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United Jewish Communities Defends Aid to Non-Jewish Israelis in Face of Right-Wing Attack

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
November - December 2006

The head of the largest Jewish charitable federation in the U.S. is taking right-wing groups to task for arguing that philanthropic dollars raised for Israel during the recent war with Hezbollah should not have been used to aid non-Jewish citizens of Israel.  
The Forward (Oct. 20, 2006) reports: “Controversy surrounding the issue erupted in recent weeks when the hawkish group, Americans for a Safe Israel, claimed in a widely distributed press release that one third of emergency campaign funds collected by the federation system’s central charity, United Jewish Communities, were earmarked for Arabs. UJC, the national arm of the federations, has refuted the one-third figure, putting the percentage of relief funds allocated to non-Jews at a mere 3 percent. Irrespective of the exact numbers, the executive vice president and CEO of the UJC-Federation of New York, John Ruskay, penned a stinging rebuke to UJC’s critics, unapologetically stating that support for Israel cannot be limited to Jews.”  
“This democracy counts Arabs, Druze, and Christians among its citizens, some of whom serve in the Israeli Defense Forces and have even died to protect Israel,” Ruskay wrote. “Supporting Israel also means supporting a state that affords its minority populations the freedoms and opportunities that were for centuries denied us.”  
A number of groups, including the Zionist Organization of America, the Orthodox Union and the National Council of Young Israel all joined in objecting to the distribution of UJC emergency funds to Israeli Arabs,  
According to The Forward, “As war raged this summer in the north of Israel — where Arabs represent a large share of the population, including about half the residents of the Galilee — relief efforts organized by the Jewish Agency for Israel and heavily funded by an influx of cash from UJC, included the evacuation of local children to summer camps in the south. In the case of the camps, the Jewish Agency did not discriminate against non-Jewish children, and in many instances brought Muslim, Christian and Druze kids to safety along with their Jewish counterparts.”  
Ruskay cited the camps when he asked, “When the rockets started falling in Haifa, a city as renowned for its magnificent landscapes as for the harmony in which Arabs and Jews have lived side by side for generations, could we — as Jews — have evacuated the Jewish children to the safety of summer camps in the south and left the Arab children to cower in the night?”  
A spokesman for the Jewish Agency said it was the agency’s policy to care for all of Israel’s citizens, regardless of their ethnicity.  
Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, in an article entitled “Being Ourselves By Being For Others” (The Forward, Oct. 20, 2006), writes, “For Jews to behave with kindness and justice toward gentiles constitutes an act of what Jewish tradition labels kiddush hashem, the sanctification of the Divine name in the universe. Indeed, the Jerusalem Talmud, explicitly links acts of righteousness and kindness by Jews toward gentiles with the concept of kiddush hashem. God is made holy through the deeds of the people Israel as our community displays a concern for all those in need — gentiles and Jews. As the late chief Sephardic rabbi of Tel Aviv, Hayyim David Halevi, phrased it in his Jewish legal writings, ‘The Jewish people possesses an obligation to conduct itself towards those who are residents in its midst with integrity and fairness. In so doing, we will sanctify the Name of Heaven and the name of Israel in the world.’”  
Rabbi Ellenson concludes, “Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Ashkenazic chief rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine and one of the great spiritual mentors of our time, summed up this position well when he wrote, ‘The love for Israel entails a love for all humankind.’ In displaying concern for Jews and gentiles alike through its recent actions, UJC has conducted itself in accord with the highest elements of our tradition. This act of hesed deserves praise, not critique.”

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