The courage to change the paradigm

From the Ha’aretz Oct 2016 supplement “Israel at the Cutting Edge”

Leaders//Innovation Talk

SOCIAL ACTION / Yaniv Sagee

Innovation can mean – and must mean – casting aside paradigms that are no longer relevant. For us, at Givat Haviva, it has meant changing the way we view shared life between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

Founded in 1949 by the kibbutz federation, Givat Haviva was and remains the pioneering organization tasked with promoting what we used to call “coexistence” in Israel. If coexistence was the goal, dialogue was the means of bringing about change.

The theory was simple: In a state in which Jews and Arabs live in separate communities and attend separate schools, we must bring them together for joint encounters in which they can get to know one another and develop a basis for good relations.

In October 2000, with the outbreak of the second intifada, that premise of coexistence crumbled – as Israeli Arabs identified with their people, the Palestinians. Arab citizens of Israel adopted a national identity as Palestinians and a civic identity as Israelis.

As an organization premised on dialogue for the benefit of coexistence, it took us a decade to understand that our paradigm was preventing us from being relevant in a changing reality.

First we had to admit this to ourselves, then we had to dare to change ourselves. To create ourselves anew. Our objective has not changed: Our goal is to build the basis for shared life between Jews and Arabs in Israel. What has changed is the definition of a different goal and the need to develop innovative programs that will shape that reality in a changing milieu.

First, we changed the definition of our goal from coexistence to shared society.  The coexistence concept assumed that it is possible to build good relations between Arab citizens of Israel and Jewish ones without relating to the inherent gaps and the lack of equality in these relations in Israel.  This concept was rejected by the Arabs of Israel who are not interested in being a partner in coexistence without a basic change in their status as individual Arab citizens of Israel and as a national group which enjoys full equality in the state.

In contrast to coexistence, a shared society assumes the principle of equality as the basis for partnership. In a shared society all citizens of the state regard Israel as their home and see in the partnership between Jews and Arabs the best way to feel wanted in a state that addresses their needs and respects the differences between the different groups within the country. Our new programs reflect that change in concept.

Alongside a national identity, we decided to create a new, shared identity – a regional one. It is based on the emotional connection and common interests diverse citizens have toward the geographical area in which they reside.

Toward that end, we launched a program in which neighboring Jewish and Arab municipalities create ties and initiate joint projects in education, culture, and the economy, to the benefit of all the region’s residents.  This year that program won an intercultural achievement award in the category of innovation, awarded by the Austrian government.

We embraced innovation to renew ourselves and become relevant once again. Today we have 50,000 people a year participating in our programs.  Every day we prove that there is a future for a shared and equal society in Israel. In fact, in our eyes this is the only possible future for our country. Yaniv Sagee is the executive director of Givat Haviva.


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