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    Saturday, April 01, 2023

    Native son from a land divided

    Mohammed Darawshe is a proud Israeli citizen who admires the entrepreneurial spirit of its people and the priority placed on education. He is troubled, however, that Israel remains a house very much divided, unable to achieve a peaceful co-existence with its Palestinian neighbors or move beyond domestic segregation.

    Darawshe also happens to be an Arab. It comes as a surprise to many that there are Arab citizens in the “Jewish State.” In fact there are many, about 1.7 million, roughly one-fifth of the population.

    Now 52, Darawshe’s life work is to try to improve both opportunities for his fellow Arab-Israeli citizens and relations between the Jews and Arabs within Israel. He is the director of planning and equality at The Center for Shared Society of the Givat Haviva Educational Foundation.

    The highlight of Darawshe’s recent visit to the U.S. Northeast, during which he discussed the importance of improving Jewish-Arab relations within Israel, was an appearance at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, better known as AIPAC.

    Before heading to Washington, D.C., for AIPAC, however, Darawshe visited this region under the sponsorship of the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut, thanks to the initiative of its executive director, Jerome "Jerry" Fischer. On March 17, Darawshe addressed members of the federation and others guests at the Zachs Hillel House at Connecticut College.

    I sat down with Darawshe for a 45-minute interview. Excerpts from that discussion accompany this column on the Perspective page if you are reading in print. Web page readers can find the interview in the Opinion section under “Guest Commentaries.”

    In an election year in which some presidential candidates are ginning up support by driving wedges between Americans of different ethnicities and religious beliefs, and on a week when the horror that can come from religious fanaticism was on display in Belgium, my meeting with Darawshe provided a welcomed and hopeful contrast.

    Here was a blunt-talking Arab Israeli who recognizes that moving past prejudices begins at the most personal level, sponsored by a local Jewish federation and invited to speak to the most politically influential Jewish organization in the country.

    Darawshe has a pragmatic approach to improving Arab-Jewish relations in his country, making the case that everyone stands to benefit when barriers fall. Improving Arab schools — and yes they are segregated — and providing more economic opportunities for his Arab brothers and sisters is not only good for them but for the nation, boosting the economy and lowering social service expenditures, he contends.

    Among the successes he points to is a program introducing Arab teachers in Jewish schools and vice versa, helping break down prejudicial barriers; increases in the number of Arabs seeking a higher education; and a project that gives Arab women the computing and language skills to move more of them into the workplace, if they so choose.

    “They’re more willing to cooperate on economic issues,” he said of the current right-wing government. “Because at the end of the day a taxpaying Arab woman is better for the state than a welfare-recipient Arab woman.”

    “We’re part of the revolution of knowledge,” he added. “You go to Technion (Israel Institute of Technology), 32 percent of the computer science students at the Technion are Arab … 50 percent of the medical students in the Technion are Arab. We're there. We're fighting the battle where it should be fought, which is excellence.”

    He then added a fascinating observation.

    “It's the mindset of Jewish minorities around the world, or any minority around the world. If you want to succeed, you need to work twice as hard, and that's the way you make it,” Darawshe said.

    Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.

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