Representatives of the center-left parties signed a covenant Sunday pledging to work toward equality and the closing of gaps within 10 years between Jews and Arabs in various aspects of life.
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No right-wing parties were present at the signing ceremony, which took place at the Arab-Jewish Theater in Jaffa. Also absent were representatives of the ultra-Orthodox parties and the Arab parties Balad and United Arab List-Ta’al.
Some of the speakers at the ceremony called on Israeli Arabs to vote in larger numbers in the upcoming election.
Signing the covenant, which was initiated by the Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development, were MK Isaac Herzog (Labor); MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz); MK Mohammed Barakeh (Hadash); MK Doron Avital (Kadima); Hatnuah candidate Amram Mitzna; and Yesh Atid candidate Ya’akov Peri.
Chairs were left empty in the hall for representatives of Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu, Habayit Hayehudi, Shas and United Torah Judaism, after those parties turned down invitations to sign the covenant.
The leaders of Balad and United Arab List-Ta’al initially said they would take part in the ceremony but canceled shortly before it began.
The covenant states that “the Arab minority, of various religions, which constitutes approximately one fifth of Israel’s population, suffers from discrimination relative to other population groups in the distribution of state resources in the fields of social and [economic] development.”
Signatories pledged, in the words of the covenant, “to initiate promoting real equality so that within 10 years discrimination between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority will disappear.”
“Unfortunately, some of the chairs are empty,” the center’s executive director, Helmi Kittani, said at the ceremony. “Equality is not a political matter and does not belong only to Arab citizens. The fact that two thirds of poor children are Arabs should concern every elected official and all of Israeli society.”
Kittani appealed to Israel’s Arab citizens to vote. “This is not the right time to sit back and watch others manage your just struggle," he said. "These elections are an opportunity to influence your lives. Don’t stay home.”
Dr. Danny Gera, one of the covenant's initiators, said, “All governments have invested in the Arab community but not with a full plan but rather incrementally." He said the result is a double loss. "The Arabs are disappointed because there are no results from a major investment and the governments are disappointed because they gained no recognition for their investment,” he explained.
Gera also said the parties that did not sign the covenant are an example of political shortcomings, “because the issue is non-partisan.”
Yesh Atid’s Ya’akov Peri said the covenant made an important statement to the Jewish and Arab public. However, he added that although he was signing gladly and believed in the document, “I still would like to note that I am missing a clause on equal sharing of the burden, which does not mean forcing anyone or setting conditions." He added, "Our Arab citizens should also be required to work in their villages and their cities to contribute to a more egalitarian society.” Peri was referring to the hotly contested issue in Israel on national civil service by those groups who do not want to be drafted into the army.
According to Gilon, “The only law we cannot legislate is for people to be humane. The same axis of evil runs through those who will not rent an apartment to the developmentally challenged, to Ethiopians or to Arabs."
Ramiz Jaraisy, the mayor of Nazareth who is also the chairman of the committee of Arab local authorities, said, “We are signing today what should be obvious. If we were living with real equality, there would be no need to sign a covenant." Jaraisy added, "We have experienced talk and declarations that were never implemented, and I don’t expect a change in reality. Prove me differently.”