Holocaust Scholars speak out against President Trump’s choice for ambassador to Israel [ssba]

The following letter, signed by a variety of esteemed Holocaust scholars,  was presented to members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations prior to their hearing on David Friedman today, as part of a broad push of liberal Jewish organizations, among them Partners for Progressive Israel, to oppose Friedman’s nomination.

Dear Senators,

As scholars specializing in study of the Holocaust, we strongly object to the way President Donald Trump’s nominee to be US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has distorted and misused events during that tragic period in order to advance his own political goals.

In approaching the Holocaust, we believe that one must show scrupulous respect for the facts as well as respect for the victims in all their humanity. We must also acknowledge the unique nature of the tragedy we are describing. To do otherwise is to dilute the moral and historical significance of this subject in human history.

We are especially troubled that Mr. Friedman has repeatedly compared fellow members of the Jewish community whose views on Israel differ from his own to “kapos” or even “worse than kapos.”

The historical record shows that kapos were Jews whom the Nazis forced, at pain of death, to serve them in the concentration and extermination camps. These Jews faced terrible dilemmas, but ultimately were made into unwilling tools of Nazi brutality. To brand one’s political opponents, members of one’s own community, as kapos, merely for engaging in legitimate debate, is historically indefensible and is a deeply disturbing example of the abuse of the Holocaust and its victims for present political gain.

Mr. Friedman also trivialized the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust in an effort to discredit women who accused Donald Trump of sexual assault.  At that time, he declared, “While the revelation of Mr. Trump’s demeaning comments caught on tape some 11 years ago brought him, as one would expect, widespread negative attention, The New York Times ran with the story with all the journalistic integrity of the worst gossip rag. If only the Times had reported on the Nazi death camps with the same fervor as its failed last-minute attempt to conjure up alleged victims of Donald Trump, imagine how many lives could have been saved.”

Reporting on the Holocaust as it occurred is a complex historical question Friedman oversimplified for the sake of politically expediency.  Coverage of the serious allegations against President Trump is wholly unrelated to the Holocaust.  We reject the use of the Holocaust to reinforce contemporary political messages and view this tactic as grossly trivializing the historical reality of the death and concentration camps.

These examples show a callous disregard for history and for the suffering of the victims of Nazism.  As such, they are unbefitting of one who would become a diplomatic representative of the United States and call into serious question his capacity to serve the United States honorably and successfully in this role.

We hope that you will keep Mr. Friedman’s disrespectful and politically cynical use of the Holocaust in mind as you consider his nomination to serve as our ambassador to Israel.

** All signatories are signing as individual scholars and do not necessarily represent the views of their institutions.

Signed,

Andrew Mathis, Adjunct Professor, University of the Sciences
Atina Grossmann, Professor, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Cooper Union, New York
Avinoam Patt, Director of the Museum of Jewish Civilization, University of Hartford
Beth Lilach, Senior Director of Education and Community Affairs, Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center
Christine E. Schmidt, Adjunct Professor, Gratz College and UMUC
Deborah Dwork, Rose Professor of Holocaust History and Director of the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Clark University
Deborah Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies, Emory university
David Abraham, Professor of Law Emeritus, University of Miami
Elissa Bemporad, Associate Professor of History, CUNY
Gabriel Finder, Associate Professor and Ida and Nathan Kolodiz Director of Jewish Studies, University of Virginia
Henry Greenspan, Lecturer, Social Theory and Practice, University of Michigan
Hubert Locke, John and Marguerite Corbally Professor of Public Service (Emeritus) , university of washington
Idit Gil, Department of Sociology, Political Science and Communication, Faculty Membe, The Open University of Israel
Jared McBride, PhD, History, UCLA
Jay Geller, Associate Professor of Modern Jewish Culture, Vanderbilt University
Jeffrey Blutinger, Assistant Professor of History, Co-Director of Jewish Studies, California State University, Long Beach
Jeffrey Koerber, Assistant Professor of History, Chapman University
Jennifer Marlow, Adjunct Instructor in History, Gratz College
Joanna Michlic, Honorary Research Fellow, The UCL Centre for Collective Violence, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, UCL, London
Joanna Sliwa, Archives Project Specialist, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC)
John-Paul Himka, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Alberta
Kate Brackney, PhD Candidate, Department of History , Yale University
Ken Waltzer, Professor Emeritus, Social Relations and Policy, Michigan State U.
Laura Brade, PhD Candidate, Department of History , University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Lawrence Baron, Professor Emeritus of Modern Jewish History, San  Diego State university
Leah Brown, Gallery Educator, Museum of Jewish Heritage
Leonard Grob, Professor of Philosophy and Coordinator of Philosophy Studies , Fairleigh Dickinson University
Lori Lefkovitz, Ruderman Professor and Director of Jewish Studies Program; Professor of English; Director, Humanities Center, Northeastern University
Marion Kaplan, Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies; Skirball Professor of Modern Jewish History, New York University
Matthew Girson, Associate Professor, Art, Media, and Design, DePaul University
Nancy Civin, Retired high school teacher and Holocaust scholar,
Omer Bartov, John P. Birkelund Distinguished Professor of European History and Professor of History and Professor of German Studies, Brown University
Paul Jaskot, Professor of History of Art and Architecture, DePaul University
Ranen Omer-Sherman, Endowed Chair of Jewish Studies, University of Louisville
Simone Schweber, Goodman Professor of Education and Jewish Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Veronica Grodzinski, Ph.D.   Modern Jewish History / Art History / German History, Alumna UCL  London and Hebrew University, Jerusalem
Waitman Beorn, Lecturer in the Corcoran Department of History , University of Virginia

Social Justice Centers: What Americans can learn from the Progressive Israeli experience [ssba]

Social Justice Centers: What Americans can learn from the Progressive Israeli experience

In the last few months since Donald Trump’s election I have been feeling the need to translate the experience of progressive Israeli activists and compare it to our own challenges here in the US. The similarities between Israel and the US today are striking. The administrations’ attacks on the media and the courts; hiring and firing officials based on loyalty tests, but most importantly the social polarization. In Israel like here in the US there is a sense that progressives and conservatives speak different languages, have different interests, different values. Progressive Israelis have acquired much more experience managing this hostile political environment. They learned a lot from their past failures. And I believe we can benefit from their experience.

Izzy Carmon and Noam Melki’s piece on the establishment of social justice centers is a format I think Americans would find interesting. After the last election, the Hashomer Hatzair Life Movement convened to discuss what they could do to improve the political environment in Israel. They realized that Israel’s periphery lacks civil society. In Hadera, Naharia or Rehovot, there are no institutions that allow citizens to work together identifying their shared interests and acting as a political force. They decided to form spaces which would facilitate a progressive understanding of Israeli society, teach organizing and activism.

One more important detail: Israeli electoral maps show clearly that the periphery votes overwhelmingly for the Right. The Hashomer Hatzair Life Movement established communes in the periphery to educate and model progressive values.

Izzy coordinates the center in Rehovot. Noam coordinates the one in Hadera. Izzy and Noam believe that bringing people together to learn and experience shared interests and values is a tool to fight social polarization and the government’s incitement.

Translation: Maya Haber

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Hashomer Hatzair and AJYAL Educating Syrian Refugees [ssba]

Hashomer Hatzair and AJYAL Educating Syrian Refugees

Hashomer Hatzair, its Arab division AJYAL and Natan-International Humanitarian Aid are fundraising to create an educational center for Syrian refugees on the island of Chios in Greece. Hashomer Hatzair and AJYAL counselors will operate the center and train local educators. So far they have raised about a quarter of the capital needed to get the project running.

“Chios is the closest island to Turkey and about 4,000 refugees reside on it,” says Yair Liebel, the Hashomer Hatzair coordinator for the project.

“Since March the European borders have closed to refugees, yet the flow of refugees arriving by sea has only increased. Refugees arrive by ship to Greece or Italy,” says Liebel. “Greece doesn’t have the capacity to deal with the flow of refugees. The problem is much larger than anything that a local municipality could handle. So the local authorities are trying to prevent the refugees from making a life in the camps. They are not even allowed to engage in the simplest activities like cooking or cleaning.”

The AJYAL and Hashomer Hatzair members were frustrated, witnessing daily disparaging images of Syrian refugees; they decided to focus on what they could do best – education. “We are planning on establishing an educational center in a rented space. Our goal is to attend to people’s real needs, especially the needs of youth,” says Liebel. “There are approximately 1,000 children and teens in the camp. Three hundred kids attend school for 6-9 hours a day. We will take part in existing activities and plan activities for young adults aged 17 to 25. Our plan draws on the Israeli youth movement model. ”

“These are kids who don’t have much to do. They sit idle most of the time,” says Renin Kahil, the AJYAL coordinator. “We want to give them the tools and know-how to take responsibility for what’s happening there. We want to create a youth movement with them.” Kahil says and explains that they intend to emphasize “informal modes of activities.”

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The youth activists hope to find local partners to help them build the center of informal education. “Many Syrian refugees are professionals. We hope to find teachers who will work with us to open training courses for instructors. We want to leave behind a structure that will work after we leave, “says Liebel.

The first educational group will include three Jewish and three Arab councilors. Arab-Jewish cooperation is highly significant. ” AJYAL is central to this mission not only because its members speak Arabic, but also because creating the center is a rare opportunity to work together and transcend national divisions. This cooperation is particularly important in the current political climate in Israel.”

“It’s true that we speak Arabic and can communicate with the refugees, but it’s going to be a joint venture of AJYAL and Hashomer Hatzair,” adds Kahil. “I hope that this will become the refugee’s educational center and many will join it. We were interested to see how Israelis respond to this project. We didn’t expect to encounter such excitement. The project reminds us that it’s human to care for others, despite the political divisiveness here in Israel.”

David Tversky published the original article in Davar Rishon, January 24, 2017

Translator: Maya Haber

Editor: Ayala Emmett

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Tamar Zandberg, Overt Racism in Umm al-Hiran [ssba]

Tamar Zandberg, Overt Racism in Umm al-Hiran

The ‘car ramming’ incident in Umm al-Hiran should be investigated. This is the only way to find out exactly what happened before declaring that it was a premeditated attempt to ram into the police. There is too much evidence that the police and government irresponsibility to conclusively determine the results of the investigation and suggest the incident was an ISIS attack.  After all the investigation hasn’t even began.

This will not bring comfort to Erez Levy, the late policeman’s family. But Erez Levy was sent into a battlefield in a war which the Israeli state has declared on its citizens. This particular battlefield was not in the occupied territories. Nor was it on enemy land. It happened here, in the Negev, where the concept of a shared society should have come true. Officer Erez Levy and citizen Moussa Abu al-Qian paid with their lives for this war.

Instead of a symbol of shared society, Umm al-Hiran has come to represent one of the most striking injustices in Israel’s history. The government’s insistence to establish the Jewish settlement of Hiran on the land of the Bedouin village Um al-Hiran is a rare case of overt racism which is impossible to obfuscate or excuse. What else can you call the demolition of a settlement of citizens of one race in order to build a settlement for citizens of another? And all that within the sovereign borders of a democratic state? Umm al-Hiran is one of the most shameful stains on Israel’s history. And the fact that ministers, journalists, media and political activists defend and justify the injustice is a moral stain that we will find difficult to explain in the future.

The Negev has room for everyone. Bedouins are about 30% of the Negev’s residents and inhabit less than 3% of its land. Do we need to remind people that these are Israeli citizens? So it’s racism when government officials say that Umm al-Hiran took over land and when the Housing Minister says the Negev should be returned to Jewish hands. Not to say anything about the public crackdown on MK Ayman Odeh, while he was lying wounded in a hospital. It’s evil.

We need to create a different future for the Negev. This is not only our moral duty, but also a good civil and political policy.

What happened yesterday in Umm al-Hiran is the exact opposite. I don’t want to believe that our leadership is so cynical and cruel that it would escalate the situation in the Negev in order to divert attention from the Prime Minister’s corruption investigations or the political crisis with the right and the settlers. To prove to us that this isn’t the case, the government must go in the exact opposite direction: stop house demolitions, return to dialogue with its citizens and make a sustainable plan for the Negev. Before it’s too late.

This is a statement by Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg, translated from the Hebrew by Maya Haber:

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

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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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.

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