Together – Vouch For Each Other is a special Israeli Arab organization that works to bridge gaps between Jews and Arabs and connect Israeli Arab society to Israeli society.
The NGO also works outside of Israel to combat anti-Semitism and the BDS movement, explains its founder and CEO Yoseph Haddad, speaking to Israel Nation News from the IAC National Summit in Florida.
Haddad, who was born in Haifa – the largest mixed city in Israel – and raised in Nazareth, which is the largest Arab city in Israel, volunteered for the IDF and served in the Golani Brigade as a commander, participating in the second Lebanon war. Four days before the ceasefire he was badly injured from a rocket that Hezbollah launched towards him.
Haddad explains that while he “could be one of a kind because I speak out loud, I’m very far from being the only one.”
“There are a lot of people in our society like me. The difference is that they're silent and there is a reason why. There's a lot of hatred from both sides, the extremist side. Keep in mind, they are minorities and not majorities, but they are very loud, and that's why a lot of the Israeli Arabs who feel the same way, want to be an integral part of Israeli society, yet they don't take action because of those extreme voices.”
He explains: “It's very simple. On the Arab side they would say because I’m speaking and I’m revealing that the absolute majority of the Jewish community are not racist, and in fact
they want the Israeli Arab society to be an important and integral part of the Israeli society, that's problematic for them. As for the Jewish side, the extreme side when I revealed that the majority of the Israeli Arabs want to be an integral part [of society] and they're not terrorists, for them every Arab is a terrorist, even me. I had a Jewish extremist come to me and say it doesn't matter that you served in the army. We don't care that you were wounded and you protected our country, you're still an Arab, for us you're still a terrorist. Keep in mind when I say that I still stand for the fact that they are minorities. The absolute majority on both sides are not like this and that's what strengthens us.”
How does Haddad feel about the representation of Israeli Arabs in the Knesset today with the Ra’am Party as part of the coalition?
“It's something that I welcome,” he says. “Finally, an Arab political party in the coalition saying enough speaking about Palestine, enough speaking about Gaza, about Ramallah, let's speak about Israel Arab society in Nazareth, Acre, Haifa. This is something very important. We need that.”
When asked whether he has any concerns that the government is relying on an Islamist Arab party that comes from the Muslim Brotherhood, he describes the governing coalition as a “very unique situation in terms of Israeli politics.”
Despite those concerns, he explains that “the Islamist political party was also voted for by Christians because they promised to work for the Israeli Arab society,” which he describes as “something that is huge in terms of politics.”
He said that besides representing the Israeli Arab sector in the government, there is a second step for the majority of Israeli Arabs.
“The second step in bridging gaps and in being actual partners for a complete and united Israeli society, knowing that we are proud Arabs, proud Israelis,” he says. “We need to say that. We need to not be ashamed of saying that we are proud of being Israeli. And this is what we demand.”
He also comments that the second step should include speaking out against Hamas and Hezbollah attacks.
“The second step should be condemning every time Hamas launches rockets toward Israel, condemning and making sure that Hezbollah doesn't even threaten Israel or think of opening a war against Israel because we've seen what happens when Hezbollah and Hamas attack us. They attack Israeli society and they kill Arabs and Jews. That's the next step. We need to be an integral part of Israeli society.”
He also notes that when people ask him about his answer to the question of whether he supports Israel as a Jewish State, he answers that Israel can be both a Jewish State and a democratic state.
“We we need to elevate the democratic part, which means Israel is a Jewish and democratic state,” he says. “We need to make sure Arab Israelis have equal rights. We need to focus on this in order for the Israeli Arab society to feel like they are part of the country. Yes, it's possible. I am living proof of the fact that Israel can exist as a Jewish and democratic state.”