Givat Haviva Fourth Annual Conference Address

A week ago, for a moment, it seemed like a ray of light pierced the darkness. The prime minister and the leader of the opposition spoke together about a historic opportunity for peace that would justify a partnership between them. By the next day it was clear that the light was from the engine of the train of war and hate … and we got a right-wing nationalist government.
In the choice between peace and war, between democracy and ethnocracy, in the choice between a politics of fear and a politics of hope, again and again my beloved country chooses the slippery slope that leads to ruin.
But we have not gathered here today for the sake of anger and wailing. We have gathered here to strengthen the construction, the partnership, the hope, the true light and not the false.
We have gathered together because we are connected partners in the society which is marching toward that slippery slope, but we are also working to prevent the crash and to create an alternative.
2500 years ago, the great Chinese philosopher Confucius said, “When a group of people are marching downhill, the last one is the highest.” And we truly are heading downhill, but we are the last, who are in the highest place, which demands responsibility, a clear strategy, precise implementation, belief in our way, and love. Yes, love.
Martin Luther King said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” While we in Israel speak with contempt of “lovers of Arabs”, or of those who want to create partnership with “the Zoabis”.
And I say – they who speak of Arabs flocking to the polls, and they who are not ready to live in partnership with the Arab citizens of Israel, and they who see love of Arabs as mistaken or a shortcoming; they are the ones who endanger our future, the future of our shared country, Israel.
And I have a small confession: I am a lover of Arabs.
I love Riad and Mohammed, my partners, from whom I learn something new every day. I love Samer and Anhar and Razal and Zakaria and Nasrin and Hassan and all my wonderful comrades here at Givat Haviva, with whom we are turning hate into friendship and love.
But I don’t stop at love – I celebrate the opportunity to live together with Arabs. I celebrate the enriching cultural diversity, the opportunities for economic development, the food, and the music – some of which we’ll hear later today. As President Rubi Rivlin said at the Givat Haviva Conference last year, “We are not doomed but fated to walk this road together.”
In his last speech, a day before his assassination, Martin Luther King said: "Only in the darkness can you see the stars." Well now it is dark enough here, and indeed we can see the stars. The stars are many wonderful individuals and organizations from the civil society who are not willing to give up on a shared and equal society. They are our partners who do the holy work every single day. And the stars are also in the private sector, where they lay the rails for partnership, building an equal, connecting economy and providing the philanthropic support for the shared society. And the stars are also in the public sector – they are the mayors who build partnerships between neighboring communities. The stars sit in the Knesset and some are even in the government. They work as government officials in all the Ministries, and what they have in common is the understanding that the future of Israel depends on our success in creating a shared society here.
The first Arab deputy minister in an Israeli government was appointed in 1971. Eight years earlier he was a partner in the founding of the first Jewish-Arab center in Israel, here at Givat Haviva. He was an MK from Mapam, and his name was Abd el-Aziz el-Zoubi. We are familiar with his famous saying: "My conflict as an Israeli-Arab stems from the fact that my people is at war with my country."
As long as the cycle of violence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues, as long as the terrible occupation continues to destroy Israel, the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel will continue to be torn between their country and their people. And yet these are my partners in building our shared society.
Together we do not give in to practices of war, hatred, and exclusion. Instead, we create the practices of a shared society based on equality.
We do this through long and deep connections between neighboring municipalities, that produce municipal, communal, and educational partnerships.
We do this by creating a perennial, multi-aged educational process that can overcome the almost total separation between Arab and Jewish children in Israel. We do this through programs that build the basis for equality and integration, and we do this through teaching the Hebrew language to Arabs and the Arabic language to Jews.
Thousands of seeds are planted each year in human hearts. Strong and durable seeds that will be absorbed into the hard soil of fear and hatred which is ploughed by yesterday's politicians.
These seeds sprout seedlings that grow into green trees, providing shade for the growth of the leaders of tomorrow.
And if you think these are fantasies, or delusions, let me tell you that we also measure and evaluate all of our programs and see the successes up close, just as we learn from our failures how to improve. Yes, we are improving and expanding.
Therefore I am optimistic, and am not part of those who wail and cry because of the dark. We are building a shared society day after day. We are building our common home, the home of the 100%, not only of the 80% national majority, where all the citizens feel at home, respect one another, are tolerant, are able to contain diversity, and share responsibility. A home where everybody feels a sense of belonging and of ownership. A society of equals as it was defined in the original vision for this country, the Declaration of Independence.
I am proud to conclude with a quote from the special greeting we received for this conference from President Obama. This is what he wrote: "When individuals of different origins and backgrounds transcend what sets them apart to come together in common purpose, they have the power to steer the course of history."
Let us all together steer the course of history, and bring new hope to the citizens of Israel.

Yaniv Sagee

Executive Director, Givat Haviva  

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