Noam Shuster-Ellaisi is Challenging Traditional Peace Camp Assumptions and Methods [ssba]

Noam Shuster-Ellaisi is Challenging Traditional Peace Camp Assumptions and Methods

During the summer 2014 Gaza war, Noam Shuster-Ellaisi went to a peace rally in Tel Aviv. “Maybe I looked too Mizrahi, maybe I looked like an outsider. I don’t know. But I was forbidden from joining the demonstration.” Across the street, Noam’s family member, the fascist rapper known as the Shadow, held a counter rally for his supporters. They held “disgusting signs,” she said, and sought to beat up leftists and Arabs. Noam, who was raised in Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam (Oasis of Peace), the only community in Israel where Jews and Palestinians choose to live together, wanted to be with people who shared her desire “to end the madness of that summer.” But the self-appointed guardians of the antiwar rally did not recognize her as one of them. This story in a nutshell, she says, demonstrates the problem of the Israeli peace camp. “Who is allowed in this camp that talks about peace? Who is allowed to hold the word “peace” and say what it means? We have to do serious soul searching and ask how exclusive our camp has been.”

Speaking with Partners for Progressive Israel, Noam argued that pro-peace activists in Israel and the US have been so focused on solutions that they’ve left the Israeli public behind. They’ve been blind to the fact they were mostly engaging Ashkenazi-secular-liberals living in the privileged center. They haven’t reached beyond those lines. As a result, the peace camp became an cliquish club of the educated Ashkenazi middle class. So exclusionary that its self-appointed guardians instinctively identify a young brown woman as the “other” and assume she came to cause trouble.

The failure to engage diverse communities has undermined the peace process and brought its demise. For example, Noam says, the peace camp failed to engage religious leaders even though, “a political process in Israel cannot be successful without serious spiritual backing. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, in 1979, when he was Israel’s chief Rabbi, gave a religious ruling saying that the value of life is higher than the value of land. This gave a spiritual backing to the peace agreement with Egypt. It allowed settlers to evacuate the Sinai.” “Who are the spiritual leaders who could potentially support a future peaceful solution?”

Noam is the program coordinator of Interpeace Israel. It’s her job to work with strategic populations in the Israeli society who were previously excluded from the peace process. She engages former soviet Jews, Palestinians, ultra-orthodox women and Likud center officials among others. “It’s very difficult. It takes time and a lot of compromise,” she said. But “how do we know that there aren’t people out there who are our partners? Have we tried? Did anyone ensure that the resources given to the peace camp would be allocated to target diverse populations?”

Noam argues that in our obsession with the solution, we’ve failed to see that the battle lines have shifted dramatically since the 1990s. Israel is experiencing a collapse of the Left/Right paradigm. “Ironically,” she told us, “a funny thing happens” when Israelis watch a debate on television about a resolution to the conflict. On the one hand, there would be “a very traditional centrist-left, maybe a Labor [Party member], Tel Aviv, secular politician, who talks about the importance of separating from the Palestinians to maintain the Jewish and democratic character of Israel. And next to him, there is a member of the current coalition, a rightwing religious Zionist MK, Yehuda Glick, saying, ‘but we want equality. We can continue having a Jewish-democratic and give the Palestinian equality.” Noam says that the camp that perceives itself as the left-center secular Zionist is proposing a resolution that “might be more militaristic, more militant, or at least look like a more rightwing agenda than what the right wing is proposing.”

“Who are we kidding?” she asked. “How can we make twenty-two percent of Israeli citizens divorce their cousins behind the wall?” On the other hand, she says, she cannot empower “an ultra-national-religious activist who aspires to a state of Jewish superiority.” “Where am I between these two failing agendas? There is a dangerous vacuum in the middle.”

Noam is not arguing that the two-state solution is dead. Rather, she challenges traditional peace camp preconceived assumptions of who are “the good guys” and who are “the bad guys.” She demands that they stop seeing every settler, every religious person, and every Russian immigrant as the enemy. She asks that peace activists engage others in their community, judge less, and ask more questions. And she asks that we do the same in our Jewish communities.

This is a fascinating conversation and one you will not regret listening to. If you find it interesting, consider joining our Israel-Study tour in January which will focus on the cultural, economic and social forces promoting and hindering a peaceful resolution to the conflict. You’ll have a chance to meet Noam and others who fight for peace often against conventional wisdon The trip’s goal is to enhance participants’ advocacy tools and discuss how we, Americans, can help steer Israelis and Palestinians toward peace. Underlying the tour is the question why Israelis and Palestinians don’t choose peace and what forces on the ground that can help change this.

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Avi Buskila, Peace Now’s new director is a different kind of leftist [ssba]

Avi Buskila, Peace Now’s new director is a different kind of leftist

Avi Buskila, the new director of Peace Now, is the opposite of a stereotypical leftist leader: his parents emigrated from Morocco, he grew up in the periphery, and he served as a combat soldier in the IDF.

“The left has a hard time understanding me,” Buskila tells Yedioth Ahronoth’s weekend magazine Hamusaf Leshabat. “They want to continue doing the same things that brought nothing but failures.”

Buskila talks about the kind of posts he encounters in left-wing groups on social media. For example one person wrote: “We’ve gathered the savages and brought them to Israel, and now they are destroying us,” meaning Jews of Mizrahi descent. “After all, right-wingers equal Mizrahim, equal religious,” he says.

But Buskila says has no intention of being the “left’s pet Mizrahi.”

“I won’t apologize for serving in the IDF longer than Naftali Bennett or for living in the periphery longer than Miri Regev,” he says defiantly.

“The portrayal of the left as old and Ashkenazi is accurate. There are a lot of people in the (peace) camp who would rather see us fail than give up their control. They refuse to recognize that it’s time they retire and leave. But I have news for them—they are going to lose control and if they don’t, we’ll take it from them, both in the political parties and in organizations. The left, in many ways, failed to speak to the people. For years, it just told everyone why they are wrong.

“The left doesn’t respect the painful narrative of fear. I don’t doubt my mother’s fears. She spent most of her life in shelters under the threat of rocket fire. Speaking their language means I’m not preaching, and I’m not constantly explaining to someone why he’s wrong. It’s not about coming from Tel Aviv to tell a Netivot resident that his fears and the discrimination he feels are nonexistent bullshit. I accept what they’re telling me.”

Maya Haber’s translation of the article was published in Ynet. Continue reading.

Our Misconceptions of Israel Undermine our Ability to Advocate for Peace [ssba]

Our Misconceptions of Israel Undermine our Ability to Advocate for Peace

This blog post was published originally in the Huffington Post.

A participant in a recent progressive discussion on Israel voiced an emphatic frustration: “My Israeli family doesn’t care about the occupation. All they want to talk about is the price of milk!” In private conversations, many of my American friends say they find it difficult to speak to their Israeli families and friends. They want to discuss the occupation and a two-state solution, but these topics halt in a dead end. Most Israelis relate to the two-state solution much like they relate to the Messiah. Yes, they want it to come. But they don’t necessarily believe it will, at least not in their lifetime. Nor do they know how to bring it.

The feeling of strained communication is mutual. Daily worries consume Israelis: the price of milk, the number of children in their kids’ daycare, and how to pay next month’s rent. They perceive Israel as a divided society and understand voting through an ethnic, local and religious lenses. So when their American families and friends relate to Israel as a “Start Up nation” populated by a homogeneous Jewish community divided only by its position vis-à-vis the occupation, they naturally feel frustrated. They often utter in response a version of “you don’t know what it’s like to live here.” Israelis sense that their American friends sit on the moral high ground, speak of the evils of the occupation and Jewish values, but are tone deaf to the economic difficulties facing them.

A recent Pew survey shows this gap in hard numbers. While four-in-ten Israeli Jews cite economic issues (inequality, rising housing costs, etc.) as the single biggest long-term problem facing Israel (this number is higher among Arabs), when U.S. Jews were asked the same question, almost none (1%) mentioned economic problems, and two-thirds cited various security issues as the biggest long-term problem facing Israel.

This gap has revealed itself as an obstacle to peace. Though J Street has grown large, strong and effective, and even accomplished ‘the impossible’ – helping pass President Obama’s Iran deal despite of Netanyahu’s objections —- as long as Israelis vote against a two-state solution, J Street’s increased influence inside the United States falls flat when trying to convince the average Israeli to choose peace.

If we want to steer Israelis’ vote toward peace and to an end the occupation, we must abandon the language of universal morals and develop sympathy for their daily reality. We have to understand that the majority of Israelis live substantially different lives than the average American Jew.

The cost of living in Israel has substantially risen in the last decade. Salaries, however, have remained stagnant. The median income in Israel is $21,000 a year. The cost of a standard home comes to more than 12 years of average pay. That’s twelve years without eating, raising kids or paying utility bills. Worse yet, this is an average for Israel as a whole despite significantly cheaper cities in the periphery. In Jerusalem, a person earning an average wage (roughly $22,000 a year) would have to work for twenty-one and a half years in order to afford an apartment. Compare these figures to Manhattan, where the median apartment price is indeed high, around $916,000. But Manhattan’s median income is three times higher than in Jerusalem. A median apartment in Manhattan costs a little less than fourteen years of labor.

For many Israelis daily economic life is precarious. A couple of years ago a survey asked Israelis “If you encounter an unexpected expenditure of 8,000 shekels [roughly $2000] would you be able to cover it either from your own savings or borrowing from family and friends or a credit card loan?” Seventy percent of Israelis said that they would not be able or would have significant difficulties finding the money. This percentage has been growing gradually every year. This means that at least 70 percent of Israelis are experiencing economic insecurity – if they needed a root canal, or their refrigerator or the car breaks, they would be lost. Over the last decade more and more middle class educated Israelis and families with two breadwinners gradually fell under the poverty line. Today one in three children in Israel is poor. A third of the workforce earns minimum wage.

As long as the pro-peace community chooses a language of universal human rights, the Israeli media can continue portraying us in pro-Palestinian colors. Only developing an understanding to Israelis’ daily lives will allow us to puncture their shield of suspicion and help steer them toward peace and to an end the occupation.

Why is public transportation a question in Israel? And how are cooperatives an answer? [ssba]

Why is public transportation a question in Israel? And how are cooperatives an answer?

In most countries, public transportation is taken for granted. In Japan commuter trains are known to be crowded, in Brazil buses can be dangerous, but no one questions whether they should run. In Israel, a country whose founding fathers sought normalcy, transportation is indicative of anything but that.

Public transportation in Israel is limited by religious dictation. Although polls show that more than 70% of the public supports transportation 24/7, Israel politicians, cowering at the religious and mostly ultra-religious demands, restrict public transportation according to the hours of the Sabbath. Public transportation in Israel shuts down well before the Sabbath begins and resumes only well after it has left. The result is that people cannot visit friends and family and can’t reach centers where activity is permitted (movie theaters, for example, and other forms of entertainment are open and running on weekends). These restrictions are a huge source of resentment and anger both at the religious establishment that demand the enforcement of prohibitions and at the politicians who submit to them.

Recently, a number of grassroots initiatives have challenged this situation. Rather than merely venting frustrations, activists in several cities, first in Jerusalem, have begun offering alternatives. “Shabus” is a cooperative, the creation of a group of social activists who were determined to establish a practical, accessible and fully legal mode of transportation in Jerusalem on weekends. Since it is private, the Ministry of Transportation hasn’t raised objections to it. Since it is a non-profit, it is made easy for anyone to join.

The creators of Shabus sought a way to help the many people of all ages – particularly the young and elderly — without cars or licenses who feel trapped on weekends. |For apart from the religious confrontation, the prohibition on public transportation creates a great social gap: although the slightly older and more financially secure population is able to enjoy the burgeoning urban life, tens of thousands of Jerusalemites, including the forty thousand students in the city, thousands of soldiers, the elderly, as well as young people (most of whom do not own cars) are denied the opportunity to enjoy their leisure time as they please. Shabus is particularly important to people who live in the periphery of Jerusalem for whom the only alternative is taxis, which are prohibitively expensive, and to people with disabilities for whom a long walk or a bicycle ride is not a feasible option.

Video Caption: “I want to visit my grandmother on the other side of town on Saturday,” “I want to take my daughter to the Biblical zoo but I don’t have a car…” Shabus! Have you had enough? We too, so a few of us met and created Shabus, a weekend transportation service. 

Furthermore, the founders of Shabus sought to promote public transportation all week long. Many people would happily forgo their cars, thereby minimizing the congestion and improving the air in the city, were public transportation available on weekends. Especially since the advent of the light rail, an increasing number of Jerusalemites express willingness to make use of greener ways of getting around town, but knowing they’ll be stranded on weekends discourages them.

Finally, Shabus is a great answer to the growing problem of drinking under the influence of alcohol. Most riders of Shabus are under the age of 25, with a majority being soldiers home for the weekend. Soldiers commonly drink on their evenings home and are usually overtired. Shabus has become a popular means of insuring their safety. On Shabus, soldiers on leave can meet, socialize, drink, and be brought home safely — without endangering themselves or others by driving without necessary caution.

Shabus and its sister cooperatives need to continue to grow to reach the volume which will enable them to be financially self-sustaining. In the meantime, they rely on donations and ideological supporters to help them cultivate a wide enough base to bring about the change they seek: making themselves obsolete by finally prompting politicians to do what the public expects of them by allowing public transportation on weekends. When they do so, these cooperatives will not only be making mobility a possibility for all but will be helping break the extremist monopoly and taking one step further in allowing Israel to become the pluralist and just society that most Israelis and Jews hope it will be.

Shalom Boguslavsky, Rewriting Life Before Oslo [ssba]

Shalom Boguslavsky, Rewriting Life Before Oslo

Image: Hagiler 66 years in 60 seconds

The Israeli Right has taken on the re-writing history. And they are successful. In November 2015, I published a post about my personal impressions of the twentieth anniversary of Rabin’s murder entitled Forgetting and Forgiving Rabin’s Murder, capturing my surprise when I encountered last year’s non-political-nonpartisan Rabin commemoration. How Rabin the peacemaker turned into Rabin the IDF chief of staff and “Leftists like former President Peres, who attended the rally, were not allowed to speak, but representatives of religious Zionism – were.” 

Last week, when former President Shimon Peres collapsed on the twenty-third anniversary of the Oslo accord, I was surprised to see the myth-making around the Oslo Accord. These are stories of the good-old-days before radical anti-Zionist leftists (i.e. Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin) inspired by Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History decided to destroy it all and pursue a fantastic vision of a new Middle East.

Shalom Boguslavsky’s text translated by Ayala Emmett confronts this newly written history of the pre-Oslo times. Between the lines you can learn about the strange beliefs Boguslavsky is fighting. We need to know this if we are to help Israelis fight it. 

Maya Haber


 

Shalom Boguslavsky, Rewriting Life Before Oslo

From my perspective the Oslo Accord was an enormous leap, which from the outset, in retrospect and for various reasons rather than land successfully on the other side –fell flat on its face.

I want, however, to talk about the pre-Oslo phase, because twenty years after there are people reconstructing the history of that time as an imagined utopia – no borders, Arabs working for Jewish employers and the rare terrorist attacks.  Occasionally the first Intifada sneaks into this idyllic story.  But when it does it is accompanied by a newly invented interpretation: it was not Palestinians in the Territories who rebelled demanding independence after 20 years of military occupation. It was the fault of “The Leftists who had released thousands of terrorist prisoners” in the Jibril Accord.  Where have all the thousands of terrorists come from in that utopian period that ended when Oslo destroyed it? Nu, do we really have to explain how an Arab become a Terrorist? It’s the force of nature.

Or is it perhaps because in the good old days, Palestinians were imprisoned en masse not only for “terrorism,” which indeed existed, but for things like owning “banned books,” at home. On Palestinian history, for example.

It was a time when soldiers were instructed to order people on the street to climb electric poles to remove “PLO flags.” On one such occasion a man lost both his hands and the State Attorney, the settlements’ hero, Plea Albeck argued that the man should not be compensated because there was no harm done. He could still make Falafel with prosthetic hands.

At that time Israeli soldiers were stationed at every street corner in the centers of Palestinian cities.  During my army service I sat for coffee with some older reserve soldiers who shared nostalgic memories about “the good old days.”

One of them recounted how he and a friend were bored one day and decided to stand in the middle of market place and whenever a Palestinian with a wristwatch walked by one of them would hold the Palestinian’s hand and the other would smash the watch with a club.

Another told how he caught children who threw stones and brought them to his unit. The other soldiers “of course started beating them.” He went to fill out forms and when he came back he found two dead bodies.

These were not testimonials of Breaking the Silences. The soldiers were not beating for the Sin committed. They just offered entertaining anecdotes sipping coffee.

According to the newly constructed history, however, pre-Oslo time was great. The Arabs started the Intifada not because we had been in a violent conflict for decades. Neither because in the conflict’s latest phase they suffered a restrictive military rule in which a Palestinian could not operate a Shawarma kiosk without the permission of a Jewish officer.  No, the problem was Leftists who woke up with peace fantasies.

What else is new. You would have heard similar stories from slave owners in the US South, French landowners in Vietnam and British Gentlemen in India.

My personal views of the Oslo Accord, its promoters and fundamentals are mostly negative. Maybe I’ll write about it in the future. But let’s not get confused here. Oslo did not damage an acceptable situation. It was an attempt to fix a terribly broken condition.

When you encounter those who repaint a not-so-far history in nostalgic, warm and soft filters with flashes of Instagram—ask them to restore it. Let’s see what they’ll say then.

I can promise that it’s not going to happen. They will tell you how they are dying to restore it; but the Leftist and the High Court of Justice, the European Union and all the oldies-do-good just won’t let them.

The truth is that those rewriters of pre-Oslo life don’t really want to change things. Oslo never brought much but a few Palestinian enclaves surrounded by walls and check points, and public distrust that the conflict would ever be resolved.  And those who re-write history just love life post Oslo.

Original text: Shalom Boguslavsky in Drop the Scissors and Let’s talk about it (Taniakh Et haMisparaim v’bo Nedaber Al Ze), September 14, 2016

Translation: Ayala Emmett

Introduction: Maya Haber

Shlomo Swirski, Israel is Paying Heavily for the Occupation [ssba]

Shlomo Swirski, Israel is Paying Heavily for the Occupation

BDS advocates often argue that Israel has an economic interest in maintaining the occupation: its military tests weapons on Palestinians and markets them as ‘battle proven'; its security companies export knowledge to foreign police and military forces; and its workforce is highly invested in building and protecting the settlements. Therefore, they argue, the only way to force it to leave the West Bank is a boycott. Only when Israelis feel the consequences of the occupation will they choose to end it.

Dr. Shlomo Swirski, the academic director of the Adva Center and one of the most prominent Israeli sociologists, argue that the BDS advocates are wrong. Indeed, some in Israel profit, but such profits are dwarfed by the damage wrought to the Israeli economy as a whole due to the contraction of economic activity. Moreover, the money diverted to settlements is taken out of the budgets of development towns, the education and health systems. Israelis are suffering everyday the cost of the occupation.

So what is the cost of the occupation to Israel’s economy? And if it’s so heavy, why do Israelis continue voting for the Right?

Listen to our conversation with Dr. Shlomo Swirski

Yossi Dahan, Dimona Twist: The Feminist Pillar of Fire [ssba]

Yossi Dahan, Dimona Twist: The Feminist Pillar of Fire

Let’s begin at the end—Go see Michal Aviad’s new film Dimona Twist. This marvelous movie is also about my mother, about women who lived in Casablanca and other modern French colonial cities that resembled Paris far more than Dimona.

Women who migrated with their families and dreamt of a Jewish harmonious Garden of Eden. They found themselves deceitfully and deliberately pushed off trucks in God forsaken far away places like Dimona, Beit Shemesh and Bat Yam, to fulfill a national dream of conquering the desert and settling the land; an aspiration that others dreamt up for them. The Women could not comprehend the display of superiority by the locals and were furious at the arrogance of “the first Israel toward the second Israel,” which was, as one of the women says, unjustified.

A woman who sat next to me at the screening of the film, said to her friend, “Such amazing women, and what a negative image we have had here.”

There are, and we can recount many and varied stories about the immigration of Mizrahim and about development town and about Dimona. Michal Aviad film highlights a voice, their voice without the intrusion of the male voice; seven women, six Mizrahi and one Ashkenazi recount their early lives in their childhood countries, their migration, their youth and their life now.

The lives and thoughts of strong, wise and funny women, who have struggled against sheer state negligence, like that of a six months old baby brother of one of the women, who died of dehydration travelling from Haifa to Dimona. The women have faced ethnic discrimination from the Ashkenazi Absorption institutions placing of Mizrahi children in trade schools while Ashkenazi children were placed in schools geared to higher education. They faced job discrimination and children sent routinely and alone to radiation centers on the suspicion of ringworm of the scalp. Yet a number of the women have also suffered and fought violent of fathers and husbands who smothered their lives.

ãéîåðä èååéñèThe word feminism does not appear in the film; yet it exposes the reality of Mizrahi feminists in Israel long before the term came into use. Independent women who free themselves from a social, familial and marital confinement; women who as factory workers fought courageously and successfully during the day against the owners “Kitan Dimona,” and at night danced the twist.

The women’s voices are heard against a rich and rare collection of old pictures and archival films that took years to assemble. Blending archival material and women’s voices speaking directly to the camera creates a compelling world of minimalism and restrain that refuses the trap of clichés; it avoids the usual ethnic talk and the emotional manipulation of the women’s painful experiences. One could not have made a more empathetic film.

The film succeeds in the difficult task of avoiding boredom, a rare experience for anyone who has watched yellowing photos and archival films. Dimona Twist is truly a unique esthetic experience. An alternative feminist pillar of fire.

Prof. Yossi Dahan is an associate professor of law at the Academic Center of Law and Business in Ramat Gan, Israel, where he is also the director of the human rights program. Dahan has published three books: The Discourse and Practice of Social Justice in Israel (Jerusalem: The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, 2012), Theories of Social Justice (Hotsaa Laor, 2007), and The Invention of Nationalism, co-edited with H. Wasserman (Tel Aviv, Open University Press: 2006) (all in Hebrew), and over thirty articles on political philosophy, distributive justice, human rights, welfare and education policy, labor law and democracy. Dahan is the founding chairman of Adva Center, a center of policy analysis and advocacy from a social equity perspective, and is the founding editor (together with Itzak Saporta) of Haoketz, a critical social, political and cultural blog, where he has written more than 600 posts.​

Translation: Ayala Emmett

You can find the original blogpost in HaOketz

More on the film.

Benjamin Netanyahu vs. Vicki Knafo and the Israeli poor [ssba]

Benjamin Netanyahu vs. Vicki Knafo and the Israeli poor

In 2003, Vicki Knafo, a single mother from Mitzpe Ramon, marched 109 miles to Jerusalem protesting the economic policies of then Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s • On Tuesday in a briefing to reporters, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said about Knafo: “Go to work! If you have the ability to march, you can go to work”

Netanyahu’s argument might sound reasonable, but as Israel’s Prime Minister for the last 10 years and three years before that as finance minister, he has created a reality in which a job does not guarantee getting out of poverty.

Fact: in the 13 years since Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut welfare payments the proportion of single mothers who work has risen by about 15 percentage points – but the proportion of single-parent families below the poverty line has remained unchanged.

Another fact: In 2015, 81 percent of single mothers worked. But just as in 2002, a quarter of them were poor.

Single mothers are not the only ones to suffer – hundreds of thousands of workers and their families earn less than the poverty threshold. According to the latest National Insurance Institute poverty report – 277 thousand workers live below the poverty threshold.

So how come a job in Israel doesn’t guarantee a life with dignity? Well, it’s a combination of several things:

First, half of Israel employees earn less than 6700 NIS ($1783 a month, or $21,396 annually)

Second and equally important, Israel’s real wages have been frozen for over 15 years. According to the Bank of Israel between 2000 and 2015 our wages increased by 0.6%

While wages remain low, we experienced a dramatic rise in the cost of living. Today Israel is second only to Japan in its cost of living. While Israelis earn on average the same as workers in Spain and Korea, our cost of living is 20% higher than in Spain and 30% higher than in Korea.

So Mr. Prime Minister, welcome to the socio-economic reality in Israel. Considering the fact that you are the responsible for it, it’s puzzling that you are so disconnected from it.

[The original text – Project Sixty-One; Translation: Maya Haber]

The following graphs were taken from the OECD Economic Surveys ISRAEL, 2016

Poverty

 

Israel is second only to Mexico in the highest poverty rates among the 35 member states in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Employment ratesPoverty in Israel is not directly connected to unemployment. While employment rates grew significantly since 2004, poverty rates grew alongside them.

House pricesWhile wages stagnated, prices and specifically housing prices grew by 60%. 

 

 

Dany Gutwein, The Elor Azaria Affair is the Struggle of the Black Peon [ssba]

Dany Gutwein, The Elor Azaria Affair is the Struggle of the Black Peon

Four months ago Sgt. Elor Azaria killed a wounded Palestinian terrorist, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif as al-Sharif laid supine in Hebron. Azaria is on trial for manslaughter. But the trial of Elor Azaria has long since become the ‘Azaria Affair.’ Right-wing politicians are divided between those who condemn his action and those who unconditionally support him. Thousands have rallied for his release. The public debate, for the most part, doesn’t focus on whether Azaria should or shouldn’t have shot al-Sharif . Rather Israelis discuss the extent to which Azaria’s ethnicity and place of residence played a role in the IDF’s response to his action. “Is Elor Azaria punished (also) because he is Mizrahi?” reads Haaretz headline. And a father of another soldier remarked “If Azria was a Fishman [typical Ashkenazi family name] from Tel Aviv, it would have been different.”

Azaria’s case was preceded by ‘David the Nahlawi Affair.’ In April 2014, David Adamov, a soldier resident of one of the poorer neighborhoods in Be’er Sheva, was caught on camera cursing and cocking his assault rifle at an unarmed Palestinian kid in Hebron. Like Azaria, Adamov too won massive public support. Itamar Tehar Lev, a Hebrew University sociologist, wrote then that Adamov was receiving the support of the mostly Mizrahi ‘Border Patrol Army’ (which is just as Mizrahi as it is Russian, Ethiopian and lower-class Ashkenazi). Tehar Lev contrasted the ‘Border Patrol Army’ with the upper class Ashkenazi ‘Strategic IDF’ which manages the wars from a distance.

Henriette Dahan Kalev, a political scientist and gender studies professor at Ben Gurion University, writes that “the IDF today consists of elite units (like intelligence, technology and IDF Radio) staffed mostly by Ashkenazim. […] Elite soldiers prefer to see themselves as moral and defenders of human dignity. It’s easier to attribute a lack of morality to those who fighting on the ground. By publicly making a case against Azaria, the IDF is attempting to demonstrate that it has not lost its values—including as IDF chief Gadi Eizenkot put it the “purity of arms.”

The following article is Prof. Dany Gutwein’s attempt to explain some of the perplexing phenomena surrounding the Azaria Affair. Why did the settler Religious Zionist community condemn Azaria while so many others on the Right support him? Why do Leftists demonstrate discomfort discussing the case? And why is he receiving such massive support? Have Israelis all gone mad?

—-

 

The trial of Elor Azaria is becoming a watershed moment in the Israeli civil war. “The Azaria trial” has long turned into “The Azaria Affair.” It left the legal system and is happening in the court of public opinion. Increasingly, as the trial throws oil into the political fire, the public dimension overshadows its criminal dimension. The intensity of “the Azaria affair” is demonstrated by the fact that the IDF is one of its main casualties. For many, the IDF has become the target of sharp criticism and intrudes on the broad support it has so far enjoyed.

The IDF was correct to denounce the killing of the terrorist, put Azaria on trial, and allow a court decide whether or not his behaviour was a criminal offense. The following comment, however, relates to the “Azaria Affair”; that is, not to the shooting in Hebron or the trial in Jaffa, but to the causes for the public earthquake it has reverberated throughout Israel.

What makes the Azaria Affair so explosive? Why do so many Israelis identified with it? This question remains unanswered despite the lively public debate. And yet, answering this question is necessary for dealing with the fissures it has unearthed in Israeli society.

The common—yet false—explanation for the waves the Azaria trial has created is that the trial has become symbolic of gaping divisions in Israeli society and has carved a new space for their continuation. Indeed, the Azaria affair has quickly become a site for the toxic battles between the Right and the Left. The Left denounced the “shooting soldier” while presenting him as another victim of the Occupation. The Right, more broadly, has stood by Azaria and presented the trial as political persecution, a surrender to terrorism, the abandonment of IDF soldiers, and other charges the Right lobs against “Lefties.” Moreover, the Right has claimed the Left has sacrificed Azaria on the altar of political correctness, and that there wouldn’t be a trial if Azaria wasn’t right wing, Mizrahi, and from the periphery.

And yet, Israeli society doesn’t need new symbols for old divisions, especially after Netanyahu’s performance in the 2015 election. Indeed, it seems these divisions alone cannot explain the schism the Azaria affair has caused, and moreover, this explanation in itself exposes the failures of using the concept of division to analyse Israeli society.

For example, not only can’t the “Right-Left” division explain the public response, but “the Azaria affair” itself fractures the “Right-wing”: Ya’alon, the defrocked Right-wing Minister for Security, firmly denounced “the shooting soldier” while Avigdor Lieberman, the new Right-wing Foreign Minister, stood by him. The usual analysis explained inner contradictions within the Right as tensions between the “old” liberal Right and the “new” nationalistic Right, and yet this case rattled this distinction too revealing divisions within the “new” Right.

On April 19, there was a rally in support of Azaria in Rabin Square. In reference to the rally on the radio, Kalman Liebskind, a leading Right-wing journalists, attacked “the religious-nationalist public for not showing up to the rally.” He accused them of being “disdainful of Mizrahi Israelis and residents of the periphery.” Liebskind criticized the religious-nationalist public and the settlers using the same language the Right uses against the pretentious Ashkenazi Left. He said:

“The symbols and models Bnei Akiva teaches us to follow are always, or almost always, our own. They live in the settlements, graduate pre-military academies, and the best Yeshiva high schools. “The brave and beautiful.” No one ever speaks to us about the soldiers from Kiryat Gat or Be’er Sheva, who were killed in battle next to them. We never recognize the Elor Azarias from Ramleh who were carried away on stretchers.”

Liebskind’s harsh words stand in sharp contrast to Charlie Azaria’s (Elor’s father) expressed desire to unite the Israeli public around the support of his son, and continue looking to the IDF as a symbol of a common Israeli destiny. The elder Azaria stressed:

“We all have relatives in the IDF. I want everyone to know that we have their back. We are a strong people. We won’t let anyone harm us. The level headed people, everyone here, I love you. I love our nation. We are strong. Only together we will win and get to where we need to be.”

Michael Asraf, father of a soldier serving with Azaria, perfectly framed the contradiction between Azaria’s father’s craving “the wonderful nation” who are “all here” and Libeskind’s claim that “(the settlement of) Kdumim and Ramleh share nothing in common.” It is important to listen to Asraf. He stands with Azaria but his main concern is the divisions the “Azaria affair” revealed in Israeli society. He says:

“A while ago I said to my son: Come home. Leave the IDF. And it wasn’t easy for me to say this. I’m a paratrooper. But this isn’t the IDF we knew. There’s nothing left if commanders don’t back their soldiers. In my parachuting unit, I was told you don’t leave a soldier behind on the battlefield. I hear all the Greats talk about brutalization. What brutalization? Who are those brutes we’re talking about? These are our children . . . the best children. They joined the IDF unit they did because they love the flag and the national anthem. And what do we want in return? That the state loves us as much as we love it.”

Asraf’s claims can be summarized with the following: “I feel betrayed for Elor and the other soldiers.” Asraf finds the focus for this betrayal in the difference between the IDF he knew in the early 1980s, when he served as a paratrooper, the “commanders knew everything,” but still gave us full support, and “We weren’t left alone” and now when there is a sense that commanders don’t support their soldiers. Even if some think Elor violated orders, they should still back him up.”

Asraf claims that the discrepancy between “support” and “betrayal” is the framework through which we shouldn’t just think about the IDF, but Israeli society as a whole. This betrayal has a significant class character, even if, as is customary in Israel, he confuses it with identity politics:

“They threw him to the wolves. And do you want me to tell you why it was easy? I will put it in the simplest terms. It’s because Elor is from Ramle. If he was a Fishman from Tel Aviv, it would have been handled quietly. If it was a settler who studied in one of those pre-military academies, they would all be by his side supporting him. But this isn’t the case. It’s “Kfir” Brigade. [The brigade is part of the Judea and Samaria Division and conducts more Occupation duties than any otherץ] Everyone is an Elor Azaria there. A quarter of the guys are Ethiopians. Do you want me to put it more explicitly? It is a Black Peon unit.” [Translation comment: Asraf uses the term ‘Black Laborers’ (פועלים שחורים) which refers simultaneously to the soldiers’ ethnicity and their peon status]

And in a logic that resembles Bertold Brecht’s “Questions from a Worker who Reads,” Asraf states:

“Look at the IDF’s entire illustrious history. All the battles discussed in history books. Who gets featured in these histories? Who gets honorific mention? Who gets the accolades? Only the commanders. They always get the glory. No one remembers their soldiers, the Black labourers, without whom those commanders are nothing. Without whom no mission can succeed. Do you know when we remember them, the Black peons? When a disaster happens. When the army thinks mistakes occurred. Then the IDF finds the Elor Azaria of the day and goes to war against him. Then the commanders are nowhere to be found. The commanders are only there when there are victories.”

Asraf’s feeling of “betrayal” explains, so it seems, the public’s support for Azaria. From his comment, we learn that Azaria gets widespread support not because of the hate speech against Arabs and Leftists which are used as instruments of political manipulation. According to Asraf, the support for Azaria is a reflection of the betrayal the “Black Peons” feel.

Indeed, Azaria has become symbolic of the Israeli lower classes which the state has left behind during the intense processes of privatization. The feeling of betrayal is the experience of the Israeli lower classes which asks for “support” from the diminishing welfare state which has less and less responsibility for their life and welfare. This is the feeling of those contract employees who are pushed to the end of the line when their bosses rob them. This is the feeling of those who are pushed to the end of the line of the health system because they can’t pay for private medicine. This is the feeling of those who can’t pay for decent education for their children and hopelessly condemns them to a future of “Black peon.” This is the feeling of those for whom the legal system personifies the state after they had failed in the impossible rat race privatization has put them in.

The Azaria case has become a symbol because in all other cases the state cloaked its betrayal of the weak and privatized it: The exploitation of workers was handed over to contractors. Private health insurance companies that rationalize deserting the vulnerable. Private schools use the rationale that certain kids lack talent to mask the marginalization of poor children. In contrast, in the Azaria affair, state institution for the first time explicitly articulated their betrayal: the IDF is the symbol of the state, and therefore it has become the target for the outraged of the betrayed.

Addressing the public element of the “Azaria affair” means dealing with the feeling of the betrayal among the lower classes. It’s a process that can only be resolved by creating Israeli solidarity by way of a universal welfare state that supports the weak. Only neutralizing that feeling of betrayal will allow Israeli society to come to terms with the shot Azaria fired and not as the class symbol his trial has created.

This analysis may explain why the religious-nationalist, settlement based, Right-wing is missing from the support rallies for Azaria. Leibskind argued that this is caused by the fact that “religious Zionism proved once again . . . that it only cares about Religious Zionism.” But why? Over the past few decades the religious-nationalist Right wing—not the imagined elitist “Lefties”—has become the cornerstone of the establishment that betrays the lower classes. Therefore it can’t be part of protests aimed at itself. Class analysis of Israeli politics is the only way to overcome the false façade created by analysis based in identity and culture .

The Azaria affair is a challenge for the Israeli left. Not just in regard to denouncing Azaria, but in creating a new social reality that doesn’t require him as a symbol. This is also a path towards creating the Left as a politically significant player. But the Left refuses to acknowledge that the lower classes are its allies. It keeps returning to the cultural-identity playbook and the irreconcilable contradictions between the Right and the Left. Thus the Left prefers to deal with the lower classes’ nationalist bluster and lack of democracy rather than addressing the regime’s privatization induced inequality as to not infuriate this regime’s upper crust supporters. Once again the “Azaria affair” lays the Israeli Left’s failure in class politics bare. And the clarity of its righteousness, as the Left likes telling itself, is but more proof of the depth of its blindness.

Dany Gutwein is a Professor of Jewish history at Haifa University.

The original article was published in the Hottest Place in Hell.

Translation: Dana Mills, Visiting Scholar at the Hannah Arendt Centre at Bard College

Editor: Sean Guillory, blogger and podcaster at SRB

Introduction: Maya Haber, Partners for Progressive Israel

Ayala Panievsky, Leftists Despair [ssba]

Ayala Panievsky, Leftists Despair

B. Michael published an op-ed titled Why Israelis Are Stampeding to the Right. Ayala Panievsky, a Molad editor and researcher, explains where he was wrong.

“For 50 years (at least), Israel has been experiencing the existence of occupation, a brutal, wicked, unrestrained existence. […] But they don’t want to know that’s the way they are. They want to know – they want to believe – that they are good, decent, honest people, and mainly, victims and unfortunates. […] Voters, who are at the end of the day just human beings, need their consciousness to be escapist. Comforting. They need a leader, a stand-in parent, a super-ego in an armor-plated car to stroke their heads and say, “You’re perfectly fine, my darling. You’re a good boy. They’re the shits. Not you.” […] And therefore, there is only one way to heal: to stop the occupation. All of it. At once.” […] But it’s not going to happen, though. […] Because that is the fate of every occupying society.”

B. Michael has a strange logic: the public is stampeding to the Right because of the Occupation, and it will continue voting for the Right as long as the Occupation persists. So what can we do about it? End the Occupation. But who exactly is supposed to end the occupation? The Right that will forever rule the country? Unlikely. Therefore, the only possible conclusion is that the Occupation will never end, and Israel is finished. Over and out.

This logic is false:

1) The Occupation dangerous to Israeli society and politics. Just as dangerous as those who give up on ending it. The best way to ensure that we will continue to lose is to despair.

2) But the crux of the matter: the public isn’t “turning right”. The Israel Democracy Institute published just last week a survey showing that most Israelis support a two-state solution, and 70 percent oppose settlement annexation, a solution most right-wing ministers advocate.

3) So why don’t Israelis vote for the Left? Despite of years of Rightwing rule and unbridled propaganda against the Left, the Israeli public has not given up on Leftist positions. It is simply fed up with Leftist parties. And it’s understandable. For years Leftwing leaders seem confused, awkward, stuttering, meek and cowardly. It’s indeed very frustrating. But the fact that people have a hard time voting for Labor leader Buji Herzog (BTW the Zionist Camp won 24 seats that’s not a catastrophe) – there is no reason to conclude that the Israeli public is stupid or stampeding to the Right.

4) Many people holding Leftwing positions don’t want to identify as Leftists. Given the political atmosphere, it makes sense. The Left in recent years has been the target of ongoing aggressive demonization. And its political leadership (the Labor Party) refuse to fight back. On the contrary – Center-Left leaders denied the Left and joined the chorus turning it into a national punching bag. Why would anyone vote the for such a Left?

5) Truth be told, we need better political leadership. A leadership that knows its agenda and is willing to fight for it. The Left shouldn’t apologize for the Mapai’s sins, crawl to the right, hide, or beg the world to save us. The Left should convince the public that we have a plan and it’s better. This is politics.

6) How do we know it’s possible? Take the example of settlers. They have been doing it for 20 years and more vigorously since the disengagement from Gaza. The settlers are about five percent of the population, but in a coordinated effort they injected themselves into the centers of power and decision-making (police, army, education system, media, and public sector) and built a powerful political lobby. Today five percent of the citizens are dictating the agenda of the Right and the country.

7) The Rightwing rule is not the result of some force majeure. The question is what can we do to end it. The first answer: don’t give up. Both because it’s divorced from reality and because it’s not effective. This is the time for every leftist to decide if s/he would rather decry the horrors of the Occupation, or do whatever it takes – even getting your hands dirty in politics – to end it.

The original Hebrew text.

Translation: Maya Haber