Since the regulation of relations between the Protestant majority and the Catholic minority, Northern Ireland has become a source of inspiration and ideas in the pursuit to establish practices and procedures of equality and Jewish-Arab partnership. Last week, the Minerva Center for Human Rights of the Hebrew University held a conference to mark the half Jubilee of the Belfast Agreement (“Good Friday Agreement”) and I was invited to speak, which provided an opportunity to reflect on some of the concepts developed in Northern Ireland and introduced also in Israel, and to consider to what extent they were appropriate and successful.
These are some of the main ones:
Shared Learning: Like in Israel, education systems in Northern Ireland are separate, which constitutes an acute part of the problem (as in Israel). One response to this separation was creating class twinning from different but nearby schools, teaching everyone together one or two subjects on a weekly basis. It is good for changing positions and the academic achievements of the students improve, as discovered there. Based on this, over five years ago we began to teach English through a similar initiative, in partnership with the Ministry of Education – which, starting next year, will already be responsible for running (and hopefully expanding) this project in the high schools in mixed cities. At this stage, the foundation looks promising and now it is only left to us to ensure the transfer of the baton to the Ministry of Education (that is: the institutionalizing of the concept and its transformation into policy) and it is indeed carried out.
Police – community Partnerships: In Northern Ireland, like for Palestinian citizens of Israel, the police basically perceived the Catholic minority as an enemy and not as a legitimate part of society which deserves to be served and protected, to voice their opinion and to hold the police accountable. The Patten Commission Report, which was part of the agreement, drastically changed all that. The “Royal Ulster Constabulary” (the former name of the Police that was closely identified with the British government) was almost completely dismantled and reformed under an egalitarian name, the “Police Services of Northern Ireland.” This change was not just cosmetic: New policies and updated police practices were adopted, new appropriate equipment and weapons were adopted (until then the police was more of a military unit) and the most important – they adopted the “policing with the community” approach, and not against it. The commanders and police officers who did not agree with the reform, were given the option to retire under good terms and in their place an affirmative action recruitment policy was introduced in order to create fair representation within the police force. One of the mechanisms created in the reform was “police-community partnerships” which were essentially forums where community representatives (elected officials, welfare officials, education, civil society organizations, etc.) convened with station or district commanders, for moderated meetings, in a direct and honest manner. At these meetings, community members raised their issues and their expectations of the police, which were related to with the utmost seriousness. As an Israeli, witnessing such an event for the first time was like science fiction.
In the presence of the catastrophic situation of policing in Israel in general and in particular the handling of crime in Arab society – it seems completely disconnected to speak about positive changes that have taken place in policing practices toward Palestinian citizens of Israel. But during the decade between 2005-2015 (During Karadi and Danino’s tenures as Police Commissioners) in partnership with the Ministry of Public Security and the Police, the Abraham Initiatives has led several study missions to Northern Ireland composed of senior Israeli police officers. The purpose of those visits was to witness the reform in policing, including the “Community Police Station” model which was then implemented in Israel. This model has undergone changes overtime but its basic principal remains to this day: The Station and district commanders (as I understand) still consult with elected officials, municipal professionals and activists, listen to them and understand that their success depends on cooperation with the public and earning their trust.
“Power sharing in Government”: The idea that the minority must take part in managing state and city affairs (Power Sharing) is a basic principle of the Good Friday Agreement and it is implemented on all levels. The Prime Minister (“the First Minister”) always has a deputy from the party representing the majority of the other national group, and they serve in rotation. In other words, the minority is always represented. This is the case in each significant body and also in municipal management. In Israel, which is nowhere near being an “Consociational democracy” (guaranteeing minority representation in government or veto rights of minorities on government decisions) and there is no system of relations like Northern Ireland. The political partnership between Jews and Arabs typically depends on political conjugation (municipal or national) or recognition by politicians of the importance of minority representation (less common here). In any event, for us at the Abraham Initiatives, the partnership in political power is critical, at the national government level and the local government level within municipalities of mixed cities. This is why a significant part of our efforts are invested (mainly behind the scenes) in encouraging the creation of such partnerships or in maintaining them after they have been created. In relation to this, an interesting piece of information is that in the municipal elections that took place almost five years ago, in each of Israel’s seven mixed cities (Maalot-Tarshiha, Acre, Nof-HaGalil, Haifa, Ramle, Lod, and Tel Aviv-Jaffa) coalitions were established in partnership with the Arab and Jewish lists. In these cities (excluding Ramle and Tel Aviv-Jaffa), the Jewish Mayor appointed an Arab Deputy Mayor. Again: since with us the partnership is not derived from a defined and rigid governmental structure, there were several nuances with the “partnership in the management of the city”: There were cities where the Arab Deputy Mayor was appointed in a salaried position (Maalot Tarshiha and Acre) which allowed the Deputy to work full time on city issues; there were municipalities where the Deputy was appointed on a non-salaried position (Nof haGalil and Haifa); in Lod an Arab Council Member was appointed as the “Deputy to the Mayor” (it is unclear what this means). The bottom line is, here in Israel in every place where decisions are made, there is a need for Arab-Jewish partnership, from the government to mixed local authorities; From the Bar Association to the Committee for the Appointment of Judges, etc.
Shared Society department in Local Government: For anyone who works with public policy, one of the most impressive things in the public sector of Northern Ireland today is the fact that not only does the government have an office (usually the office of the Deputy Prime Minister) whose role it is to outline a policy for living together in equality, but also that each local authority operates a unit or such a department. It is legal statute not dependent on anyone’s good will. These are units with resources and power and varied professional staff. No one questions the importance of these Units, whose status within the local authorities is on level with the finance department, welfare, planning & development, etc. We have no doubt that such Units need to be established in Israel in the Central Government (preferably with a Ministry for this issue) and also on the local level, especially in mixed cities and regions. In our humble efforts to prove the importance of such units, we initiated the establishment of such department in the ‘Galilee and Valleys municipal cluster composed of 19 Arab, Jewish and mixed local authorities (some of them regional councils). A professional Staff Person from the Abraham Initiatives was “lent” to manage the Unit, with the goal to measure the effectiveness of the new Unit to the extent it proves its effectiveness, this will convince the Ministry of Interior to establish a standard for Units in all mixed regions in Israel.
Equality Commission: In Northern Ireland a government body was established with significant staff and resources with the purpose of developing policies for employment and the provision of equitable services in the country, to supervise all bodies and employers and, when necessary, to take sanctions against them. This strong, independent body with real power fights against injustice based on age, disability, race, religion and political opinion, gender and sexual orientation. In Israel, at the encouragement of the EU which included counseling from the Equality Commissioner of Northern Ireland, Dr. Evelyn Collins, The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission was established, but as a unit in the Ministry of Economy. The lack of independence of the Unit under the Minister and the ministry’s Director General, the scarcity of resources allocated to it, the limited mandate and above all the fact that promoting equality is not really a goal of the State of Israel, led to the fact that the commission – painfully – has not yet become a significant body.
The five concepts I described, are only a few of the findings and mechanisms of shared society in Northern Ireland, that we studied and we continue to study. In general, it’s possible to say that each of the concepts that were brought from Northern Ireland and were implemented here were not implemented as well or as effectively as in Northern Ireland. It is not because in Northern Ireland everyone agrees with each other on everything. Definitely not: There still exists a lack of consensus among quite a few people regarding the future – the Catholics aspire to unite with the Republic of Ireland. The Protestants strive to continue under the British umbrella.
The reason for the disparity in the ability to manage life together lies in the fact that in Northern Ireland there is a detailed political agreement that regulates life together in every area, and the leadership of both communities is committed to its implementation. In Israel this is not the case as of yet.
However, we at the Abraham Initiatives are committed to continue scouting, learning and ‘importing’ ideas and models that can be applied (with adjustments to our reality) in Israel, with the ultimate goal, that is always in front of us, being the regulation of relations between the Jewish majority and the Palestinian minority, the two national groups that make up Israeli society.