Jafar Farah and Nabila Espanioly speak at an event organized by the American Friends Service Committee in Chicago on Oct 5. It was held at the Grace Episcopal Church.

NGO says U.S. support needed in fight for Arab minority rights in Israel

By Aqilah Allaudeen
Medill Reports

The closing of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s diplomatic office in Washington D.C. last month and President Donald Trump’s controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last year serve as stark reminders of deteriorating ties between the two sides.

Jafar Farah, the founder and director of The Mossawa Center, a non-profit advocacy center for Palestinian Arab citizens in Israel based in Haifa, said that the harsh policies taken by the U.S. also led to the passing of the Jewish Nation-State Law in Israel. The law made the right to exercise self-determination in the State of Israel unique to the Jewish people, established the state’s official language as Hebrew while demoting Arabic to a “special status” and regulated the use of Arabic in state institutions.

“The approval of this law is because of the current U.S. government,” said Farah. “The Trump administration emboldened (Prime Minister) Netanyahu to pass the Jewish Nation-State Law earlier this year.”

In response to the passing of the law, the American Jewish Committee, or AJC – a global Jewish advocacy organization – released a statement taking the position that, while the organization is proud that Jewish self-determination had been reborn in Israel, the law is “unnecessary.”

“That Israel is indeed the Jewish state and its main symbols, including the flag and national anthem, are distinctly Jewish, are well-established facts, which, in our view, as steadfast friends of Israel, make this kind of law unnecessary,” the AJC statement reads.

AJC also questioned the demotion of Arabic from one of Israel’s official languages to one of “special status” and other elements of the bill.

“We respectfully ask the Government of Israel to clarify these and other questionable elements of the bill, and to reaffirm the core principles and values that make up the very foundation of Israel’s vibrant and admired democracy,” the AJC statement reads.

Staff from The Mossawa Center – including Farah, Nabila Espanioly, who is also the founder of the Nazareth based Al-Tafula Center, and Suha Mousa, Mossawa Center’s U.S. coordinator – met with community leaders, foundations, academics and members of the public during their tour of key cities in the U.S. from Sept 23 to Oct 9. These cities included New York, Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. In Chicago, the discussion was held on Oct 5 at the Grace Episcopal Church. The delegation sought to heighten the awareness of Americans to the issues faced by the Arab minority in Israel and strengthen the relationship between Americans and the Arab minority community.

The group sought to gain not just financial support, but more importantly, political change from policy makers in the U.S.

“We are here because it’s important to build relationships instead of standing alone,” Farah said during an interview before his speech in Chicago. “Financial support alone hasn’t worked in the past. We need people here to vote and seek out the right candidates who will take brave stands. We need people who will support equality for the Arab minority (in Israel).”

During the sharing session organized by the American Friends Service Committee Chicago, a nonprofit organization that aims to create a more peaceful global society, Espanioly drew similarities between the issues faced by the Arab minority in Israel and minority groups in Chicago. She added that it is important for Americans to understand the plight faced by these minority groups, and to embolden leaders in the U.S. to help these marginalized communities.

“Palestinian voices are not being heard in both local and international media,” she said. “It is impossible to keep the unity of the Palestinian people if we are not united. We need to vote for the right people so that we can have equal rights.”

Referencing the recent Van Dyke trial in Chicago, Farah said that police brutality is also a common problem faced by many Palestinians in Israel. He added the occurrence of such attacks have only increased since the passing of the Jewish Nation-State Law, and that he too had fallen victim to unnecessary police violence.

“The law is an apartheid law and we want it to end,” Farah said during the interview. “I was arrested for organizing a peaceful demonstration in Haifa and my knee was broken. I had done nothing wrong and it was a shame on democracy.”

Farah emphasized that Palestinians are a community willing to fight for equality.

“Martin Luther King had a dream and the passing of the Jewish Nation-State Law was meant to kill our dream,” he said. “But they will not kill our dream to be equals.”

Photo at top: Jafar Farah and Nabila Espanioly speak at an event organized by the American Friends Service Committee in Chicago on Oct 5. It was held at the Grace Episcopal Church.(Aqilah Allaudeen/MEDILL)