The author recently spent six weeks in Israel interviewing some of the leaders of ground roots movements whose objective is to reconcile Israelis and Palestinians. Below is the third in a short series of articles.
Michal Steinman’s credentials are impeccable, her achievements, impressive. Michal Steinman is the CEO of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli-Arab Issues (IATFIAI).
Michal Steinman’s first degree, in law, was awarded by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Subsequently, she worked on drafting legislation for the Knesset and clerked at Israel’s Supreme Court where she conducted research into constitutional cases. However, her main interest lay in the conjunction of law, society and culture.
Following her stint at the Supreme Court, Michal took a master’s degree in public administration at the Kennedy School of Government, concentrating on minorities from a legal perspective. She then moved to the United Nations, focusing on gender and economic debt, and managed Israel’s participation in the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), a UN committee.
Back in Israel, Michal headed an initiative of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Israeli Farmers’ Association whose aim was to build a representative organization for Bedouin farmers in the south of Israel.
All this rich experience qualifies her admirably for her duties at the Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli-Arab Issues (IATFIAI). In fact, the latter is an American Jewish organization established ten years ago following the growing realization, in Israel and in the USA, that the status of Israel’s Arab citizens and of Jewish-Arab relations is crucial for Israel’s future. There was a huge lack of understanding on this question, and the IATFIAI’s mission was to educate the North American Jewish community through its diverse mainstream institutions that became members of the IATFIAI. The coalition consists of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (Malcolm Hoenlein), the Anti-Defamation League (Abe Foxman), the UJA Federation of New York, the New Israel Fund, the Joint Distribution Committee, and the Andrea & Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, among others. Rabbi Brian Lurie, the new head of the New Israel Fund and former head of the San Francisco Federation and the UJA, was the driving force assembling this variegated group of 100 member organizations including more than 20 Jewish federations, about 40 philanthropic foundations, major religious movements e.g. OU, URJ (reform) and many major advocacy groups, all of which pay membership dues.
The IATFIAI produces mapping papers for its members to educate their own constituencies on various topics such as Arab employment, access to higher education, shared life education in Israel, and current investments in the economic development of Arab society. These documents are used as a resource by grant-making organizations and by advocacy groups for their internal education.
Furthermore, while the IATFIAI does not fund conferences, it frames them, plans sessions and panels, and proposes speakers from government, civil and Arab society, activists and academia. It also helps member organizations integrate this issue into their Israel missions.
Finally, data show that Israel’s economy is not sustainable without Arab input since they account for 21% of the population. Indeed, 90% of Arab NGO leaders and activists appreciate the efforts of the task force to raise awareness of their communities. They want the socio-economic gap between Jews and Arabs to be closed and their story included in Israel’s narrative.