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Thursday, 10 April 2008

IRAC Update on combating Racism in Israel

Dear Friend of the Israel Religious Action Center,
Anat Hoffman has invited me to write the introduction to this issue of
The Pluralist to highlight one of the many ways you can be involved in
the important work at IRAC. As a current intern at IRAC, I have the
opportunity to learn about and in some cases participate in the many
initiatives based here. It is an optimal position from which to learn
more about Israel and the challenges facing Israeli society, as well as
to celebrate and truly appreciate the hard-won victories. Therefore, it
is exciting to announce that this Fall 2008 will see the launch of a new
Israel Religious Action Fellowship. The IRAC Fellow will be based at the
head office in Jerusalem where they will be the primary communicator for
IRAC with Jews in North America and around the world. She/he will also
learn about nonprofit management and the issues in modern Israeli
society addressed by the Center. This is an incredible opportunity for
any recent university- graduate interested in getting hands-on
experience at one of the top social justice and community-oriented
nonprofits in Israel.
Having been raised as an Israel-conscious Reform Jew, I have come to see
IRAC not only as filling a vital role in the development of Israel as a
socially just and viable state but as filling a similarly crucial role
in the development of Reform Judaism and the Progressive Jewish
identity. IRAC seeks to embody the values of the Progressive Jewish
Movement and actualize its tenets. On the one hand, the Israel Religious
Action Center serves as model for Reform Jewish action, on the other it
serves as a call for Progressive Jews in Israel and the Diaspora to have
their positive force felt in their cultural and spiritual home. Indeed,
since beginning here I have found that IRAC relishes the opportunity to
serve as an outlet for Progressive social action for Jews around the world.
Spread the word about the new IRAC Fellowship. For more information
about how to apply, please contact rita@irac.org. All applications are
due by June 30th 2008. Also look out for the new print newsletter in
your mailbox this April. Maybe next year this letter will be coming from
you.
Aaron Dewitt Toronto, Canada University of British Columbia, '07

Racism in Israel
The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed March 21st as the
International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in
commemoration of the tragedy in Sharpeville, South Africa, where, on
March 21st, 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people during a
peaceful protest. This year the Israel Religious Action Center's
Resource Center has taken initiative in commemorating the International
Day Against Racism. Israeli society consists of immigrants and religions
from dozens of countries from around the world, so differences between
peoples are expected and even welcomed. Yet racism exists both in
blatant and less explicit forms.
Unfortunately, one needs only to turn on the television to see ministers
and Members of Knesset using racist and violent incitement and there are
many cases of verbal and physical assault motivated solely by
differences of color or religion. "There are those Israelis who are not
even aware of their own racism, yet slight introspection and reflection
will reveal deep racism. The terminology employed by the media incites
racism, the school books continue to promote stigmas and prejudice.
Wherever we look at Israeli society, there is room for improvement,"
says Lizi Sagi, director of the IRAC Resource Center.
But Lizi stresses that even in Israel, differences and diversity are
welcome and indeed crucial to sustaining a healthy society: "We, as
organizations and individuals working for social change and tikkun olam,
have a social responsibility to draw the line--which seems to be
somewhat unclear for much of Israel's society--where differences end and
racism begins."

IRAC's Day Against Racism
The International Day Against Racism is not widely known in Israel and
receives little if any media attention. Facing this reality,
organizations working for social change, like IRAC, face an important
yet uphill battle. The IRAC Resource Center marked the International Day
Against Racism in two distinct ways. For the third year in a row, Reform
congregations throughout Israel invited speakers other than rabbis to
give sermons related to the fight against racism. Religious leaders from
Muslim, Christian and Buddhist communities, Members of Knesset, and
social activists spoke in synagogues across the country.
This year marked the launch of the Resource Center's "Racism: What's
Your Secret?" Project. Blank postcards were distributed to individuals
asking them in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian and Amharic to write or draw
about a racist event they witnessed, were victimized by, or perpetrated.
The goal of the project is to reveal covert racism, that which hides
deep in our thoughts. The cards are then mailed and some are posted on
the internet. "Racism: What's Your Secret?" is a joint initiative
between IRAC and four other non-for-profit NGOs concerned with social
justice and equality advocacy in Israel: The Mossawa Centre-The Advocacy
Centre for Arab Citizens in Israel, Tebeka-Advocacy for Equality and
Justice for Ethiopian Israelis, Mixed Families-an organization that
helps mixed immigrant families from the former USSR, and Shatil-The New
Israel Fund's Empowerment and Training Center for Social Change
Organizations in Israel. The posted cards can be viewed at

www.irac.org/gizanut.asp .
The goal in raising awareness of the International Day Against Racism is
not only to fight against racism but to educate the public about it. As
Lizi says, racism "hurts everyone even when it seems to be directed
towards one person or group. There is no 'partial racism,' racism never
just injures one group but effects society as a whole."

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