Meet Israel’s Bernie Sanders: MK Ilan Gilon [ssba]

Meet Israel’s Bernie Sanders: MK Ilan Gilon

The original article was written by Nir Yahav and published in Walla Magazine on December 22, 2016. We thank Dana Mills for translating and Peter Eisenstadt for editing.

In early December, to the surprise of Israel’s right-wing government, the Knesset passed MK Ilan Gilon’s bill on a preliminary reading making disability benefits at least equal to the minimum wage. In effect the bill would more than double the monthly allowance paid to the disabled to equal the minimum wage. Currently disability benefit is 2,341 shekels ($616), while the minimum wage is 5,000 shekels ($1,315).

Gilon, who has been trying to further this bill for years, was so moved he could not stop his tears. ” I cry easily” he admits smiling. “All week long I am tough and on Wednesdays when all proposed my bills fall through in the Knesset, I cry. Even now just speaking about it, I feel weepy. This is the fifth time I propose this bill. That morning I was about to remove it as I knew it would fail again, but at the last minute I decided to go through with it.  I got to the podium and said: “look, for years I’ve been explaining to you about this bill. Now explain to me why you oppose it after speaking so beautifully for disabled people yesterday on Disability Day. I managed to convince five coalition MKs to leave the hall and not vote.” And the bill passed preliminary vote 42 to 39, despite the treasury’s firm opposition to the proposal, due to its cost.

“Look at the enormous tax breaks the government gave Israel Chemicals Ltd.” Today, Israel’s four largest exporters pay only 4% tax, compared with 12.4% a decade ago. “I am fed up with this ‘social’ etiquette. I can’t stand it. The only kind of justice I believe in is distributive justice.”

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Raising disability benefits and making it equal to minimum wage will cost 1.4% of the state’s budget. Mr. Finance Minister, don’t a million and a half Israelis worth 1.5 percent of the budget? Raising the benefits to a minimum. Ilan Gilon

 

But this was only the preliminary reading. Your Disability Allowance Increase bill must pass three more Knesset votes and it can still be toppled.

True, but to me all the channels of hope have been opened. I don’t think time can be brought back. I want to cooperate with the government and allow Netanyahu to take this bill. I am willing to compromise. The state has the money, it will cost only 6-7 billion shekels [$1.8 billion] over two years. I want to build a model in which people get their benefits according to their status and pay taxes according to their income, including their benefits. That is the fairest policy. My model builds a security net against anxiety. I plan to expand the political basis of this matter and create a situation in which the government can’t ignore it. They understand they can’t reverse matters. I now have a significant moral achievement, and if the bill passes it will be the groundwork to change legislation, meaning that the state takes back it responsibility for its citizens. This is my goal: giving the responsibility back to the state. Because abandoning citizens is worse than paternalism.

“I think the richer should be taxed more heavily, because I think society’s biggest problem greed. Had I written the Ten Commandments “thou shall not covet” would come before “thou shall not steal.”  People who steal baby food from a grocery store are not the problem. The problem is the filthy rich. Look at Israel Chemicals Ltd’s tax breaks, look at the tax breaks tycoons are getting. An ideal society for me is a society in which people know to ask themselves once a day what they give to the country and twice a day what they get from the country. This will be a society which is not terrified about tomorrow. But our government uses scare tactics to rule. It’s weaponizing our wonderful multiculturalism to create alienation and separation.”

The making of Ilan Gilon

MK Ilan Gilon was born in the town of Galatz in Romanian Moldova. When he was seven months old he was struck by Polio. He was paralyzed and suffered a severe lung edema. The doctors didn’t expect him to live. Miraculously he came through and only his right leg remained paralyzed. He says his luck as a child  was his size. “I had a limp, but I was a very large kid and scared the entire neighborhood,” he remembers. “That is why I survived the kids’ mean behavior. Whichever way you look at me, I’ll always be a Special Needs child, a son of a mother who packs oranges for a living and an electrician father. I am hardcore working class, that is my caste, this is the reality I lived: the scruffy Ashdod hood among Romanian, Moroccan and Iraqi immigrants. That is why I identify first with the disabled and oppressed and I will never disengage my view point.

Weren’t you mocked as a disabled child?

I never considered myself disabled. One day one of the kids in class said to me:’ you know, when I look at you, I don’t think about your leg at all.’ It changed my life. When I was in the sixth-grade I told my mum that I couldn’t walk 40 Kilometers with the other kids at the youth movement. She looked at me and said: “just like there are people who walk 80 kilometers on two feet, you can walk 40 kilometers with one.” There, in my childhood, I gained compassion towards disabled people. To this day, I answer anyone who calls me and return calls to whoever needs me. I feel the public sponsors me and and I need to solve the people’s problems, or at least try. This reflects my memories of vulnerability. I wish people would be “weak enough to feel and strong enough to change reality.”

Gilon immigrated to Israel when he was 9 years old. Until the fourth grade he attended a special needs class and sat near the teacher. He says, he was a very mediocre student and “couldn’t sit still.” One day the teacher asked the class how much is seven times eight. “I knew the answer because in Romania they teach how to multiply in the first grade. The teacher was astounded and transferred me to a regular class. I served on school committees and was elected chair of the school’s Students’ Union”.

Gilon’s mother, Rachel, influenced him more than anyone else. Speaking about her, Gilon’s tone softens and his eyes moisten: “she was the type of woman who threw herself into everything. She didn’t make any concessions for me. When I was a child I had many surgeries, because of my paralysis. I remember once afrer a surgery  my mother, who was a small, slender woman, carried me, a huge child in her arms. That is what she was like.

My mother always said I shouldn’t go to demonstrations so that I wouldn’t be on television. I told her, “mum, I am going to demonstrations because I want to be seen on TV”. The paralyzing fear of state authorities which they had brought with them from Romania stayed with my parents. My father, who was a simple man but the kindest in the world, was fearful of my political affiliation. He didn’t understand why I couldn’t join a mainstream party like LIkud or the Labor Party.”

Party Politics

Meretz used to be a large party. Where did it fail?

“I am not the only component of the party. I am trying to do what I think is right. My entire world view is based on one verse of Psalms: ” Turn from evil and do good: seek peace and pursue it.”

I don’t always succeed, but I try. The prophets Jeremiah,  Isaiah and Amos are my kind of prophets. They speak of the three divisions: the distribution of national wealth, the distribution of the land and the distinction between church and state. Sometimes I think there are people on the Left who love humanity more than they love human beings. We must establish relationships formed on emotional connection. At the end of the day decision making is emotional.”

Why is Meretz failing to connect to voters?

“I don’t know. If I knew I would solve the problem. I can’t explain it in words. We just don’t have it. We need to make people feel that we are there for them, that we care. Unfortunately it’s not happening. […] I am not sure I would do a better job than Zehava Galon [Meretz chair]. But I am quite certain that if the ideas are good, the problem must be the people.”

What do you think about the idea of uniting the Labor party with Meretz?

“You’d be surprised, but I’d go much further than that. The current situation, and I’m not exaggerating, it’s like an eclipse, we need to form a very wide coalition to save the country. Everyone from Yesh Atid to the Joint List should join in order to get rid of the “BibiBennet” phenomenon [Benjamin Netanyahu and Naftali Bennet of the Jewish Home]. Even some coalition forces could join as well as the ultra-orthodox parties. I went so far as pursue this it, though so far the plan fell through because of peoples’ egos.”

“I’m fed up the current rules of the political game. Nowadays, every loser who enters politics hangs up curtains in his Mazda [official government car] and roams around as if there is a broomstick up his arse. Their ego is huge, they are greedy and politics amplifies those bad qualities. Sometimes this brings out anger and frustration in me, I could hit them even. If I didn’t calm myself down by making jam, I’d have to be under psychiatric care day and night.”

The Conflict

Maybe the Left’s problem is that your two-state solution needs revisions? Maybe you should consider one-state solution?

“Do you think a one state solution is plausible before the Palestinian national liberation happens? I don’t think so. I think it’s a necessary stage just like the founding of Israel was necessary. National liberation is a basic condition.”

Will there be a stage in which you will realize the two-state solution is unattainable?

“I admit that the implementation of that idea is becoming harder, but it’s still possible. Israel has a partner. Look at the disengagement from Gaza. Why couldn’t we identify a partner, reach an agreement, and sell the [settlements] houses, maybe for half the price, instead of demolishing them? What interest brought us to disengage without an agreement?”

Do you think an agreement would have prevented the missiles from Gaza?

“I don’t know, but that’s how you build trust. Mahmoud Abbas was a partner all along and he is still a partner.”

A political Animal

Gilon was first elected to Knesset in 1999. In the following election in 2003 he was seventh on the Meretz list, but the party won only six seats.  Gilon found himself unemployed and opened a restaurant in his home city of Ashdod.  Three and a half years later he sold it (“I was enslaved to the restaurant). Simultaneously he presented both on the radio and TV. There he met Uri Urbach [an Israeli Religious Zionist writer, journalist and politician who served as Jewish Home MK and Minister of Pensioner Affairs. Urbach died in 2015].

“He was my soul mate” Gilon says. “As a member of the rightwing Jewish Home party, his politics was utterly different from mine. And yet he was 100% similar to me in the way we viewed people. We understood each other. We both cried for the same reasons. He was an exemplary man and I miss him”. After six years out of the Knesset Gilon was re-elected to Knesset in 2009, 2013, and 2015.

Gilon deeply appreciates President Reuven Rivlin. “Voting for president Rivlin was the best vote I cast in my political life. He is just the right man for the job. Once someone came to me and said ‘do you know he supports a greater Israel?’ I said, ‘at least he has opinions’. Rivlin hasn’t disappointed me once. After he was thrown out of chairing the Knesset, he sat on the back benches and never missed a day of dull work. When he was elected he movingly said “long live the state of Israel.” I was moved with him. Rivlin, like me, cries easily. I love him very much.”

Are you frustrated that you can’t influence from within the government?

“Of course, it’s terribly frustrating. It’s very difficult to always be on the defensive and never pass bills.”

Which minister would you have liked to be if you were part of the government?

“I haven’t thought about it. Everyone says I would have been Welfare Minister, but I think I’d like to be Transportation Minister. The only thing I’m certain of is that I wouldn’t go to do something I have no idea about. I am a very task orientated person and deep inside I feel like a pizza delivery boy who needs to get the pizza to its destination, regardless of what I do.”

Despite the various roles Gilon held in the Knesset, and the socially orientated bills he promoted and advanced, he misses working for the Ashdod municipality most. In 1993, he ran for the Ashdod city council and became vice Mayor. He served for six years and furthered important projects in the city.

“This was my most fruitful time politically, ever. I could visually see the impact of my work. There are many education and cultural institutions in Ashdod that I know exist because of me. In 2008 I wanted to run for Mayor, but I had no chance. The city is 22 percent ultraorthodox, a third post-soviet immigrants who vote for Avigdor Liberman, so it would have been impossible for me to win. But if I thought I could become mayor, I would leave the Knesset right now. Ashdod is my soul. I see the views of my childhood as I get older. Is there anything more wonderful than that?

Do you meet settlers?

“I meet everyone. I don’t boycott anyone. I don’t have an argument with the settlers, I have an argument with the government’s policy. I am a person who finds it hard to move, so I totally understands that people don’t want to leave their homes.”

Do you mean the Amona settlers? [Amona is an illegal outpost built on private Palestinian land, which Israel’s high court ordered to demolish]

“Yes, Amona too. I don’t have a quarrel with them. If it were up to me, during the disengagement from Gaza, I would have lifted the residents of Gush Katif while they were asleep to their new homes without shaking their lives. They should have been treated like people. The government sent them to Gaza and it was responsible. Everyone has potential to be my allies. As far as I am concerned the ultraorthodox and the Arabs have the most potential because they are victims of dark deals done on their back.”

“My generation is a crappy generation. We disappointed both our parents and our children. We didn’t build our parents’ dreams and we allowed them to fall without a safety net. And we didn’t prepare the state for our children. When I meet young people I don’t tell them to make do with scarcity. I tell them to make do with what they need to be happy. We live in a greedy world in which few eat a lot and many eat little. It’s a world with many Trumps and few Leonard Cohen and it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Will there be change after this difficult time?

“I hope so. I can feel the alternative forces coming. I visit many pre-military academies and communes and meet young people in their 20s who dream of finding a spiritual-ideological catharsis, not only on the West Bank or in Goa [India, the escape for many young Israelis]. They want to build a society based on life and not on eternal war.”

Meanwhile, Netanyahu makes them vote for him. How does he do it?

“Fear. Petrifying fear.”

Only through scare tactics?

“His success is a combination of his scare tactics and the left’s inability to respond properly.”

Could this change if there was a appropriate leftist leader?

“Possibly, But I don’t think this is a job for one person. It’s the work of many.”

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHUWhat do you think about the recent Netanyahu artistic installations?

“I don’t understand much about art. But I really liked the gold plated statue of Netanyahu in Rabin Square. It is important to have one in Rabin Square. North of Korea has such  sculptures. I’m sure Erdogan has one in Turkey. So why not here?”

Do you see an erosion in freedom of speech in Israel?

I don’t know, but I’m sure that we haven’t had threats like “if you don’t do x, I won’t fund you.” Is this Soviet Russia? It’s easy for me to say this without appearing condescending because I am just a punk from Ashdod. “I am not a condescending man who has seen all the Chekhov plays and knows literature inside out. I understand that Miri Regev [Culture Minister] has political needs. I understand it works for her and for the media. But I don’t think she understands where she’s leading. This is the fourth Knesset I serve in and it has never been this humiliating. There is an overflow of people who are simultaneously mean, stupid and hard working. This is a lethal combination. When stupidity is combined with viciousness, it’s dangerous.

The original article was written by Nir Yahav and published in Walla Magazine on December 22, 2016.

Translations: Dana Mills

Editing: Peter Eisenstadt

Enough with the Kabuki Dance in the United Nations [ssba]

Enough with the Kabuki Dance in the United Nations

Egypt granted Obama’s administration some breathing room by withdrawing its resolution to the U.N. Security Council demanding an end to Israeli settlement expansion. Over the last 24 hours, foreign policy experts have been debating whether the US would veto a U.N. resolution containing Obama’s own positions, or weigh in one last time to express its dismay at Israel’s utter disregard for international law.

When the Israeli and American right-wing evaluate President Obama according to whether he is “Israel’s friend” or not, they elide the responsibility of Netanyahu’s government for putting the US administration in such a terrible position. Like a child reacting to being caught stealing by accusing his mommy (in this case the President of the United States) of not loving her, Israel evades the question: are you guilty of the charges against you? Instead Israel prefers to displace its guilt with “If mommy truly loved me, she wouldn’t say such bad things about me.”

The real issue here is that Mr. Netanyahu’s and President-elect Trump’s kabuki dance urging Obama to veto the resolution only unmasks the irresponsibility of Netanyahu’s continued settlement expansion.

Indeed, Netanyahu government’s polices strike at the most vulnerable in both the Occupied territories and in Israel. Settlement expansion ensures continued violence against Palestinians and the deprivation of their human rights. For example, according to Military Court Watch, as of August 2016, the Israeli military has detained at least 2,364 Palestinian children, a monthly average of 394.  Of that total, 591 are between 12-15 years old. This is to say nothing of the 60,000 Palestinian adults the Israeli military detains, the majority of which are in violation of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Is subjecting children to illegal military detention really the values Israel wants to communicate to the world?

But that is not all. To do all this, the Netanyahu government sacrifices the most vulnerable of its own citizens on the altar of settlements. This week it cut billions of shekels from the education, welfare and health budgets to cover the cost of the evacuation of the illegal outpost Amona. The same week, the National Insurance Institute published a report stating there are more than 1.7 million poor Israelis, some 21.7% of the population. Such is the regard the Netanyahu government has for “Israeli security.”

This, of course, is to say nothing about how Israel’s sacrificing of someone else’s blood and its own treasure for settlements perpetually erodes its international standing and, as a result, its own security.

As a Molad report concluded, the Israeli leadership must take responsibility for the violence it has committed against the most vulnerable outside and within its legal borders and the dangers exposed by this rift with its allies. Simultaneously, it must internalize the notion that any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must fall in line with the values of Western democracies, and that a continued deferral of such a solution will result in ever-increasing costs for Israel and its citizens.

The kabuki dance has long outlasted its performance date, and the audiences in international community are quite fed up with it.

[Image: the Uprooted Palestinians’ Blog]

Pres. Trump and the Jews [ssba]

Pres. Trump and the Jews

The following is being published in French in “Cahiers Bernard Lazare,” the publication of Le Circle Bernard Lazare, a French affiliate of the World Union of Meretz:

The astounding victory of Donald Trump is the most significant of a wave of recent electoral upsets that have been riling the world — beginning with Netanyahu’s triumph in 2015 and continuing in the past year with the British “Brexit” vote to leave the European Union, the rejection of a peace deal in Colombia, and the election of the murderous maverick Rodrigo Duterte as president of the Philippines.  These results mostly contradicted the polls and confounded widespread expectations. 

Like the other disturbances, Trump’s election reflected deeply-felt anxiety, anger and unhappiness with the status quo.  And they all targeted scapegoats against whom to vent these feelings. 

Most American Jews are uneasy about what to expect.  Hillary Clinton earned a clear majority of Jewish votes (about 70%) that usually goes to the Democratic nominee.  Neoconservatives, the heavily Jewish Republican-aligned movement of hawkish internationalists and social moderates, deserted the Republican nominee en masse, with most either voting for Clinton, a third party candidate or with a write-in protest ballot. 

Trump’s explicit scapegoats were Muslims and illegal immigrants (mostly Hispanics), but antisemitism also showed its face during this campaign in vicious attacks on social media (especially Twitter), by some of his supporters, against Jewish journalists who dared to criticize — or simply honestly report on — Trump’s record as an individual and the conduct of his campaign.  Neoconservative views on Trump especially angered his supporters.  A report of the Anti-Defamation League counts 2.6 million tweets “containing language frequently found in anti-Semitic speech” from August 2015 to June 2016.  These include more than 19,000 “overly anti-Semitic” tweets directed against 800 journalists. Read More »

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.