Israeli society has taken a hard turn to the right. Recent polling data shows a gross rise in racist attitudes toward Palestinians and a disturbing level of comfort with inequity in the form of occupation and/or apartheid.
Those of us who are ideologically or emotionally tied to this place and the people here should be unsettled. Anyone with a stake in economic and social justice, as well as human rights and equality ought to be waking up right about now. This call is certainly not limited to the Jewish communities of the world, but it is, in part, addressed to us.
Rejoining the “community of nations” entails taking responsibility for ourselves and for our actions as a collective. It also means taking responsibility for our fellow human beings. Here in Israel, we are failing on both fronts.
As I write this, I am keeping track of the social networks and Israeli media that are alight with the news that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party announced the official merger with Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu.
This is a truly frightening development. It is frightening because it marks the intensification of the Right-wing, anti-democratic tendencies that have scarred the Israeli political landscape. It marks the official marriage, as opposed to the courtship that had been ongoing thus far, of the neoliberal Right and the ultra nationalist Right.
Over the past few years we have seen ever-present and growing violence towards Palestinians enabled by Israeli policy. We have seen a 400% rise in 2011 (according to the Coalition against Racism in Israel) in racist incidents reported. This includes a mob of teens beating a small group of Palestinians in a main square in Jerusalem and last spring’s politician-incited racist fervor and rioting against non-Jewish Africans seeking asylum within our borders.
This is a country where the Interior Minister, Eli Yishai, even went rogue with his plans to put 15000 of the asylum seekers into a desert prison/concentration camp. This is a country that refers to refugees as infiltrators less than 70 years after the Shoah ended, and where the law allows for these “infiltrators” to be locked up for a minimum of 3 years and a maximum of life. This is a country that arrests women simply for praying freely at the Kotel. It’s a country that has allowed for the dehumanization of an occupied people to the point that racism toward them is certainly not the exception these days.
The nuptials of Yisrael Beiteinu and Likud mark the joining of two parties that have presided over (and/or been complacent with) all of the above as well as the new economic reality that the risk of living in poverty in Israel is skyrocketing past 30%.
Make no mistake; This election is about ending the occupation, which Noam Sheizaf wisely writes, "has completely dehumanized the Palestinians in the eyes of Israelis." It is also about the economic policies that are breaking people all over this country. This election is about all of the above: economic issues, social issues, human rights, and the fundamental responsibilities that we took on when we joined the “community of nations.”
We need to work to fix the problems that exist here and now, as we work for total change to the system that allows for poverty, occupation, and racism to exist at all. Aside from voting and campaigning for parties that propose a just and peaceful future, action can be taken by educating ourselves and the people around us. You can donate money to causes that you believe in too. We should be shouting at our politicians to listen, but more importantly we need to become the leaders we wish to see in our parliament, town halls, communities, and in the streets. We must advocate in courts and on TV for unjust laws to be changed. We can protest in town squares and disrupt traffic sometimes. We can sit-in at public institutions and we can do nonviolent civil disobedience. We can organize massive strikes and create a deafening call for a better future. We can take this society back. All of these tools and others are ours to use if we organize ourselves here in Israel and around the world.
We should all be deeply concerned about the path that we are on. Yossi Klein Halevi’s thoughts on Zionism are reflective of Rabbi Hillel’s ever-relevant ethic that, “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”
We need to reread those words and shed our fear. We need to take responsibility for our own nation and our fellow nations. We need to do it together and we need to do it now.