5 January 2012
The Other Existential Dilemma
Writing last week in the International Herald Tribune, Shmuel Rosner, a Tel Aviv-based journalist, recounted a series of conversations he had with fellow Israelis over Hanukkah last month. Virtually none of his friends, he reported, were talking about the issues of security, war and the peace process that traditionally dominate the headlines in Israel. Rather, they had something else on their minds: social justice and an increasingly polarized, divided society.
While the protests that dominated the streets of Israeli cities this past summer have long ended, the issues that sparked those protests – and the potential implications of the protests themselves - remain foremost on the minds of many Israelis. And related issues are joining the queue, including increasing concerns over threats to women’s equality from a growing and extreme brand of ultra-Orthodox Judaism.
In short, Israelis are focusing like never before on so-called “domestic” issues, issues that for years took a back seat to concerns about the “matsav,” the situation. This partially reflects the stalemate in negotiations, but it also reflects the growing realization that the quality and even survival of Israeli democracy is as much an existential issue as the unresolved conflict with the Palestinians.
Rosner thinks that’s a good thing, and so do I. I often say that while many Israel-focused organizations, on both right and left, are concerned with an Israel living in peace and security with its neighbors, NIF is focused on an Israel at peace with itself. We exist to help close the gaps and heal the rifts in Israel’s bewilderingly diverse and often fractious society. We believe that the best, and indeed the only, way to do this is to support those working to strengthen liberal democratic values in Israel, and increasingly, to take a leadership role in what Israelis are calling the “democratic camp.” That democratic and humanistic values are under attack like never before is, I believe, the great challenge to those of us who support Israel as a pluralistic, tolerant and just society. That Israelis like Rosner’s friends, like the NIF family, like the half-million who marched this summer, are increasingly concerned with those values is our great hope.
May 2012 see millions more, in Israel and beyond, stand up for the Israel we believe in.