Lords debates position of Arab citizens in Israel

13 December 2012

Members of the Lords debated the issues of equality and discrimination affecting Israel’s Arab citizens yesterday (Thursday 12 December).

The Lord Bishop of Exeter (Non-affiliated) requested the debate. He began by outlining his own personal experience of the region, gathered over 35 years as a patron of several Israeli and Palestinian human rights organisations and through diocesan links.

On the issue of increased inequality and discrimination faced by Israel’s Arab citizens, he said: ‘A wish to highlight both the problem and the work of those seeking to address it are among the reasons I sought this debate, but there are further reasons for having it now.’ He went on to outline the debate’s significance ‘within the context of a mood of democratic awakening across the Middle East’.

Baroness Hussein-Ece (Liberal Democrat) identified inequalities faced by Israeli Arabs in education: ‘Underinvestment in Arab schools in Israel sustains these gaps between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority and, as Arab children account for 25% of all children in Israel, the unequal investment in their education and development further contributes to the inequality. According to official state data, the state provides three times as much funding to Jewish students as it does to Arab pupils.’

Lord Bew (Crossbench) declared an interest as chairman of the Anglo-Israel Association. He cited the figure for medical students in university in Israel as significant: ‘This tells us a lot about the educational opportunities of relative communities and a lot about the possible future life chances of the brighter children in these communities. It is a good simple way of looking at the problem.  In the case of Israeli Arabs, they are 20% of the population of Israel and 19% of the students in Israeli medical schools. This seems a very significant fact to me.’

Lord Janner of Braunstone (Labour) drew attention to efforts in Britain to raise awareness of the issues relating to Israeli Arabs. He spoke of the work of United Kingdom Task Force, declaring an interest as one of its endorsers, and specifically of a mixed-community kindergarten in the north of Israel funded by the group.

He said: ‘For us to overcome discrimination against minorities, we must emphasise the importance of co-existence. Every citizen has rights. This kindergarten in Ma'alot Tarshiha, demonstrates that dialogue and understanding should always start when people are young. These children can clap, sing, dance, play together and become friends while they are young rather than waiting until they become old or Members of the House of Lords.’

Foreign Office Minister Baroness Warsi (Conservative) responded on behalf of the government. She confirmed that the FCO remained committed to funding efforts to improve socio-economic integration within Israel: ‘We allocated £250,000 in 2011-12 to the Arab community to support various projects that aim to redress some of the marginalisation.’

She concluded: ‘In line with the government's firm commitment to human rights, we will continue to support efforts, including by the Israeli government and civil society, to address the problems of Israel's Arab population and to build relations between the two communities.’

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