An Open Letter to My Jewish American Friends

To my dear Jewish American friends,

Over the years, I have expressed my appreciation and love to you all. But today I am writing to you in solidarity.

But first, I want to say thank you.

For the friendship and partnership and for what I have learned from you all in my 30 years as a social change activist and leader.

For your relentless commitment to healing and mending this broken world of ours.

For supporting Israel as a new nation and its burgeoning civil society; its human rights and social justice groups, peace and shard society organizations, feminist and women's organizations, its schools, museums and fringe arts scene, its universities and hospitals.

For standing by us, social change activists, as we are fighting to make Israel the best that it can and should be.

For remaining in deep dialogue with us through some deeply troubling times.

For coming here on family vacations, missions and study tours.  

For listening attentively and with genuine curiosity to the stories we share with you.

For caring about the people who live here in Israel, Jews and Arabs.

For your supportive emails in times of trouble.

Thank you for the courageous conversations about what it means to love Israel even as it turns its back to you and the way you chose to celebrate your Jewish identity or live by your Jewish values.

I know our friendship and partnership will endure, even as our political leaders are waging war on freedom of thought and expression, and even as they label those who hold a different worldview as disloyal or ignorant. I know that the shared commitment for healing the world will withstand this murky wave of politics of hatred.

With love and appreciation,

Hamutal

Israel Stories through a Gender Lens

Elections! Again?

"Prime minister failed to mediate between Lieberman and ultra-Orthodox parties, sending Israel to its second election in six months", says the Ha'aretz English edition headline of May 30th, 2019.

As a storyteller for social change, I often seek to make sense of political events by having conversations with people. Anger, confusion and deep mistrust in political leadership and its motivations were the responses I encountered this time. "We have yet to heal from the April 9 elections", people said, referring to the highly toxic and divisive recent campaign.

In seeking to make sense of political events, I am always equipped with my gender lens, my dear and trusted companion that constantly urges me to ask questions such as: "how does this effect women?", and, "what can women do to change this reality?". Hence, I turned to my colleague and mentor, journalist and political commentator Anat Saragusti, and asked her to write a short article that will shed light on the dramatic events of the week.

The Banality of Ego

By Anat Saragusti

The main reason behind the decision to take Israel through another election could be summed up with one word: Ego.

Neither advance espionage equipment nor sharp political savvy would have exposed any other reason for the Knesset to convene at the dead of night on May 29 and decide to embark on another election in three months.

The decision has no practicality to it. It’s all personal. Netanyahu claimed to have won the previous election. But when it came time to put his mandate where his mouth is, he failed. The bottom line is Netanyahu couldn’t form a government. And that is why he didn’t win. Furthermore, the negotiations Likud held with its potential coalition partners proved that even the demands set were, how to put it? Completely personal. All they were interested in was the Immunity Law and the High Court Override Clause. These two were meant to provide Netanyahu with a safety net if and when it was decided to indict him after a hearing. These two prerequisites presented by Likud weren’t meant to better the lives of the public, nor Netanyahu’s voters. Neither was designed to deal with the burning issues on the public agenda: A failing health system, social gaps, the deep divides within society, crumbling infrastructures, lagging public transportation, the withering agriculture, a sinking welfare system, the ever-expanding exclusion of women, the precariously escalating incitement against Israel’s Arab citizens, the delegitimization of the left, and above all – for better or worse – the presentation of Trump’s “deal of the century” for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which will now be postponed for many months.

Good or bad, the reveal of Trump’s deal could have altered reality, if only for bringing diplomacy back into the agenda, rejuvenate the discourse around peace, and perhaps even lead to some kind of breakthrough.

This decision must be looked at through two different prisms:

A profound crisis of faith in the political system. When everything is personal, when leaders betray the mandate given to them by the public, when cynicism overtakes sincerity, something in the fundamental pact between us, the public, and our elected leaders, is fractured. The contract which states that we vote for them and they promote the issues we care about was not fulfilled.

This crisis painfully expressed itself in the last election with the generally low voter turnout, but particularly low among Arab citizens, who barely crossed the 50 percent threshold.

The second prism is the practical implication of this decision: the continued freeze over all government activity – the way it has been since the last election was announced in December. A transitional government can’t make important calls, further new topics, allocate budgets or anything.

And above it all hovers, of course, the gender perspective.

These ego struggles were played by men. It’s hard not to sink into the poignant notion that what happened was the result of male thinking which considers everything a zero-sum game. It’s either you or me.

The outgoing Knesset, which managed to sit for solely a month, was characterized by an especially low number of women. But that’s only a small part of the picture. If a government had been formed, it is doubtless that not only it would’ve had few women, but that women wouldn’t have had a real seat at the table, and it is highly unlikely we would’ve seen a woman in the security cabinet, where the critical decision regarding state security, war, and the peace process are made.

Neither side of the political map had enough women with experience, or an ambition to sit on these forums. For this to change in the upcoming election seems far-fetched. Issues that matter to women, such as violence against women, equality in the job market, breaking the glass ceiling and more – were not set front and center in the previous election. It seems dubious that parties seeking our votes would make gender the top of their agenda – not simply by the makeup of their slate, but in a more rooted way, which brings to the things that matter to us to the forefront.

So we all lost in these ego games: The politicians who voted against the conscience and interests, the state – which will now descend into heavy spending, the political system itself, and the voting public, of course. What transpired here is a malevolent use of the democratic toolbox.

Many thanks to Daniel Gouri De-Lima for the English translation of the article

Alarm and Conquer: On politics of Fear

“So what do you want?”
I want us to stop being afraid. I want us to have a piercing, turbulent, complex dialogue about the fact that this country is shared by two peoples: a Jewish majority and a Palestinian minority. I want vibrant discourse in which many voices are heard, and a joint search for worthy solutions.

Years ago, studying group facilitation, we learned about Projective Identification. The example given to illustrate this interpersonal dynamic was the following: The parents go out and leave their two children home alone. The big brother – afraid of being alone with his little sibling and ashamed to admit it – begins telling him horror stories of the monsters lurking in the dark and the burglars encroaching on the house. With little brother terrified, big brother assumes the role of watchful protector, promising with soothing words that he will safeguard him. Thus, the big brother projects his fears unto his sibling and can take the mantle of adult and saviour.
This pathological dynamic grows more and more characteristic of the relationship between he who leads the Israeli government and the citizens of the state. First they terrify us to death so we feel existentially stifled with fear as we ever were, then they pass the nation-state law and promise us it alone will keep us from harm. They pound us with horror stories of those lurking in the dark — Arabs, lefties, traitors, destroyers of Israel — and persistently delegitimize the sources of our fears.
Let it be clear: real, harsh threats do exist. A nuclear Iran is a very disconcerting scenario. Incendiary kites and balloons are a stark nightmare come to life, and missiles raining on the Gaza border communities and across the Negev pose a true danger. Fear is the most human reaction to a reality which exceeds the foulest imagination.
But it is no less terrorizing when intimidation becomes the form of rule. Because when we’re afraid, our brains shut down to the bare essentials. To the part that asks: “Am I predator or prey? Fight or flight?”
When cowing becomes the method of the government, it is very easy to turn any resistance into a threat. Under the rule of fear, people slowly begin to believe that the only ones capable of leading the country are the very ones violently trampling its essential values. For in a state of terror, things like equality, diversity and democracy become the nonsensical luxuries of the weak and the naive, of those who don’t understand all the Arabs want to chuck us into the sea.
Intimidation is a form of emotional manipulation stripping us, the people, of our agency to rise up and make our voices heard. It insults our capacity to observe reality and form a nuanced opinion.
“I don’t want my country taken from me,” wrote me a friend on Facebook in response to things I had said about the protest against the nation-state law. I wholeheartedly empathize. I too want a country to live in, where I feel safe and protected. I simply don’t believe the path to ensure my security as a Jew treads through stripping the collective national identity of Israeli-Palestinians citizens, erasing their language, culture and history from our shared public domain.

FEAR
“So what do you want?”
I want us to stop being afraid. I want us to have a piercing, turbulent, complex dialogue about the fact that this country is shared by two peoples: a Jewish majority and a Palestinian minority. I want vibrant discourse in which many voices are heard, and a joint search for worthy solutions. I want a discussion that doesn’t force me to choose between security and equality, sovereignty and democracy. I want to stop and ask questions about which kind of “Jewish” nation-state are we talking about. Chief Rabbinate Jewish, or diverse and pluralistic Jewish? I want a conversational space devoid of threats of revoking my “loyalty credentials.” When have we become a monarchy in which subjects are asked to pledge allegiance to the overlord?
Eleanor Roosevelt said “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Yes, we need to step outside of our comfort zone every day and grapple with the fear that comes with venturing into uncharted lands. Yes, It is scary to oppose intimidation. it comes with a price. But if we secede to fear, we entrap ourselves in a mindset of hunter and hunted. I don’t know, for some reason that scenario doesn’t make me feel very safe.