The Sweet Taste of Justice29 March 2012
I fell in love with Jerusalem when I came here last year as part of a year-long study for my rabbinical program in the US. Like many good love stories, it was unexpected and even fraught. After months of praying with Women of the Wall, visiting the West Bank, arguing in the supermarket, and feeling upset about how Israel didn’t match my vision of a Jewish State, I realized that it only hurt because I cared so much.Add a comment
Netanyahu's Fiscal Policies19 March 2012
19 March 2012Add a comment
Our colleagues at the Adva Center prepared the following analysis of the Netanyahu government's follow up to the social justice protests as seen in its fiscal policies. A must read for anyone watching these issues.
Click here for the PowerPoint.
Adalah’s advocacy brings Israel closer to the ideal established by Israel’s founders06 March 2012
March 6, 2012Click here to read the article as published by the Times of Israel. Add a comment
The not-so-stealth campaigns against the Arab civil rights organization Adalah, its supporter the New Israel Fund, and the values of democratic and minority rights are hitting new lows.
For example, NGO Monitor recently went public with an op-ed it knew to be wrong, along with some manipulative interpretation. Having wrongly accused Adalah of participating in a European BDS conference, they attempted to associate the organization with the BDS campaign — even after they were told of their error and after the conference took place without Adalah’s participation. In fact, boycott is not a part of Adalah’s mandate, simply because it seeks change through Israel’s legal system. Meanwhile, other organizations use NIF’s support of Adalah as a wedge issue in an attempt to delegitimize both the New Israel Fund and Arab civil society. This is not a minor matter.
In some places, the leading organization advancing civil rights for society’s most disadvantaged minority occupies an honorable place in civil society. Just look at how the NAACP is regarded in America. In Israel, it’s troubling that Adalah, which has won countless cases in court on behalf of Israeli Arab citizens, is regarded with suspicion at best.
Despite the unique circumstances here in Israel, Adalah has trod a path of ideological and pragmatic moderation. Adalah uses litigation to advance human and civil rights in Israel, and their impact speaks for itself. This organization won a precedent-setting victory in September 2011 on behalf of an Arab couple excluded from living in the village of Rakefat. In 2010, the High Court of Justice ordered the Tax Authority to discontinue tax breaks based on location, which discriminated against Arab-Israeli towns and villages, following an Adalah petition. In a groundbreaking victory this past fall, the Kiryat Gat Magistrate’s Court ordered the State to cancel 51 demolition orders issued against the Bedouin village of Alsira; the judge criticized the razing orders because the families have been living in the village for decades.
And just this week, the High Court overturned two clauses in the Income Support Law that forbade poor people from owning a car. The petition, brought by Adalah and other NGOs, now protects poor Israelis, both Jewish and Arab, from having to surrender vehicles they need for work, medical or family needs or risk losing their income benefits.
The common thread in these achievements is that Israel is a more just, more equal, and more democratic state. Israel’s founders set out to create a Jewish state. But they were crystal clear in their desire to see Israel provide meaningful equality for all of its citizens, including the Arab minority. Adalah’s advocacy brings us closer to this ideal.
Tax districts and real-estate exclusion are not the stuff of revolution. Because opposing Adalah’s successes would be too obviously racist and discriminatory, its adversaries instead point to the organization’s participation in a theoretical proposal for an Israeli constitution more than five years ago. At that time, Adalah and other leaders in the Arab community proposed a model that emphasized the democratic nature of the state at the expense of its Jewish aspects.
An invitation to discuss
It is certainly worth arguing with the authors of that document, and I do. But let us remember that at the time that document was written, Israel was abuzz with conferences about what we might want in a constitution. Adalah’s “democratic constitution” proposal told us, the Jewish majority, that there are other ways to think about our most structural issues – and that actually inviting Arab citizens to participate in the conversation might be useful.
The truth is, despite repeated false claims to the contrary, Adalah does not focus on changing the nature of Israel as a Jewish state. It seeks to achieve equality for all, as promised by Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Adalah’s purpose, admirably fulfilled, is to chip away at the legislative and social discrimination that the Arab minority faces on a daily basis.
It may be that this very success is why Adalah, and its funder the New Israel Fund, attract such enmity. Only the bravest ultra-nationalist ideologues are honest enough to say what they are really after – a state without Arab citizens, or one in which those citizens docilely accept second-class status. Instead, the mouthpieces for the extreme right that attempt to preserve a veneer of respectability, like NGO Monitor, opine that it should be illegal for Adalah and other NGOs to receive funding from democracies abroad (using the same arguments that the Egyptian and Russian governments, those paragons of democracy, are using these days.) Then they try to bully NIF into dropping its support as well. Given that almost every Israeli NGO, including NGO Monitor itself, gets significant funding from overseas, the only conclusion is that these ultra-nationalists believe that Adalah should be utterly defunded, and cease to exist.
That would be a tragedy for everyone. Just this month, Adalah director Hassan Jabareen pointed out that his organization is frequently criticized by various sectors in the Arab world for not being more ultra-nationalist. A recent example is Adalah’s statement criticizing the Syrian regime for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. Adalah’s objective of socio-economic equality for the Arab minority irritates both the Islamists and those who think that any encounter with the machinery of the Israeli state is wrong. Destroying Adalah means empowering those whose real aims are innately destructive, both in the Jewish and Arab communities.
We can’t allow the attacks on Adalah to succeed. The survival of Israel’s democracy depends on allowing the voices of unpopular minorities to be heard. We, the majority, will not always like what Adalah has to say, or the light they shine on discriminatory practices. It doesn’t matter. Living up to our own best interests and values means that we must engage with our fellow citizens when they stand up for their rights. The attacks on Adalah may hurt that organization. In the long run, they will hurt Israel more.
Yehudit Karp is the former Deputy Attorney General of Israel and a member of the International Council of the New Israel Fund
Belief in change13 March 2012
8 March 2012Add a comment
By Ruth Eglash
Ronit Heyd, director of Shatil, is of the opinion that "hope should and could be the driving force behind our decisions and actions."
Ronit Heyd, Age: 37
Profession: Director of Shatil – leading social change, an initiative of the New Israel Fund.
Place of birth: New Jersey (By chance. My parents, both Israelis, were there for my father’s PhD work)
Current residence: Ein Kerem, Jerusalem
■ What issue gets you out of bed in the morning? My two‐year‐old daughter calling in my ear: “Ima, pita” (that’s her favorite breakfast). And knowing that a full and exciting day is waiting for me, working with amazingly inspiring and creative people who are dedicated to making Israel a more just, democratic and shared society. Following last summer’s protests, we’re seeing an incredible awakening of civil society, with more and more people wanting to take part in creating social change. We have a lot to do.
■ What issue keeps you up at night? How to continuously improve the work that we’re doing, making it clearer, more impactful, and how we can reach out to new communities that share our goals. I am gravely concerned about the effect of what seems to be a growing trend of nationalist and religious extremism which could fundamentally change the face of our society. We’re seeing more and more legislative efforts that are aiming to limit freedom of expression, the rights of the Arab minority in Israel, or the very basic rules of the democratic game. But apart from that, I’m usually dead tired after a jampacked day that includes work, spending some time with my kids, and then more work, so I fall asleep fairly quickly.
■ What’s the most difficult professional moment you’ve faced so far? Having to cut programs and staff due to ending of project budgets.
■ Why do you do what you do? I believe in people, and I believe in change. That’s why I’ve always wanted to work at Shatil. It’s the place where change happens. I can’t see myself doing anything else. I love working in an organization that is a microcosm of Israeli society, with staff who are Jews and Arabs, veteran Israelis and immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union, gay and straight, Ashkenazi and Mizrahi.
■ If you were prime minister, what’s the first thing you would do? [Big sigh...] There is so much to do. I would anchor civil, social and human rights in fundamental laws, in order to secure religious freedom, the democratic nature of Israel and the right to live in dignity for all citizens. I would ensure that every child gets free and good quality education, an education that respects and encourages pluralism of thought and liberal values, and puts more emphasis on respect of all humankind – love someone as you love yourself – instead of only constantly striving for excellence and achievements.
■ Which Israeli should have a movie made about him/her? My mother‐in‐law. She made aliya from Morocco in the early ’60s, raised eight children plus six foster children and was (and still is, at the age of 65) a child caregiver. Like so many women, she has worked extremely hard in very poor conditions for many years in the most “transparent job” – caring for children and doing housework. Besides, she’s an excellent cook and I love her.
■ What would you change about Israelis if you could? I would add to each of us 5 kilos of patience and 50 kilos of tolerance. And I would get people to stop littering and polluting our nature. It drives me mad.
■ iPad, BlackBerry or pen and paper? BlackBerry. It’s the best way to multitask. Without it I feel almost crippled.
■ If you had to write an advertisement to entice tourists to come to Israel, what would it say? Beautiful country, great weather, wonderful people, and the best place to understand the existential meaning of the word “balagan [muddle].”
■ What is the most serious problem facing the country? Instead of seeing ourselves as sovereign, we still relate to ourselves as victims. It makes us constantly – as a nation and as people – feel under threat. There is a new generation now, a growing number of people who believe hope should and could be the driving force behind our decisions and actions. I’m one of those.
■ How can it be solved? We have to ensure Israel continues to have a strong and vibrant civil society. That is the essence of our democracy, of our unique ability to hold such diversity while maintaining social cohesion at the same time. We need to continue supporting and strengthening the leadership and groups who are committed to working toward diminishing social and economic gaps, achieving full equality between Jews and Arabs, and maintaining our democratic character. There are so many of us out there doing this. We need to join forces and take these values down to earth by translating them to social action and to new politics.
■ In 20 years, the country will be: I really, really, really hope we will manage to hold the tensions we have within us, and ensure this country is a place where each person can live in dignity and according to his or her values and beliefs. Otherwise, we’re in deep trouble.
This article originally appeared in Jerusalem Post, click here to view the article as published.
Gender Trouble23 January 2012
Suddenly, it seems, gender segregation is everywhere in Israel—buses, army bases, Jerusalem sidewalks, Beit Shemesh schoolyards and, above all, the front pages. What is going on here? Why is all this happening now?Let's begin with the second question. "This"—that is, efforts by some sectors of Israeli Orthodoxy to set terms for the public presence of women that are very different from those of the secular majority—has been underway for years. Indeed, the better question is, what has taken mainstream Israel (if there still is such a thing) so long to take notice?
There are various trends at work here, but we can make one large assertion: The center no longer holds, and one of the most volatile seams along which the fault lines run is gender.
Let's start with the buses. In the late 1990s, at the request of some Haredim, the Transportation Ministry created bus lines, serving ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods and cities, on which women would enter from and sit in the back, on an officially "voluntary" basis. The lines were called "mehadrin" or "beautified," the talmudic term for religious practices combining special piety with an aesthetic touch. They were deemed legally permissible because Israeli law allows discrimination when it is necessary to provide access to public services and does not harm the common weal. All the fundamental questions (necessary? common weal?) were left wide open.
The lines grew to number around 50. Their biggest problem was the violence, verbal and sometimes physical, regularly meted out to religious and secular women who, for whatever reason, entered and sat in the front. In 2007 one victim—Naomi Ragen, a well-known Orthodox novelist who is, not coincidentally, American-born—went to court, represented by the Reform Movement's Center for Religious Pluralism. Under orders by Israel's High Court to issue a formal report, the Transportation Ministry concluded in October, 2009 that the segregated buses were illegal. The Transportation Minister tried to distance himself from the report and, for months, pleaded for more time. The Court finally ruled that the segregated lines could proceed—on an entirely voluntary basis, with clear signs to that effect. The lines still run, at times through force.
Next, Beit Shemesh. Situated near ultra-Orthodoxy's holy cities of Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, it has attracted growing numbers of Israeli Haredim. They have joined the traditional but religiously moderate Mizrahim who arrived when it was a hardscrabble development town and the American Modern Orthodox, who began arriving in the 1980s. Many Haredi arrivals were from Jerusalem's Meah Shearim, a venerable and veritable nuclear reactor of Haredi ideology, zealotry, and occasional violence. Ultra-Orthodox cities have been growing in Israel since the mid-1990s. But in Beit Shemesh, the ultra-Orthodox urban space abuts dissenting populations, religious Zionists as well as American Haredim who are changing Israeli ultra-Orthodoxy, both anathema to the zealots.
Religious zealotry has a long history in Israel. In the 1920s and 1930s, Abraham Isaac Kook was dismembered in effigy, denounced as a Christian missionary, and doused with buckets of water in the streets. Rhetorical violence is a staple of Haredi discourse; indeed, it has become an art form. But the mounting violence against women, no doubt reflecting sincere conviction (not to mention the need for enemies and the bored young Haredim unsuited for yeshiva life), also seems to bespeak increasing internal tensions.
Israel's Haredim are increasing (some predict they will be in the majority by 2030) and are no longer an enclave. Though traditionalist, they have internalized modern aspirations to remake society and strategies of ideological mobilization. Far from monolithic, they have they have their own internal kulturkampfen. Haredi singers perform before mixed audiences. Haredim serve in special military units—and often face community ostracism. Haredi women have made extraordinary educational and occupational strides. The response by some has been to send them, literally, to the back of the bus—and push them out of view elsewhere.
The Haredi-controlled Health Ministry has forbidden women to appear at ceremonies honoring these same women. Female community board members have been forced to sit behind mehitzot (partitions) at meetings. There have been attempts to enforce separate hours for men and women in government offices. It took a petition to the High Court to get women candidates' campaign posters onto Jerusalem's buses. Egged and its advertising firm were sued last week because of the onerous security deposit they require—a guarantee against likely vandalism, they say—from companies that use women's faces in bus advertising. Other lawsuits (including one co-filed by this writer) have challenged separate sidewalks for men and women. In conversation and on Haredi websites, many Haredim oppose forcible segregation and the accompanying violence. But they have almost no collective voice and no support from Haredi leadership.
The recent furors over women's singing in the Army come from a different, less obvious direction. Increasing numbers of IDF soldiers and officers are so-called "Hardali" (Haredi Dati Leumi). Unlike Haredim, they participate in the military and favor the idea of the Jewish state—but reject its integration into Western culture. One element of their program is sexual modesty, or tsniut—partially for Haredi-like aims of male-female separation and the repression of public expression of sexuality, but also as a marker of national identity and a means of channeling romanticism in the direction of the sacred.
Both Haredi and Hardali countercultures seek to maintain the crucial gender divide while dissolving Israeli society's boundaries between the religiously public and private, between religious and mundane. Indeed, the surrounding Israeli society has been a key, if silent, player here.
First, Haredim and Hardalim seeking an ideology and identity distinct from the surrounding society find in gender a powerful source of difference. Second, their excesses are in part a reaction to the freewheeling sexuality of secular Israel, whose socio-cultural norms are more European than American. Third, secular politicians and secular Israel at large have until just recently been thunderingly indifferent. These battles have been waged, in court and elsewhere, by lonely groups of feminists, Reform Jews, and moderate religious Zionists. They have been met with incomprehension by journalists, politicians, and other secular elites who see the mehadrin bus lines simply as political spoils and who, from the Prime Minister on down, have buried their heads in the sand for the sake of coalition politics.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton changed all that when she talked about the situation at the Brookings Institution. The Prime Minister and the political class now understand that they have a problem. Yet they may not understand that it is more than a public relations problem. At stake here is the constitution of Israeli public space and civil society.
In Israel's early decades, for better or worse, the Mapai Labor Zionist establishment constituted both the state's ruling body and society's symbolic and civic-religious center. Mapai, with its flaws, offered a governing ethos and a plausible interpretation of Jewish history and identity. Its political eclipse beginning in the 1970s, then its fissile social and cultural collapse in the ensuing decades, left Israeli society increasingly fragmented. One casualty has been the idea of a public, civic space, open to and shared equally by all. Major political parties lay less claim than before to representing the entire public and avowedly sectoral parties are growing. The creation of entirely Haredi cities, largely in the territories, has further eroded the idea of neutral civic space.
In that respect, the public outcry galvanized by the broadcast of ultra-Orthodox thugs tormenting Naama Margolese is of a piece with last summer's economic protests. In both cases, many people, particularly in Israeli middle-class society, who could choose to live elsewhere but who serve in the army, pay taxes, and still feel Zionism in their bones, have shown that they feel the common weal has been sold off in pieces—and that they want it back.
Americans may be astonished that we need to debate whether women should sit in the back of the bus. But in Israel, this debate, unwelcome as it is, can still be a good thing. Proponents of Israeli civil society, religious and secular, must demonstrate that they can mount a principled defense of their core values and their conception of the public sphere.
In this brave new networked world, passively following MacWorld's dictates du jour is as demoralizing and useless as a return to an imagined Haredi idyll in the shtetl that never was. Faced by a flood of emails, images, videos, status updates, and tweets, which may reshape not only our communications but our inner worlds, we—not just Haredim or Hardalim—should renew the indispensable Jewish value of tsniut. It teaches that I must contain some of my own presence, not to erase the others but to let them, him or her, be and flourish.
Dr. Yehudah Mirsky studied at Yeshivat Har Etzion and Yeshiva College and received rabbinic ordination in Jerusalem. This piece originally appeared at Jewish Ideas Daily. It is crossposted here with permission.Add a comment