The talk of the town since the end of this summer’s Gaza War has been this vague notion that the Israeli left is dead, and there is no civil discourse left in Israeli society. Whether it came from Mairav Zonszein’s New York Times op-ed “How Israel Silences Dissent”, or a variety of articles written by international and Israeli left wing authors such as Haaretz’s own Gideon Levy. While watching from the sidelines of the university scene in the United States and watching the settlements dig deeper into the West Bank, crowds of Jews running through the streets of Jerusalem shouting “death to Arabs”, or the government’s general reaction to the riots breaking out within Israeli Arab towns and villages—one starts to wonder if the cynics are right. Thankfully, with the help of Partners for Progressive Israel, I am having an experience to learn otherwise.
At this year’s Israel Symposium we have already met with a variety of leaders of the Israeli peace camp — including Meretz leader Zehava Gal’on, MK Nitzan Horowitz, Haaretz’s chief editor Aluf Benn — and attended a panel on human rights in the Occupied Territories. With topics ranging from ending the occupation, to the formation of a center-left government after the next election, the atmosphere is rewarding for someone with a deep love for Israel, yet strong concern over its current policies. While some may doubt it, or try to undermine it, most left-wing Israelis work hard everyday to create a better future and preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Especially as a J Street U leader, I find the work on the ground being undertaken by B’tselem, Peace Now, and the Meretz party as encouraging, and a sign of a deeper connection between us and Israeli society — one more founded in reality and fact, than the fantasy Israel touted today by many in the United States. Whether portrayed as demon, or the messiah, both depictions are inaccurate and work to only worsen the situation for both Israelis and Palestinians.
Now how can the peace camp thrive? At a time where Bennett is soaring through the polls, and Labor’s Buji Herzog has been unable to pick up any traction, things may look bleak. But the truth is there is so much more to Israeli society then what first meets the eye. Already many discussions in our group have centered on the status of Israeli Arabs and working to create a more hospitable society for them. Since Sayed Kashua left Israel this past summer I have partially been ashamed that the state of the Jewish people, a people who have suffered at the hands of others for nearly two millennia, would treat the stranger within their midst with such disregard, neglect and bigotry. Israeli Arabs (or Palestinian Israelis, whichever you prefer) have been marginalized and discriminated against since the state’s beginning. When asked about the situation for Israeli Arabs yesterday, Meretz leader MK Zehava Gal’on said Meretz was actively working to fight for civil equality within Israel, including integrating more Israeli Arabs into the political system and fighting for their right to express themselves politically which has been under attack as in the case of MK Haneen Zoabi. Today we will meet with MK Ahmed Tibi (Ta’al) at the Knesset, and I am certain he will have much to say about this.
But aside from all the gloom and doom, yesh atid [there is a future]. Israelis and Palestinians cannot continue to live with the status quo—whether it’s the fear of terrorist attacks, the cost of living, or the brutality of occupation and land expropriation which is affecting their everyday lives. Israelis and Palestinians are neighbors, for better or worse, and can’t afford to continue the endless cycle of violence that has defined both peoples’ lives for generations. To give up or demonize the other is fruitless and unproductive. The only way forward is through a two-state solution which grants the right of self-determination to both peoples, and allows each population who are sick of each other, a chance to settle down. If you care about Israelis, Palestinians, justice, human rights, or all or any of the above, I strongly urge for you to coordinate with the Israelis and Palestinians on the ground working to create a better reality. So the next time you hear that the Israeli left, liberal Zionism, or the two-state solution is dead, I challenge you to challenge that, take a stance for peace in anyway you can. For the Israeli left is not dead, but it could certainly use our help.
Josh Freedman is a graduating third year student at The Ohio State University, studying World Politics with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies. He is an Israel Symposium scholarship recipient, excited to extend his knowledge and leadership skills on this trip and to bring them back to school where he heads the J Street U chapter. Josh tweets at @jfreedman2009.