For 2010 we wanted to make a David Letterman style “Top Ten” list of the most important events of 2010 in Israel. Coming up with this list was harder than anticipated. We didn’t want to be overly negative and only call attention to the stories and events that disappointed, discouraged or shamed us. But we also didn’t want to be too shiny and happy and only mention the good news either. So, with the sincerest of efforts to both call truth to power and to keep on the sunny side, we present you with two top five lists: the events in Israel that caused us both shame and pride in 2010.
Shame # 5: Im Tirtzu, a right-wing student group that organized in Israeli universities, and used McCarthyist tactics to slander the Israeli human rights community. We are ashamed by this group’s narrow and racist interpretation of Zionism and Israeli history. We are also ashamed of their efforts to curb academic freedom and diversity of discourse and curriculum, and thus erode Israeli higher education and democracy.
Pride # 5: Rabbi Chaim Amsalem, a Shas MK who was kicked out of the Shas party. Rabbi Amsalem suggested the majority of ultra-orthodox men “should go out and earn a living” and not be studying Torah full time, and that state subsidies for Torah study should only be given to the true scholars – the best of the best. Rabbi Amsalem also made other moderate and modernist suggestions – such as greater leniency in conversion and the need for a core ‘secular’ curriculum in religious schools. That such a perspective was voiced from a member of an extreme religious party gives us hope.
Shame # 4: Al Araqib, an unrecognized Bedouin village in the Negev that has now been demolished eight times by Israeli authorities. We are ashamed that the Israeli government is yet to come up with a just solution for resolving the issue of the unrecognized villages. We are ashamed that the Israel Land Administration persists in carrying out a policy that makes people homeless. And most of all, we are ashamed that the rights of Israeli citizens have been repeatedly ignored and violated.
Pride # 4: Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, winner of the 2010 ‘Right Livelihood Award’ for outstanding vision and work on behalf of our planet and its people. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHRI) is an organization of Israeli and Palestinian physicians that stands at the forefront of the struggle for human rights – particularly the right to health – in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. PHRI lobbies the state of Israel, demanding that all residents of Israel and Palestine get the same access and right to health care regardless of their legal status, nationality, ethnicity or faith. PHRI also provides health services to those residents of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory who otherwise would not receive proper health care. We are proud of PHRI and their important work.
Shame # 3: The now infamous Gaza Flotilla, and the deaths of nine international activists, saddened and dismayed us. While the “Freedom Flotilla” exercise was steeped in provocation and animosity toward Israel, it did not pose an imminent danger to Israeli citizens, or an existential danger to the State of Israel. So we are ashamed of the decision making process that led to the boarding of the vessels, and that risked the lives of Israeli soldiers unnecessarily. Most of all we are ashamed of the policy to close Gaza which lead to this regretful incident. It is our hope that further easing of the closure of Gaza will continue in the future.
Pride # 3: The Israeli humanitarian response to the Haitian earthquake, which brought swift and skilled aid to those in need. We are proud of the IDF medical aid mission to Port-au-Prince. Such actions highlight the best of what Israel has to offer.
Shame # 2: The end of the settlement freeze is such a shame. Another opportunity to reach a final status agreement was squandered. Once again Netanyahu’s policies are obstructing the peace process. We support a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders with land swaps, and further settlement expansion is nothing but an obstacle to peace.
Pride # 2: The Human Rights March in Tel Aviv on December 10th which marked International Human Rights Day. We are proud that more than 5,000 stood up for human rights as a value that is central to Israel’s identity as a democratic country.
Shame # 1: Our greatest shame of the year is the sharp rise of fascism and racism we’ve witnessed in Israel. From loyalty oaths to State-employed rabbis urging people not to rent to Arabs, we are troubled and scared by the legislation and organized efforts to steer Israel away from the democratic values of its declaration of independence.
Pride # 1: Our greatest pride of the year is the grass roots ferment we’ve seen in the weekly demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah and in the decision made by Israeli actors, directors, writers and other artists who refuse to perform in Ariel. We are so proud of these and other non-violent political actions that call out bad Israeli policies and help to strengthen Israeli democracy. We firmly believe that dissent is democratic, that protest is patriotic, and that the only way to ensure a democratic and just society is to continually work for it.
Bad, unjust and undemocratic Israeli policies gave us too much to be ashamed of, while the actions of individuals and non-profit Israeli organizations gave us a lot of pride and reason to hope. We hope that the new year will bring more justice, more democracy, more respect for human rights, and peace.