Friday, February 27, 2015

Naftali Bennett, Freedom of Speech, and Homophobia: Strategies in Combatting the Far Right

Guy FrenkelOf the many events that I've attended since landing in Israel about a month ago, most have been focused on center-left or left-wing politics, in a milieu in which I always felt relatively comfortable. But I find that it's doubly important to attend events of those whose views you are diametrically opposed to, if for no other reason than to be in a better position to challenge them in the future. This was of little comfort sitting at an event in which Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home appeared to discuss his party platform and take questions from an English-speaking audience. I have no qualms in using words like 'fascist' when describing the man, nor do I find them hyperbolic. But Bennett is a highly dangerous figure not because of what he says, but rather, what he chooses not to reveal.

Naftali Bennett
He's been successful, in both this campaign and last, at hiding the more religious and extremist of his party members away from the public eye. He's also succeeded in painting himself as a quintessential type of Israeli, one whose profile many hope to emulate: the son of immigrants who left the comforts of America but succeeded in integrating into Israeli society, a combat soldier in an elite unit, and a wealthy businessmen who became rich from the high-tech industry

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The United Arab List: Getting Out the Vote The Heinrich Boll Foundation sponsored a panel last night on the Arab vote. It was a refreshing change from the otherwise negative tone of many of the most recent events that I've attended, in particular last week's Democracy Conference -- which, by virtue of it being held was in itself an unsettling sign.

The Palestinian-Israeli panelists, Aida Touma-Suliman of Hadash, and social worker Samah Salaime Egbaryia described the process of putting together a joint list, which was understandably a challenge given the myriad of views within the community, and touched upon the various reasons as to why the joint list was necessary in the first place. Certainly, the higher threshold imposed ostensibly as a means of creating stability, but suspiciously viewed as a means of banishing an Arab voice from the Knesset, was central to that decision. But the war in the summer, and the subsequent racism that accompanied it, also helped convince many Arab politicians that the best way to deal with these issues would be to do so from a place of greater power, hence a larger bloc of seats in the Knesset. 

Ironically, or appropriately enough, the threshold law may have achieved what it was initially created to do: foster a sense of cohesion among parties that would not otherwise run on the same slate, and help shift the political system away from fragmentation and unruliness. Furthermore, it has also helped politicians like Touma-Suliman, an outspoken feminist, deal with intra-communal issues (like women's equality, domestic abuse, etc.) from a more entrenched place of power.

Against New Sanctions During Iran Negotiations

This article in the New Jersey Jewish News (click here), by J Street activist Martin Levine, makes an excellent argument for supporting the current negotiations to curtail Iran's nuclear program, without adding the complications of new threats or hostile statements, which might rattle or enrage the Iranian regime into hardening their positions.  The negotiations are a hopeful opportunity to defang Iran’s nuclear threat.  

Readers should contact their United States senators with reference to this well-reasoned article, to help them understand.  This is the central part of Mr. Levine's piece:

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Advice to Netanyahu: Address Congress after Election

J. Zel Lurie
Our friend, J. Zel Lurie (now 101 years old), is being unusually humble in this piece, but he is giving good advice to Prime Minister Netanyahu: to postpone his speech until after the March 17 election.  Click on this embedded link to this article in the San Diego Jewish World: "Netanyahu should postpone his speech on Iran." -- Lilly

Sunday, February 22, 2015

PPI Podcast: In East Jerusalem with Hillel Schenker

Hillel Schenker
Guy Frenkel talks to peace activist Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal (and fellow PPI blogger) about the Jerusalem Book Fair, the situation on the ground in East Jerusalem, and the likelihood of international involvement in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

Haaretz Democracy Conference: The Right's Persecution Complex Democracy Conference hosted by the Ha'aretz newspaper was a veritable "who's who" of all those involved  in the left-wing spectrum of Israeli politics: heads of NGOs, politicians, civil society leaders, and journalists. Like the Amos Oz lecture that I attended last week, it was over-attended by a stereotypical breed of liberal Israeli, most of which were over the age of 60, along with a smattering of younger activists from Meretz and other left-leaning parties.

Friday, February 20, 2015

PPI Podcast: Inequality, Insecurity, and the State of the Israeli Economy

This is the second in a series of Partners for Progressive Israel podcasts on the upcoming Israeli elections. In this episode, I speak with Ran Cohen about Israel's economy and society. Cohen served in the Knesset for 25 year, first for Ratz and then Meretz. He was the Minister of Industry and Trade in Ehud Barak's government. Currently he heads the Standard Institute of Israel. A necessary disclosure: Ran was my hero growing up.  

First, a few facts I learned as I was preparing for the interview:

Our Successes at Zionist General Council of WZO

This is a report from our colleague, Arieh Lebowitz, on the passage of progressive resolutions of the just concluded Zionist General Council of the World Zionist Organization:

Greetings from snowy Jerusalem, Friday noontime, where the most recent session of the Zionist General Council concluded mid-day Thursday after a range of meetings from Wednesday morning to mid-day Thursday.  The ZGC, let me remind you, is the body that generally meets annually, between sessions of the World Zionist Congress, and has representatives of all of the different groups that are represented at the WZCongress.

A number of significant resolutions were passed at this ZGC session, which I am reproducing below for your information.  These were initially proposed by members of a united faction composed of the World Union of Meretz, ARZENU (the worldwide association of Reform/Liberal Progressive Zionist organizations, in the USA being ARZA), and the World Labour Zionist Movement (in the USA being Ameinu). 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Akiva Eldar: Conversations with Israel

Partners for Progressive Israel had a fascinating conference call today with Akiva Eldar, a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. Eldar was formerly a senior columnist and editorial writer for Haaretz and also served as the Hebrew daily’s US bureau chief and diplomatic correspondent. 

During our conversation, Eldar refers to his latest piece in Al-Monitor, "What does it mean to be a friend of Israel?"

Listen to our recording of this conversation for many fascinating and troubling insights into the forthcoming Israeli elections:


The Election Issues: Education

The following blog post is part of a series about the issues important to Israelis in the upcoming election. It was written with the assistance of Gil Gertel, an Israeli education consultant and blogger for Local Call.

Why is education important?

A third of the 5.88 million Israeli citizens eligible to vote are parents of children under 17 years old.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Fighting for Bilingual Education and Coexistence

The sign reads in Hebrew and Arabic: "We want a bilingual school"

A few weeks ago, wandering around Tel Aviv in search of a long, overdue, lunch, I happened to pass by the entrance to the Tel Aviv City Hall, where a small protest was taking place. Curious, I engaged with a few of the protestors in conversation to discover that they were a group of parents living in the Tel Aviv-Yaffo area pushing for official bilingual education in Yaffo, a promise originally made but not kept by the municipality. After speaking to a number of participants, I was put in contact with someone who could give me a more thorough understanding of the issue.

A few days later, as I was heading out the door to a conference that happened to be dealing with the very same issues, I received a call from Hagit Ya'ari of the Israel Women's Network, who was kind enough to give me her personal account of the situation. Admittedly, the conversation seemed a bit anti-climactic, as only days before the Tel Aviv municipality finally agreed to the opening of a Hebrew-Arabic first-grade class in the next school year.