Israeli Progressive Millennials Speak about the Occupation [ssba]

Israeli Progressive Millennials Speak about the Occupation

Bar Gissin, the co-chair of Young Meretz, 28, says her generation, was raised amid continuous conflict with the Palestinians. She was 10 years old when the Second Intifada erupted in 2000. Her generation has no direct memory of glorious years of Oslo. Yet, rather than engage the reality of the Conflict, the leadership of the progressive camp remains stuck in the political rhetoric of the 1990s.

“They refer to the 1990s as a relevant point of reference,” she says about how Israeli’s leftwing leadership confronts the Occupation, “and that’s insane! It happened 25 years ago! All the leaders who were involved are dead and there is no peace. The [peace] process didn’t succeed!”

Her generation, she says, deeply distrusts their party’s leadership. Party leaders refuse to soberly examine the current political conjecture and think they can miraculously win elections and end to the Occupation by relying on the voting patterns from the 1990s. And though they lose time and again, they continuously wax about the glorious years of Oslo.

Gissin stresses the historic role of Israeli Millennials is to rebuild a left that is political relevant and confronts the challenges Israelis experience in 2017 head on. This New Left is a progressive network consisting of labor unions, grassroots social movements, and NGOs. Only such a broad network of activists and organizations, Gissen and her allies stress, can take power and bring an end to the Occupation.

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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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). Read More »

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]

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.

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

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%. 

 

 

Ziv Berkovich Fadida, The Elderly, too, Deserve a Dignified Life [ssba]

Ziv Berkovich Fadida, The Elderly, too, Deserve a Dignified Life

One in three elderly Israeli is forced to choose between food, medicine or heating in winter. More than half have no pension, and the existing state benefits amount to a ridiculous sum that doesn’t guarantee subsistence, let alone a dignified life. A new initiative demands that the state commits to a minimum income that will lift elderly citizens out of poverty.

Let’s start at the end: we cannot accept a reality where more than half of elderly Israelis live in poverty. And refusing this reality means fighting for change.

The struggle of We Stand Together (Omdim Beyahad) alongside Koach LaOvdim (a democratic trade union) is based on the premise that everyone has the right to a dignified life. We have the right to live a dignified life during our working and retirement years. While the minimum wage guarantees the minimal ability for existence during our working years, the state does not guarantee its citizens’ ability to live a dignified life after they retire.

And retirement is exactly the age expenses increase (such as health expenses) and people who worked their whole life expect a sharp decrease in their earnings. Why? Because the state’s retirement benefits amount to 1531 NIS ($404), and with extra funding to a ridiculous 3000 NIS ($792) per month. But what about pensions? Well more than half of retirees have no pension arrangements. And a large percentage of us still working have miserable pensions and arrangements that won’t really guarantee anything beyond a few hundred NIS per month after retirement.

Now let me return to the everyday reality of the elderly Israelis. State statistics show that one in four elderly citizens lives well below the poverty line, and one in three has to choose between food, medication and heating in winter. These aren’t the deplorable cases of elderly people who live on the margins of society, but our grandfathers and grandmothers and parents. This sad reality cuts across Israeli society: Jews and Arabs, Mizrahi and Ashkenazi, Holocaust survivors, and residents in the center as well as the periphery. I think of my grandmother, a 78-year-old woman, who was born in this country, and couldn’t survive without her children’s and grandchildren’s help. And there are many like her. But not everyone has this assistance. I think of my parents, my daughter, and myself.

We have an opportunity to change this reality and promise a (bit) better future for all of us

This is why over the past months, we, at We Stand Together initiated our struggle for the minimum of 5000 NIS ($1320). [The goal], first and foremost, is living and aging in a dignified way in this country. But beyond that, we believe in the ability of a common social struggle to bring people together—from different places and different communities—and fight for this common cause. As it gains support, this struggle will be a struggle of everyone who lives here. That is why it was clear to us when we founded this movement that it’s a bilingual struggle: we speak both Hebrew and Arabic.

There are sources of funding

Our demand is simple: the state would guarantee a monthly income of at least 5000 NIS for each retired citizen.

We demand a differential mechanism to ensure that after calculating all an elderly citizen’s income, the state would contribute funds to reach the sum of 5000 NIS.

The plan we propose will benefit many populations in Israel’s working sector. First, it would help those who retired before 2008, when the Obligatory Pension Law went in force. Second, the plan will help immigrants who do not have pensions in their countries of origin.

Among these populations we can find Ethiopian and former Soviet immigrants, who immigrated near retirement age, but have to work well throughout their 70s and 80s. In addition, this plan will profoundly help Israeli Arabs who’ve for years suffered discrimination in funding and forced unemployment, and therefore lack pensions.

In the three days since we launched our campaign many people said our demands are important but there is no money. Well, thank you for asking. We have a very clear answer.

We simply suggest to take from the wealthiest among us to fund our demands: to charge the full tax on international multinational corporations and tycoons instead of decreasing it. And finally, we suggest to put in place in Israel, like in many western countries, a tax on any inheritance over 7 million NIS ($1.8 million).

This struggle for minimum 5000 NIS is gaining force and we intend to go as far as we can: to concentrate maximum power in as many populations possible and then bring this power to a conclusion in the Knesset and government. This is not only a struggle for the amount of money elderly Israelis receive. This is a struggle for a dignified life in Israel.

Ziv Berkovitz Fadida campaigns in We stand together and is a leader of Koach Lavodim, a Trade Union.

The original was published in Local Call

Translation: Dana Mills

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 »