Archive | August, 2014

Is Liberal Zionism Dead? My response.

26 Aug

For “liberal” Zionists living here, the struggle for a more egalitarian and just Israel is not something we can afford to abandon. If I’m here, then my only choice is to try to change things if I want a better future for myself and my family. 

[I was asked for my response to “The End of Liberal Zionism” by Antony Lerman, from the New York Times Sunday Review. Here it is.]

I deeply relate to Lerman’s frustrations with the rise of the Israeli right, and I agree with much of what he wrote. Yet, as an Israeli, I cannot give up completely. Our differing conclusions stem from the fact that I live in Israel, and he does not; as such, his argument is most relevant for “liberal Zionists” in the Diaspora.

We in Israel are living in very dark times. In addition to the current war and the 47-year-old occupation which continues to drain our resources and plague our morality, we are experiencing real threats to freedom of expression and Arab-Jewish relations in Israel. Even with tonight’s cease-fire, the immediate future of this country looks grim.

Yet there is hope for a Zionist Left. We are small and mostly dormant, but we’re here.

Protesters wave an Israeli flag during an anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv, July 2014. The Left has started to reclaim the flag.

Protesters wave an Israeli flag during an anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv, July 2014. The Left has started to reclaim the flag.

It’s easy for Diaspora Jews to abandon hope because in a way they have nothing tangible to lose (not to undermine their commitment to Israel), but they are not raising kids in Israel, for example. If I’m here, I can either give in to the negative currents or try to change things. As I see it, I only have one choice  if I want a better future for myself and my family.

The Middle East is a volatile region, and things change very quickly. As such, I believe that an egalitarian, just Jewish state can exist. We need the right leadership, one that has a vision for the long-term future of this country and the values that will sustain it as a democracy. We need to end the Occupation. We need budget for affordable housing and education. When we get it, public education must focus on human rights and coexistence. Our leaders need to denounce racism and take real steps to empower the embattled Arab population. The government needs to ensure that Israel’s increasing wealth is spread among its increasingly destitute poor and middle classes.  Those are just a few things. It’s easier said than done, I know, but these actions are the only way to ensure Israel’s survival.

I sincerely believe that beneath our war-battered pessimism, beneath the racism and fear and belligerence, the majority of Israelis understand that two peoples will continue to live on this tiny piece of land. They understand that for our people to survive we need a fair solution for everyone.

The second aspect of the conundrum of “liberal” Zionism is the double standard Israel faces in global public opinion.  As a Canadian Jew who immigrated to Israel, I remain strongly affiliated with my home country as well as other countries where I have lived, their media, and family and friends there. Thus, for me this conflict – and Israel – exist in two realms:  within Israeli society and in the world.

Within Israel, I am a proactive, tax-paying member of society. This is where I work, vote, and live. Like any citizen of a democratic country, I hold my leaders fully accountable for their actions. The government’s decisions and values directly affect me, and I don’t want my kids to grow up to be occupiers, in a society seeped in fear and hatred.

Then there’s the world, which obsesses over my adopted country more than any other, scrutinizing it with a magnifying glass.

Lerman writes, “But the critics go only so far — not least to avoid giving succor to anti-Semites, who use the crisis as cover for openly expressing hatred of Jews.” I don’t take this statement lightly. As critical as I am of Israel’s actions in this war and in many other spheres, I am preoccupied by the constant double standard Israel faces, and the rise in genuine anti-Semitism cloaked as anti-Zionism.

In my previous job as the international spokesperson for Israel’s largest human rights organization, I dealt with this dilemma daily: explaining Israel’s many breaches of human rights in a truthful and accurate manner, without doling out erroneous, headline-enhancing catchphrases. It wasn’t easy. Then, the arguments were about “apartheid”. This time, it’s about “genocide”. Neither term accurately describes Israel’s actions, as illegal, discriminatory, and reprehensible as they may be.

To our critics abroad I say: it’s OK to denounce but learn the nuances and facts before make sweeping accusations. Even if we are more powerful, Israelis experience real threats, fears, and weaknesses which must be acknowledged.

As a Diaspora-Jew-turned-Israeli-Jew, I can understand Lerman’s decision to relinquish Zionism: the discourse on Israel is so polarized that it often feels as if you have to adopt one extreme viewpoint or the other.  However, because I live the nuances and shades of grey, I can still support this country and consider myself more Zionist than ever.

I’ll end with the most pressing challenge to liberal Zionists in Israel and abroad. We have to stop being afraid to talk about Israel’s ills to the world. It goes without saying that we have to be balanced, honest, and thorough and to distinguish our friends from our foes. For Israel to change, something dramatic has to happen, and it will only happen with pressure from the outside, as was the case with South Africa.

Unlike Lerman, however, I see this as a very Zionist act. Whether they call themselves Zionist or not, we will need people from abroad like Lerman to help make this change.




A Day at the Beach

1 Aug

I started my day optimistic. When Aharon and I woke up to the news of a 72-hour ceasefire, we were elated. It was as if the war were over.

As we planned the day ahead, it took us a few minutes to realize that we can actually go to the beach. We haven’t since this war started because our preferred seaside is in Rishon Lezion, a city south of Tel Aviv and the target of many rockets. I thought of how excited my kids would be to play in the sand and wade in the shallow water as the cool waves crashed.


A day at the beach in happier times

I was even happier to see a photo on Facebook of children and fishermen in Gaza enjoying the beach there this morning.

Yes, I thought, the beach will end this war. All anyone wants in this shared, unbearable heat is to sit in the cool Mediterranean waters and eat a good watermelon. We want it. They want it. I thought of all the Gazan children who must be ecstatic to run around freely and of the parents who can exhale without having to think of finding shelter – and the Israeli ones too.

Throughout the morning, I was giddy thinking of our beach plans. Then, I came home to the most horrible news: not only had the ceasefire been broken but Hamas captured a soldier.  Israel considers abduction a fate worse than death. Kidnapping forces us to pay a very high price – many more Palestinian prisoners who sometimes return to terrorism –  for that soldier’s release in addition to the potential for torture as well as leaked intelligence. In most cases the soldiers are already dead, unbeknownst to Israel. (Read my post on Gilad Schalit’s release for more on this ultra-sensitive topic.)

According to the Israeli media, Hamas started. Good job, Hamas. We know all the horrors you inflict on your people, but here you had a chance to end this cursed war.

I am losing patience. Who isn’t?  That’s an understatement, I know; I just don’t know how to write it in stronger terms. The more the world condemns Israel, the more Israel perseveres and thinks it’s right to use excessive force on mixed civilian and terrorist areas. And you’d think the other side would want the cease-fire more, to save some of its people, but they blew it again.

I’m also losing patience because I feel powerless to do anything about this endless bloodshed and tragedy. Read my last post about an anti-war demonstration I attended for more on that.

I’m sad for all of us, who are being held prisoner by our violent leaders, bent on the path of destruction.

All we want is a day at the beach.