Almost three years ago to the day, we witnessed a depressing display of parochialism. A handful of Jewish organizations complained when they “discovered” that emergency funds raised by local Jewish federations to assist victimized Israelis in the wake of the Second Lebanon War would benefit not only Jews, but Israeli Arabs and Druze as well. The president of the National Council of Young Israel said at the time, “It’s not that I want to seem harsh or that this is an anti-Arab statement, but money raised from Jews because of a war against Jews should only be used for Jews.”
UJC/Jewish Federations of North America, however, held its ground, defending the principle found in Israel’s Declaration of Independence that Israel is to be a country for “all its inhabitants” and one that will “ensure complete equality of social and political rights.”
This month the federation movement is again acting on that cherished principle, partnering with the Jewish Agency in launching a new loan fund for joint Jewish-Arab business development in Israel. The Jewish-Arab Employment Zone Loan Fund will assist Israeli-Arab entrepreneurs with loans for small businesses. Its goals include strengthening Jewish-Arab relations and building “strong and stable communities in key regions of Israel.”
Organizers also say the loan fund is a way to attract younger donors, who are excited by the notion of a multicultural Israel that extends its founders’ vision to all its citizens.
Among those helping broker this historic humanitarian partnership is Jeffrey Cohen, an investment banker from Short Hills and a leader of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ. Said Cohen: “This fund is an example of a forward-thinking strategy for federations to help strengthen Israel from within. By improving the economic prospects and directly contributing to a sense of shared society among residents in these key regions, we will help foster a healthier environment for businesses and people to thrive together.”