the paper noted that a tiny percentage of Israeli Jews had participated in organized meetings with Arabs. "Activities in the sphere of educating toward living together are sporadic, and do not stem from an overall policy ... and so are of limited effectiveness," the paper said.

The group's steering committee includes Salomon; Miriam Darmoni, the Education Ministry official responsible for implementing the Kremnitzer Report on civics education; and Prof. Daniel Bar-Tal, a professor in Tel Aviv University's School of Education who focuses on political psychology.