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

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

Bar Heffetz, The 2014 Gaza-War was Netanyahu’s Soft Underbelly [ssba]

Bar Heffetz, The 2014 Gaza-War was Netanyahu’s Soft Underbelly

It’s been two years since the end of Operation Protective Edge (2014 Israel–Gaza War) and we must admit that we failed.

Israel’s government didn’t fail. It was actually quite successful. It’s easy to be successful if your only goal is to survive, live through another month, and make it to the next election without a war. In the period between elections, the government can ramble on about the construction of dangerous tunnels, checkpoints, the Turks, and occasionally play “who has the bigger cock” with Hamas.

The media also met its goals: everyone knows that Gaza isn’t sexy, the Gaza envelope is far away, and people don’t want to know or understand. At least until there’s a war. And wars are good for ratings. Next time we’ll also all unite around our screens, declare “Quiet, we’re at war,” and fake collectivism.

The IDF might have failed a little. But there’s a new Chief of Staff, and there’s new tech to deal with the tunnels . . . So what if a few residents on the Gaza border no longer believe a word the army says?

So who really failed? Read More »

Daniel Ben Simon on the Rift between Mizrahim and the Israeli Left [ssba]

Daniel Ben Simon on the Rift between Mizrahim and the Israeli Left

In 1997 Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak asked Mizrahi Jews to forgive the party for its treatment of the 1950s North African immigration. He got the idea from Daniel Ben-Simon’s book Another Country which tells the story of Benjamin Netanyahu’s 1996 victory. Ben Simon recalled a conversation between Shimon Peres and Shas’ leader, Aryeh Deri. Dari told Peres that “The Moroccans don’t like you. They don’t forgive the Labor Movement for its treatment of them in the 1950s” and advised him to ask for forgiveness. “Mind you, he told Peres, they are not in the Likud’s pocket. On the contrary. They are moderate and tolerant people.” Barak called Ben Simon the night he decided to apologize. Ben Simon thought it might work

I asked him why Barak’s apology was did not help heal the wound. “Barak wanted to steal the oriental vote from the Likud,” he said, “and he won the election. He won the election because the Orientals voted from him in 1999. He had a huge victory. But after the election he went back to being Barak, the Israeli army general who promised change of priorities and did nothing for it. […] He was busy with the Palestinian issue and eventually those orientals saw him as a person who couldn’t keep to his word.” Ben Simon argues that what had to be done then and still hasn’t been done is “a Marshal Plan for the development towns.” Read More »

Tammy Zandberg, We cannot distinguish between the Shameful Economic Policy and the Perpetuation of the Occupation [ssba]

Tammy Zandberg, We cannot distinguish between the Shameful Economic Policy and the Perpetuation of the Occupation

The Israeli welfare state continues to expand. If you are not feeling it, you are probably not living in a settlement.

While the vast majority of citizens living within the legal territory of Israel face anti-social policies, cutbacks in state services and privatizations, the settlers received today yet another tax benefit.
Only settlers have subsidized public transport. Only settlers deserve discounted housing. Now they also get tax benefits regardless of the socio-economic condition of their community and its residents.

While Yeruham, Ofakim, Kiryat Shmona and many other communities will continue to be crashed under deliberate governmental anti-social policies, Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home Knesset Members) and his partners get yet another fat bonus for their settler friends.

We cannot distinguish between the shameful economic policy and the perpetuation of the occupation. The goal of Israel’s Messianic Right is continuing to reinforce settlements in order to prevent a future peace agreement and deepen the state’s control over Greater Israel. This messianic vision drags us into an endless cycle of bloodshed, brings international isolation and leads to delusional allocation of economic resources to one sector.

This messianic vision has many fathers, Smotrich is only one of them. It is his right. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, however, should be the one answering us. Kahlon promised to be a social minister, but instead he prefers Smotrich and Bennet’s friendship and helps implement their vision.

The original Hebrew Text

Translation: Maya Haber

The Strollers’ March and Victories in the Social Protest Movement [ssba]

The Strollers’ March and Victories in the Social Protest Movement

In the summer of 2011, a few days after tents started popping up on Rothschild Boulevard. in Tel Aviv, a group of us were hanging out with protesters. Some of us were veteran activists, others were not. We all had kids ages one and a half to four.

This group initiated an unprecedented protest: the “stroller march,” which brought tens of thousands of parents to the streets for a power demonstration around the intolerable cost of raising children in Israel. Read More »

Dany Gutwein, The Economic Logic of the Occupation [ssba]

Dany Gutwein, The Economic Logic of the Occupation

Listen to Prof. Dany Gutwein explain the relationship how Israel’s neoliberalism is wedded to the occupation.