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The guide for leftists who want to stop preaching to the choir

For years the Israeli Left has excluded the vast majority of the country from its ranks. Here are eight steps on how to broaden the tent. 

By Noam Shuster-Eliassi

Thousands of left-wing activists call for the resignation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in response to the increase in violent Palestinian attacks, Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, October 25, 2015. (photo: Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Thousands of left-wing activists call for the resignation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in response to the increase in violent Palestinian attacks, Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, October 25, 2015. (photo: Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Over the past several years, various writers and NGOs have finally come to the conclusion that the Israeli peace camp is on its death bed, and that along the way it has forgotten, well, everyone.

Today many concede that over the years there formed an “alliance of the elites” between Israeli activists from Tel Aviv who leisurely met with activists from Ramallah. The members of this alliance headed delegations and took part in dialogues — without religious leaders, without Mizrahim, without members of the national-religious movement, without Ethiopian activists, without Russian speakers, without Palestinian citizens of Israel, among other groups. And this is only on our side.

Of course I am generalizing, and we can all think of the exceptions, even those who perhaps were signatories to the Geneva Initiative. But the question is a different one: were they full partners — in both representative and numbers — to formulating accords such as the Geneva Initiative? No. And therein lies the problem.

The voices of those who “do not count” — according to the representatives of the peace camp, the vast majority of whom hail from Tel Aviv — are simply not taken into consideration. Who gets to decide what a “peace activist” looks like? Who gets to wave the banner of dialogue? Who says that the solutions concocted between Ramallah and Tel Aviv all these years are the best ones for Israelis and Palestinians? The time has come to unpack these issues, and we have a lot of work to do.

Alongside the Right’s persecution of the Israeli Left, it has become trendy to say that we need to “broaden the tent.” Countless words have been written about the Left’s blindness as it continued preaching to the choir. Not only is it not enough to highlight the Left’s failures — we need to propose alternatives and ways of implementing them.

I grew up in Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam, an Arab-Jewish village established to promote peace and coexistence, but my experience was different from many of the residents there, since for most of my life I never felt part of the peace camp. Sometimes it was because I spoke fluent Arabic; most left-wing activists may want to learn Arabic, but never actually do anything about it. Sometimes it was because I felt I didn’t belong because I am Mizrahi. I grew closer to Palestinians and could not find much in common with peace activists. When I interviewed for various positions in human rights organizations, I encountered hard-headedness, racism, and ignorance to such a degree that they simply destroyed the trust I had in the camp I grew up in.

An Israeli man makes a lewd gesture toward a joint Israeli-Palestinian peace march in the West Bank, November 27, 2015. (Mustafa Bader/Activestills.org)

An Israeli man makes a lewd gesture toward a joint Israeli-Palestinian peace march in the West Bank, November 27, 2015. (Mustafa Bader/Activestills.org)

But I didn’t give up. I saw and knew that many more felt as I did. Instead of criticizing the white, secular, condescending Left, it is time to get up and do something. So what do we do? Here is my guide, based on years of experience and female intuition:

1. Make room for others. Yes, just like that. Learn to make space for people of different backgrounds. This means, for example, refusing to participate in a panel or conference held in Europe attended by mostly white men. Just refuse. Burn a few bridges, say things your partners might not want to hear, and insist that haredi and Mizrahi women (among others) be invited as well.

Yes, this will be hard. It is natural that people want credit and the ability to express their opinions. But believe me, doing so betrays qualities of real leadership, far more than trying to convince yourselves and others like you of things you already believe in. Try it. Don’t cooperate with a camp that excludes the majority of the population.

2. Create mechanisms, whether in your projects, writing, and activities that will oversee and ensure a wider representation of marginalized groups among the participants. Work hard to make this happen. Travel across the country. Don’t say “there are no suitable people.” There are, many of them, of all kinds and colors, whose work is far more difficult than yours. Someone who comes from a traditional, right-wing community will have a much harder time raising the flag of peace. Go find this person. These are your people — put time and energy into them.

3. Learn to sit with honesty, bravery and determination with Jews who think differently. Why do you so easily sit with Palestinians with whom you do not agree, yet you cannot sit with right wingers or religious Jews? Ask yourself these difficult questions. Dialogue is not only to be held with those beyond the wall. Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, which is of utmost importance, has been taking place for years. Now we must also sit with one another and talk about our vision for this place, without ignoring one another. If you ignore internal processes that affect us while refusing to sit down, understand, and talk with those who do not agree with you, we won’t make any progress.

4. For heaven’s sake, please do not hold your meetings just before the Sabbath. You’re doing your best, you complain that there are no religious people in the peace camp, and yet you still set your meeting for Friday afternoon or Saturday. Enough. Oh, and make sure there is kosher food for the meeting. Really, it’s not that hard.

5. Compromise on your positions: yes, move a bit. Be flexible. Listen. Even Palestinians would be happy to hear a few alternatives and new ideas considering that the two-state solution has been stuck for 20 years. Ask questions out of a real desire to understand, not out of a desire to expose the ignorance of those sitting before you, simply because they have not dealt with these issues the same way you have. Do not condescend to people whose point of departure is far from yours. Be leaders, not closed-minded elitists.

Consider that something in the route you have chosen isn’t working. Everyone feels it, and it is time to recalculate. This means you will need to take apart all the frameworks you have been working with until now. Do not be afraid. Try being revolutionary. The public believes only the Right can provide a direction for the country, while the Left is stuck with irrelevant ideas. Show us that another way is possible.

6. The term “peace” was not invented by Yitzhak Rabin and does not belong to the residents of north Tel Aviv. Break this term down and allow activists and people from places you haven’t heard about define what peace is. Then listen. You will be surprised by the diversity of voices and will probably feel a pain in your stomach, perhaps because you have realized that the “peace camp” you grew up in was not as peaceful as you thought. There are excellent journalists and writers in religious newspapers who are voices of peace. Set meetings. Go listen to them.

7. Religious leaders are not an obstacle to peace. On the contrary: they are the key. Religious edicts that support brave political processes of reconciliation exist in spades. Go out and learn, sit with those who are more learned than you. There are countless examples, from ultra-Orthodox rabbis to those who belong to the religious Zionist community. Not a single bloody conflict has ever ended without religious leaders. Even before your time, Jewish leaders were part of the Arab world and the Middle East. The religious world has the knowledge and experience on how Jews can live in peace and brotherhood with their Muslim neighbors. I am not saying we must copy everything from the past, but there is much in the past that can inspire us. Even the use of halakhic language will turn your knowledge and work into something far more relevant. Believe me.

8. Do not speak in the name of other groups. There is nothing more embarrassing. You haven’t sat with the entire Palestinian people, yet you tend to speak in its name. Just because you read a few articles does not mean you know about the current hardships of Jews from the former Soviet Union. Just because you read a poem by Roy Hasan does not mean you know what’s happening in the Mizrahi struggle. Now return to point 1.

Go out into the field. Sit for hours, days, and weeks with everyone. The most dangerous thing we can do today is to, once again, forget about the people the peace camp left behind. Do not forget anyone.

Noam Shuster-Eliassi is the coordinator for Interpeace’s Base for Discussion program, in partnership with the UN in Israel. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    COMMENTS

    1. tzeddek

      Spot on, and this is also true for diaspora activists as well. All these organizations with very similar names, members and goals: Jewish Voice for Peace (US), l’Union Juive Française pour la Paix (France), Independant Jewish Voices (Canada) etc.

      Also, I’d add one last point, 9. Get involved with non-political institutions, got to the synagogue, start studying Jewish texts. At times, rightist jews often like to point out that the leftists are jews in name only, but at the end of the day when they come back home after a day of “peace” and pro-palestinian activism, there is nothing left of their judaism. Sadly, these rightists although on some aspects they obey to a very colonial and vulgar conception of Judaïsm are right.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Subhana

      1. Two things. First, I like the backhanded acknowledgement that the primary function of the Israeli left is to attend panels and conferences in Europe. Then again, that is where the customers are and you gotta go where they are. Second, the idea of having a leftist event where the default approach to religious or traditional Jews is not condescension is rather quaint. There really are only two things that leftists in Israel agree on. (1) Anyone that believes in god is a complete moron and (2) Bibi is the devil

      2. Good tip. Given of course that you can control the uncontrollable breakouts of leftist righteous indignation against Bibi, Israel, Israeli Jews, Jews, settlers, religious, Russians, Druze, the IDF, the Mizrahim, Zionism, and Judaism in general. Oh, and get a grip on the pessimism and defeatism. I was at a gathering last week and a leftist was sitting next to me. How do I know she was a leftist? The first thing she said was “I don’t know if I’ll be here in a year because the country is collapsing” and she went on in that pessimistic vein for a few minutes insisting that she can’t stay here. All I could do was smile and awkwardly join a different conversation. This sort of talk isn’t really going to foster a very productive conversation. At best you will be politely ignored, and more likely you will just get mocked.

      3) That would require you to actually accept in principle the idea that you may not know the exact best way forward. That is hard for leftists. Anyone that doesn’t think the way they do is immediately relegated to the idiot bucket.

      4) You expect the peace camp to bend over backwards for the religious troglodytes and their silly rules that they believe were set down by some old white guy in the sky? Next you will insist that women come to events dressed in modest clothes or insist on separate sitting for men and women, or insist on saying prayers and various other sorts of stupid superstitions. And how would sitting down with the religious make the LGBT members of the peace camp feel? Threatened perhaps? No thank you! The peace camp is a tolerant place with no room for the intolerant.

      5) Now you want the Israeli peace camp to give up its principles. If you are going to chase the Israeli mainstream you will never get anywhere because they will choose the real thing as opposed to a cheap imitation (I love this argument. It is so incredibly stupid but gets repeated ad nauseam). You have to stand up for your principles regardless of how much support you have. When people see how much you believe in your own principles they will surely join (or so says Uri Misgav).

      Not only that but it sounds like you want the Israeli peace camp to move away from automatic support for all Palestinian narratives and positions in order to take into account the views of Israeli Jews. Heresy! The only function of the Israeli left is to parrot the positions of the Palestinians and to otherwise defer all decision making to the Palestinians. That is the only way they can absolve themselves of the guilt of being privileged Jews/oppressors. There is no room here for compromising your positions.

      6) How dare you? There is only one possible road to peace and only one possible meaning of peace. That road and meaning is of course defined by the leftist you are talking to, but he is always certain that his is the only way. Additionally it sounds like you expect the Israeli peace camp to actually take a trip outside of Tel Aviv. That too is heretical. The only thing outside of Tel Aviv are racists, arsim, haredim and Likud voters.

      7) There you go again suggesting there is anything of value in the superstition of the superstitious. Clearly there is nothing of value there. At least not in the Jewish superstitions. Islam on the other hand is a religion of peace and should be respected.

      8) That sounds sensible in principle, but then how would one go about receiving European funding as the fresh, young, progressive voice of ‘insert ethnic/religious group here’? No one will pay you for just speaking for yourself. The whole point is to create an alphabet soup of ‘civil society’ that can combine their voices into an echo chamber that supports whatever it is the current preferred European approach to the conflict. So you sort of have to be a representative of ‘insert group here’ or you would actually have to get a real job and that just sucks.

      Ok. Honestly I think that the list presented in the article is a good one and could create some momentum for finding a peaceful resolution, and I also think that this list will be used by pretty much no one.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Great to hear, Subhana, but you still can’t have Ariel and a few other places and you still can’t have underground tunnel contiguity for Arabs but overland contiguity for Jews. Remember, #5: Compromise on your positions: yes, move a bit. Be flexible. Listen…..
        Oh, and please add #10: Practice what you preach.
        Thanks.

        Reply to Comment
        • Subhana

          Don’t be so close-minded. Of course we are going to keep Ariel. And Ariel in no way prevents Arab land or transportation contiguity. Route 60 is the primary North-South road in the West Bank. Ariel is West of Route 60. The whole narrative that Ariel prevents the contiguity of a Palestinian state is complete nonsense. Look at a map. Look at where the roads are. Learn something rather than parroting propaganda non-stop.

          If you really want to make a credible case for settlements that potentially prevent Palestinian transportation contiguity you would have a better case with Eli, Shilo, Ofra, and Efrat. And even with these places the argument rests on the Palestinian state having to use existing transportation infrastructure. If the Palestinians get a state the first major infrastructure project of the state will be to build a replacement North-South highway because Route 60 is obsolete and goes straight through West Jerusalem.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Oh I make a case as well for Eli, Shilo, Ofra, and Efrat. Don’t worry. “Ariel” is shorthand for all that. But Ariel–built strategically to break up contiguity, and about which the Right insists a long snaking finger of land (minimally) must connect it contiguously to land west of the 67 lines–also throws into high relief the extraordinary hypocrisy and entitlement. “Underground tunnel contiguity is just fine for the Arabs, those naked mole rats, but overland contiguity is a must for Jews. What’s the problem?” So, Mr. Open-Minded, how about we require Israel to build a tunnel from the 67 lines to Ariel? No? I didn’t think so. That brings us back to Rule # 10….

            Reply to Comment
          • Subhana

            You are confused about the meaning of territorial contiguity once again. Even with Israel annexing a sliver of land that makes up highway 5 connecting to Ariel the Palestinians will still have territorial contiguity within the West Bank. The hypocrisy is you here redefining territorial contiguity to suit your ideological agenda.

            Every Palestinian town will be connected contiguously to the Palestinian state with no need for tunnels. Hence your framing of the argument is empty and mendacious posturing.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Confused? Hardly. You know very well that it is you who are engaging in mendacious posturing when you breezily dismiss contiguity issues that you know full well you would never accept for Israelis. Not only geographically but symbolically you would not accept it but you expect them to. You are the one who has breezily postured about tunnels, raised highways and ferry systems. The breeziness, the “oh it’s no problem just be creative you plucky natives” attitude is just one more manifestation of your contempt, and your overlord’s contempt will not get you a solution. You know full well that the settlers built Ariel and other places where they are in order to make a Palestinian state non-viable. You have got so used to making Palestinians wait endless hours at border crossings and checkpoints and have to drive three hours around obstacles to make what would be a twenty minute trip that you think it just fine to build in all sorts of barriers into some cockamamie jigsaw puzzle version of “contiguity.” And this does not even deal with the fact that a lot of the occupation’s anti-contiguity tactics are meant to seal off East Jerusalem from Palestinian areas north, east and south of it. Lurking in all this is your blithe assumption that you will retain East Jerusalem. You won’t. “The hypocrisy is you here redefining territorial contiguity to suit your ideological agenda.” I’m afraid that defines you, Subhana.

            Reply to Comment
          • Basmala

            Blah blah blah. Complete nonsense. That is all that you are capable of. We have apparently moved on from practical contiguity and have moved into the realm of “contiguity issues” and symbolism. Since you can’t really argue that a Palestinian state will not be contiguous you are now left with empty moral posturing about how “symbolically” the Palestinians can’t be expected to accept. Then you are forced to make up a straw man high horse argument about how Palestinians would have to drive for hours to get around the 8km salient that is all that would be required to connect Israel to Ariel despite the fact that the entirety of the Palestinian transportation infrastructure would be based East of Ariel and despite the fact that there are no large population centers that would actually be thus inconvenienced. That is your unsolvable problem of Ariel.

            Israelis know where Ariel is. So when people like you hyperventilate and go on and on about how this is the biggest stumbling block to peace they know you are full of crap.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Lovely how 20 km turns into 8 km. Talk about full of crap. Even if Israel arrogated the land out to Elkana that only knocks 3 km off the 20. Of course you can always claim some “industrial zone” or “firing range” next to it you just gotta have. It’s almost half way between the green line and the Jordan border. Do Israelis ever talk about the occupation honestly? They can’t because he whole thing depends on mountains of bullshit.

            “the biggest stumbling block”

            No just one of them. East Jerusalem and the whole Ma’ale Adumim situation around it is probably the biggest. “Oh but it’s in the consensus!”

            “the entirety of the Palestinian transportation infrastructure would be based East of Ariel”

            Who says? The arrogant overlord says. And he’s got the whole future of Palestinian infrastructure mapped out in perpetuity for them ahead of time.

            Reply to Comment
          • Al Maajid

            Excellent. Now we are actually talking about facts, not “symbols”. Yes, it is closer to 20km, not 8km. My mistake. It seems closer because there is a highway to it. See how easy it was to have an honest conversation about facts? In the same way whatever transportation issues are created by this salient could also be dealt with by building better roads. It is just a question of money. And notice how you were even semi-honest about it being “almost half way to the Jordan river”. The West Bank is about 50km wide at that point. So, close enough. The honest part about that is that you accept that it isn’t actually a problem for contiguity. It doesn’t “cut the West Bank in half” or whatever nonsense is floating around out there.

            The entire Palestinian transportation infrastructure will be based East of Ariel because of the geography of the West Bank. If you want to connect Nablus to Hebron (the two biggest cities) and you want to bypass Israeli West Jerusalem you are going to be building East of Ariel. It is also the plan suggested by the RAND corporation when asked to envision a transportation infrastructure for a Palestinian state.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            ​Both facts and symbols (human meaning and dignity) are important to humans and to this conflict and it’s resolution. I’ll have no truck with your tactical disparagement of facts and symbols for one side while you pontificate about the right wing symbolic attachment to secular and biblical meanings and your “attachment” to “the land” and when Itshak G. Haley types wax on about all the symbolic reasons why they are granted royal dominion over the West Bank and the local natives. Nothing doing. I never was dishonest for a moment. You were. With your posturing about unrealistic workarounds and serpentine, snaking pseudo-contiguity you’d never accept for Israelis but demand that the plucky natives should hop right to it.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Y. Ben-David

      Interesting piece. However, I think it is simplistic to think that the reason large social-groups such as the Edot HaMizrach have majorities that support the Right and don’t agree with the so-called “peace camp” is only because they are excluded by the social groupings that support the Left and not enough effort is make to have “dialogue” with them. This assumes that if only the Left would open up. then those who support the Right would ‘see the light’ and change their views. This assumes that it is supposedly inherently obvious that the “peace camp” is right and that those who oppose it do so only for extraneous, largely emotional reasons. However, the actual situation may be the exact opposite. Most Israelis now see that the Palestinian leadership, in both its FATAH and HAMAS wings, oppose a compromise peace with Israel and that Israeli territorial concessions have brought only more violence and terrorism. They feel that the “peace camp’s” endless declamation that peace is supposedly possible if only Israelis would want it enough and would make a truly generous peace offer (whatever that may be). They feel that it is the “peace camp” that is not looking at the situation rationally and are really reacting emotionally. Maybe if the “peace camp” would open up to the social groupings that disagree with them, THEY would be the ones who change their views and move towards the Right’s positions.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Your causal linkages regarding violence are a cliché and they are incorrect:

        Why do we only listen to violence?
        Two intifadas increased Israeli willingness to make territorial withdrawals. Wars in Lebanon and Egypt led Israel to withdrawals from those territories. Despite all that, the Palestinian Authority is trying to maintain quiet and security for Israelis but receives nothing in return. If I were Palestinian I might come to a disturbing conclusion.
        Noam Scheizaf
        https://972mag.com/why-do-we-only-listen-to-violence/117773/

        Reply to Comment
        • AJew

          You really are a sad case, aren’t you Benny?

          Now looky here. This ‘in principle’ right to settle anywhere, for both sides, could have been resolved years ago by both sides accepting the partition and later through negotiations. But the Arabs decided that Jews have no right to settle anywhere in historic Palestine. Moreover, they tried using violence first to prevent, then when that failed, to try to eliminate the Jewish state.

          It was the choice of the Arabs to fight it out. So we too are fighting it out. Fighting it out does not mean that you let the other side get to wherever they want to. Why do you expect Israel to behave like there is peace when the Arabs chose relentless war, Benny? War is ugly Benny. And you can’t allow one side to make war while the other side (us) should act as if there is peace!

          Now Benny. This mess will still ultimately be resolved through negotiations. But each side (us too) will bring to the table all their/our ammunition (political and military) to back up their/our case. You however, want us to go to water and act in the best interests of the Arabs while they make it very clear that they don’t give a flying f…k about our interests. That isn’t going to happen Benny. The Arabs made their choice about how THEY want/ed to solve this mess, we respond in kind. We too will fight tooth and nail for every extra scrap of land that WE can get. Get it, Benny?

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “We will fight tooth and nail for every extra scrap of land that WE can get. Get it, Benny?”

            Oh. I get it all right. It’s what I’ve been saying you finally dropped your peace and security fig leaf about. Good luck with that. 

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            But you have dropped nothing Benny. You are still as biased as ever.

            Oh, and I dropped nothing. I’ll say it again. I have no reason to try to impress the likes of you. I did not pretend in the past and I still don’t pretend. And my reasons are outlined in my above post (of the 9th of January).

            Reply to Comment
    4. Yup, it’s the Ashkenazi secular left’s fault – the religious right-wingers and haredim are dying to join the peace camp, but the racist left won’t let them. Haven’t you seen those yellowing ads for Peace Now rallies: “Religious, Mizrahim and Ethiopians are prohibited from attending.” Look, the Ashkenazi secular left would KISS THE ASS of any non-Ashkenazi or religious group that wanted to join in advancing the left’s agenda. If there were, say, a contingent of Mizrahim from Kiryat Shmonah who wanted to attend a peace rally but couldn’t get there for some reason, Peace Now would charter a helicopter for them, and put them up at a nice hotel, too. The reason the religious, the Mizrahim and the Ethiopians aren’t part of the peace camp is because except for a rare few, THEY DON’T WANT TO BE. They actually have the power to make up their own minds and do as they please, they are not infants, they are not puppets on the white man’s strings – give them that much credit.

      Reply to Comment
      • Subhana

        Indeed, it is the fault of the secular Ashkenazi left. The vast majority of the arguments made by that group is based on a near-total rejection of both Judaism and the Jewish attachment to Jerusalem and other parts of the land of Israel. Those that place any value on these are denigrated on the pages of Haaretz on a regular basis and called primitive and degenerate. How many articles written by Rogel Alpher, Uri Misgav or Avram Burg does one need to read before it is made entirely obvious that religious and traditional Jews are unwelcome anywhere near the “peace camp”?

        If the definition and principles used by the “peace camp” for “peace” so obviously ignores, at best, the views of the religious and traditional Jews, then why would any of them bother to join? The secular Ashkenazi left offers nothing to attract them. Not only that, but it is entirely uninterested in what they have to say, preferring instead including token religious/brown people in its events, and only those that entirely adopt the same homogenous political/social narrative leaving them only room to be tokens rather than representatives of their communities.

        If the Left’s agenda is so toxic for these groups then perhaps there is something incredibly uninclusive in it?

        Reply to Comment