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Sikkuy Newsletter – 1/2016 January 20 , 2016



Rawnak Natour                 Ron Gerlitz
Co-Executive Directors, Sikkuy

Dear Sikkuy Friends and Supporters,

Since we have worked so hard to stay in regular contact with you in recent months, we’re sending this brief end-of-the-year update about our latest activities and successes (even during these very challenging months) along with our best wishes to you for a happy and healthy 2016. PLEASE SCROLL DOWN TO SEE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT – THE GOVERNMENT’S PATH BREAKING DECISION TO BEGIN EQUAL FUNDING FOR ARAB CITIZENS!

Despite the recent rise in violence, we here at Sikkuy continue to believe in, work towards, and succeed in advancing, equality and shared society between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel.

Path-breaking academic conference (conducted in Arabic) at Tel Aviv University addressed by Rawnak Natour, Sikkuy’s Co-Executive Director (see details below)

Sikkuy was extremely influential in the advancement of the new and dramatic government program to reduce the gaps between Jewish and Arab citizens, proposed by the Authority for Economic Development in the Arab Sector and the Ministry of Finance and approved by the government on December 30, 2015 with a projected allocation of 12 billion Shekels (approx. $3,1 billion over five years). 

The proposal was developed under the professional leadership of the Finance Ministry Budget Division, whose team consults regularly with Sikkuy. The program differs substantially from all previous government programs in that instead of allocating occasional additional resources to Arab citizens, it changes a significant part of the allocation system to be based on equal funding for Arab citizens. 

Over the past three months, Sikkuy has made huge efforts to help finalize the plan, facilitate agreements between the Ministry of Finance and the Arab leadership and advance acceptance of the plan by the  government.

Never before has such a comprehensive program for reducing gaps between Jewish and Arab citizens been authorized. If implemented in its entirety, the plan will reduce a significant percentage (although not all) of existing gaps and will bring about an unprecedented improvement in the socioeconomic situation of Arab citizens through increased allocations (at least 20% of the budgets) in a variety of fields: infrastructure, transportation, higher education, employment and industry, internal security, housing, and more. The program also advances significant affirmative action in certain areas (up to 40% for Arab citizens), to compensate for past discrimination.

Recently there were various reports in the media about the postponement of the plan or conditioning it on various requirements.  It is important for us to emphasize that based on verified information from the highest and most well-connected level,  all of the attempts to add conditions or delays in the implementation of the government's decision have so far failed. Apparantly the basis for the inflammatory rhetoric about making the plan conditional is the political need by the extreme right wing ministers to improve their image after the government's approval of this plan that will transfer substantial resources to the Arab citizens.

One of the main concerns about the plan that Arab leaders had expressed was that the plan fails to provide immediate direct financial assistance for Arab municipalities that suffer from a severe lack of revenue sources especially due to a dearth of municipal tax-paying commercial and governmental properties (the main source of income for wealthier cities in Israel). They also criticized the plan for not specificlly dealing with equal funding for the Arab education system. 

It is unfortunate that at the last minute, and against the wishes of the Arab leadership, an addition was made to the government decision that a staff group would be formed to examine providing incentives to Arab local authorities that encourage national civilian service.  National civilian service is a contentious issue between the Arab leadership and the government and should not have been inserted into the government decision. 

Indeed, there remain a number of discriminatory allocation mechanisms that are not corrected by the plan.  This means that despite the unprecedented achievement we still have a lot of work ahead to advance equality in the entire allocation system and to monitor implementation of the plan that was authorized.  Despite its shortcomings the government plan is a pathbreaking and historic change.

We are very proud of the Sikkuy team’s extremely successful effort to advance this government decision.

You can read more about the interesting dynamics that lead to this decision in Ron’s Fathom Journal post here: http://bit.ly/1Nj0O89 and you can peruse the Sikkuy media announcement released after the govt decision here: http://on.fb.me/1O3r9II 

  • Sikkuy’s (with our partner organization Injaz) fingerprints can be found on a recent (November 2015) decision by the Ministries of Finance and Defense to establish a new central fund to redirect municipal taxes generated by government defense and military installations to weaker (Jewish and Arab) municipalities that in the past failed to benefit from these taxes, as the division of resources was based on geographic municipal borders (where military sites were located) rather than upon actual need.  

    As coverage of this issue in Ha’aretz states, “one of the fund’s goals is to end the severe discrimination faced by Arab towns, which contain 15% of Israel’s population but receive only 2% of the government’s municipal tax payments”.  This unfair and unjust situation was a key finding made public in a policy paper presented at the 2014 Sikkuy/Injaz conference attended by many of the key decision-makers from the ministries referenced above. The estimated amount of taxes to go into the new fund is more than NIS 500 million (more than $130 million), so that if the Arab towns get 15% instead of 2% this translates to an increase of NIS 75 million in direct income to Arab communities. This is a clear and significant example of a very high return on Sikkuy’s (your) investment.

Other “Special Mentions” from the past months include:

  • Thanks to Sikkuy’s efforts (along with lead organization Dirasat and partner organization the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute) to increase the presence of Arabic and Arab culture in Israeli academia, Tel Aviv University held its first-ever academic conference in Arabic (with simultaneous translation to Hebrew) on December 3rd The conference dealt with the connections between Arabic, Jews from Arab countries, and Jews in Israel, and the main message of the day was the importance of increasing the presence of Arabic in Israel’s public spaces and in its academic life. Jewish researchers, who speak both Arabic and Hebrew, chose to lecture in Arabic. The success of the event, highlighted in the English edition of Ha’aretz, serves as an unprecedented indicator of the importance of Israeli universities as shared public spaces for Jewish and Arab citizens.
  • Sikkuy’s Equality Zones Project has recently learned that a new shared Arab-Jewish Industrial Zone is slated to be established in Northern Israel between the Megiddo Regional Council and the Arab town of Iksal in the region where Sikkuy has been working diligently for four years to advance cooperation between Jewish and Arab municipalities. Additionally, a proposal to establish in the same region a shared Arab-Jewish “Eskhol”, which is a statutory, formally-recognized “cluster” of communities in a particular region, is advancing towards authorization by the government. Statutory clusters enable neighboring communities to share increased government funding more efficiently and effectively than any other existing model and as part of Sikkuy’s project exit strategy, this is an extremely important outcome.
  • Ron and Rawnak travelled abroad in November to meet with Sikkuy friends and New Israel Fund staff and supporters in Berlin, Toronto, Washington D.C., Philadelphia and New York City. Audiences in all of these locations appreciated the opportunity to hear an update from Israel at this time of tension, particularly in regard to Sikkuy’s work rolling back various initiatives directed against Arab citizens in the workplace and the public space. They also heard from Ron and Rawnak that Sikkuy’s work for equality and shared society continues unceasingly at this time. We share with you an interview with them during their visit, in The Walrus, a national magazine considered the intellectual authority on national and international issues in Canada.

Ron and Rawnak’s meetings (in the USA and Canada) and Sikkuy’s message are introducing a shared narrative about Israel around the world

  • On December 2nd the Sikkuy team met with the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis, discussing strategies for maintaining the values of equality and shared society during times of conflict and exploring with them possible cooperative future efforts.

Rawnak and Ron meeting with the Israeli Council of Progressive Rabbis

  • Sikkuy inaugurated a new thirty month project (funded by the European Union) in partnership with the Council of Unrecognized Arab Bedouin Communities in the Negev to advance equal funding by the government for Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel living in unrecognized villages in the fields of public transportation, child day-care centers and high-school education.

Sikkuy and the Council of Unrecognized Arab Bedouin Villages begin to work together

Finally, as you have surely noticed, Sikkuy has continued to increase its traditional and new media presence in Hebrew, Arabic and English and our messages have reached tens of thousands of followers in the past two months. In addition, at a recent conference on program evaluation, where Sikkuy was highlighted as a leading example of NGOs doing serious program evaluation, Meirav Arlosoroff (a well-known social/economy commentator) called Sikkuy “one of the most professional and rigorous resources out there, to whom I turn regularly for data and analysis for my reporting”.  

You may read additional updates on Sikkuy’s website (in English, Hebrew and Arabic) and Facebook (in Hebrew and Arabic).   

We appreciate the opportunity to share all of this, look forward to hearing back from you with comments and questions, and send you all our best wishes for a happy, healthy and equal New Year.

Ron Gerlitz & Rawnak Natour
Co-Executive Directors

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