In Israel, Arab magnanimity toward another minority

 In an apparent gesture of empathy, the leader of an Arab party in the ruling Israeli coalition asks that money for his community be shared with the minority ultra-Orthodox community.

AP
Ultra-Orthodox Jews pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Sept. 22.

In the Middle East, moments of bridge building between adversaries are always worth noting, especially if the bridge is built on empathy.

On Tuesday, the leader of Israel’s minority Arabs made an unexpected gesture toward another minority. Mansour Abbas of the Raam party said he had asked the government to give a portion of $9.4 billion slated for Israeli Arabs to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, or the Haredim.

“We prefer to use the money for things which are important to us. That would include friends,” he told Kan Bet media, citing a wish for the two minorities to get along. He said he was moved by a recent speech in parliament by Moshe Gafni of the United Torah Judaism party about hardships in the Haredim and the need for “weaker” parts of Israeli society to band together.

Mr. Abbas’ conciliatory request to share money due for his own community “makes him among the most refreshing figures on the Israeli political scene,” wrote The Jerusalem Post, adding that the gesture is “magnanimous,” a quality often lacking among parties that “view one another as mortal enemies.” (Many Israelis refer to Arabs living within Israel proper as Palestinians.)

Perhaps the gesture was made easier because Israel has enjoyed five months of governance under a rare ruling coalition of Jewish parties from the right and left as well as Raam, the first time that an Arab party has been part of a coalition. The Jewish politician who put the diverse coalition together, Yair Lapid, says its main purpose is to “find the shared good.” The government has been able to agree on a budget for the first time since 2019.

Politics in a democracy do not always have to be zero-sum battles or even a transactional splitting of differences. Often it is minorities who, out of shared suffering from being on the outside looking in, develop empathy to alleviate the misery of others. That can change the narrative from simply winning political contests toward one with a mutual vision for society. 

Bridge building starts with cornerstones of listening, especially to those on the margins.

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