The Abraham Initiatives
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|Purpose||"To fulfill the promise of full and equal citizenship and complete equality of social and political rights for Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens, as embodied in Israel's Declaration of Independence."|
|Orni Petruschka and Geoffrey Lewis|
|Amnon Be'eri-Sulitzeanu and Dr. Thabet Abu Rass|
The Abraham Initiatives is a non-profit organization based in Lod, New York City and London. Named for the supposed common ancestor of both Jews and Arabs, its stated purpose is to advance coexistence, equality and cooperation between Israel's Jewish and Arab citizens.
Founded in 1989 by Alan B. Slifka and Dr. Eugene Weiner, The Abraham Initiatives was one of the first non-profit organizations dedicated to furthering coexistence between Israel's Arab and Jewish citizens. Ami Nahshon served as The Abraham Initiatives' International President and CEO from 2003 through 2014. Amnon Be'eri-Sulitzeanu and Dr. Thabet Abu Rass serve as the organization's global Co-Executive Directors, based in Israel. Mohammad Darawshe served as co-executive Director between 2005-2013. Among the notable people who serve on The Abraham Initiatives' Israel Executive Committee include Orni Petruschka, Dr. Mohammed Alnabari, Natalie Barkan, Orna Lin, and Doron Shohat.
In 2018, it launched its Shared Learning Initiative in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, which paired classes from neighboring Jewish and Arab communities to learn together. The program received a $1 million USAID grant enabling the program to expand to 40 schools. The Abraham Initiatives also provided cultural competency trainings to over 500 staff from 10 universities and colleges, and it held the first conference on freedom of speech in higher education in Israel. Additionally, it published and presented at the Knesset a Personal Security Index, which monitors crime and policing in Arab towns, and it organized a mass Arabic lesson in Tel Aviv to protest against the Nation-State Law.
The Abraham Initiatives has successfully expanded the following projects towards national adoption through its partnership with the Israeli government:
- Ya Salam - Spoken Arabic, an educational program that integrates Arab teachers into Jewish schools. Following the success of the scaling and evaluation of this program, the Ministry of Education mandated its adoption across the Jewish elementary school system in Israel beginning in the 2017-18 school year. In 2017, The Abraham Initiatives monitored the early stages of this adoption and created an advisory committee in partnership with the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute aimed at expanding Arabic throughout the entire school system.
The Abraham Initiatives was granted special consultative status by the United Nations Economic and Social Council in 2007. Currently, its major program initiatives include the following:
- Education for a Shared Society comprises several programs to address the linguistic and cultural barriers caused by Israel's institutionalized segregation of Jewish and Arab students:
- Ya Salam - Spoken Arabic brings Arab teachers into Jewish schools; the Ministry of Education adopted its model in Jewish elementary schools across Israel in 2017.
- Ivrit B'Salam - Spoken Hebrew places Jewish, native Hebrew-speaking teachers in Arab schools in order to improve students' proficiency in Hebrew, thereby easing their integration into Israeli society.
- Shared Learning is based on a model developed in Northern Ireland and brings pairs of Arab and Jewish classrooms from neighboring communities together to study a mutual core curriculum subject.
- Jewish-Arab School Encounters provides the opportunity for 5th and 6th grade Jewish and Arab children from nearby schools to interact in a variety of activities aimed at finding common ground and building positive relationships.
- Pre-Army Leadership Academies teaches Jewish high school graduates about Arab culture and Arab-Jewish relations in Israel prior to their military service.
- Living in One Land organizes courses on Arab society for Jewish high school students in order to promote their awareness of diversity and inclusion in Israel.
- Academia as a Shared Space offers cultural competency training for university staff and hosts Arab cultural events on campuses across the country.
- Safe Communities works to improve relations between the Israeli police and Arab communities by enhancing the scope and quality of services provided to Israel's Arab citizens, and by equipping the police with the multicultural skills and awareness required to serve a diverse society.
- Media as a Shared Space strives to create a welcoming and accurate environment for reporting stories from Arab society in Israel's mainstream media. The program provides Arabic language and culture classes, in addition to tours of Arab towns within Israel, for Jewish, Hebrew-speaking journalists.
- Leadership runs seminars and training programs for Arab women and youth in order to build their confidence and leadership skills, and ultimately boost their participation in Israel's public and political arena.
- Advocacy aims to deepen policymakers’ familiarity with Arab society and raise awareness that Jewish-Arab equality and social inclusion are critical to Israel’s future. The Abraham Initiatives works with opinion leaders within government, the media and the private sector to advocate for a shared society of equal opportunity and access for all Israelis.
The Abraham Initiatives has implemented a number of stand-alone campaigns aimed at fostering greater tolerance in Israeli society between the Arab and Jewish populations and responding to key issues as they arise. Examples of these include:
- Violence Free Elections Campaign
In 2018, The Abraham Initiatives launched a campaign to address increased violence in Arab society during municipal elections in Israel. The campaign included a Facebook page to raise awareness around this issue and a declaration signed by dozens of Arab officials, such as MK Haneen Zoabi (Joint List), MK Dov Khenin (Joint List), Mayor Adel Badir (Kafr Qassem), Amir Badran (Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality Council) and MK Muhammad Barake, (Chairperson of the High Follow-up Committee for Arab Citizens), calling for non-violent elections. It also organized a press conference in cooperation with the Arab Local Authorities committee to stress the gravity of this phenomenon. The videos produced as part of the campaign were viewed on Facebook hundreds of thousands of times and were widely shared among social media users, leading candidates and media organizations in Arab society, and local art initiatives in some communities, such as Umm el Fahm.
- Yom Kippur-Eid al-Adha Tolerance Campaign
In 2014 and 2015 the major Jewish and Islamic Holy Days of Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha coincided. This concurrence happens rarely, approximately every 33 years, and in Israel has the potential to spark unrest as a result of the very different traditions associated with these religious days. Yom Kippur is a somber day of fasting and introspection and Eid al-Adha is a joyous celebration. Furthermore, in Israel, even though the Jewish population is aware of the timing and basic customs of Ramadan, it is generally unaware of Eid el-Adha and could misinterpret the celebrations as provocations. The Abraham Initiatives worked to raise awareness to this concurrence and foster a sense of tolerance and positivity around the shared day. This was done through various actions: 2014 - a large conference which hosted both Chief Rabbis of Israel and major Muslim leaders  and a series of newspaper adverts in the Hebrew and Arabic media. 2015 - Joining forces with the Israeli collage artist Hanoch Piven, The Abraham Initiatives created a short animated clip which was screened on Israeli TV channels and reached virality on social media. The animation was narrated in both Arabic and Hebrew by well-known Israeli celebrities Mira Awad (who also sits on the Board of Directors of The Abraham Initiatives) and Alon Neuman.
Budget and key funders
The Abraham Initiatives has an annual budget of just over $3 million. Its primary funders include the Alan B. Slifka Foundation, Fohs Foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Klarman Family Foundation, Rothschild Caesarea Foundation, Pears Foundation, and Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot. The Abraham Initiatives has also received grants from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), and the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR).
The Abraham Initiatives is a member of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATask Force), the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP), and the Anna Lindh Foundation.
- "Alan Slifka, philanthropist, coexistence advocate, dies". BrandeisNOW. Retrieved 10 February 2011.