On Sunday I went to the NIForum, a six hour symposium put on by the New Israel Fund
on the situation in Israel: economic, social, and cultural, with emphasis of course on the work of the Fund, and of SHATIL
, its empowerment and training program, as well as organizations in Israel funded by NIF.
I pay attention to events in Israel, look regularly at the Haaretz
website, and somewhat less at a number of others, but I am not as tuned in as many activists. I enjoyed a day of greater connection.
The Opening Panel
had the theme "Making Change Possible,"
with panelists Moty Cristal, Neta Ziv, and Naomi Chazan. Cristal teaches at Tel Aviv U and has been part of many Israeli negotiation teams with Jordan and the Palestinians. He suggested two challenges
and two assets
in the current situation. The challenges
are 1) finding a balance between the needs of a civil society and the security mindset. This is a political issue, not the responsibility of security people who naturally incline that way. He then said that the Social/ Economic gap is even a bigger problem (not clear why this was not then a challenge). 2) is to abandon the idea of "building bridges" between "oranges" and "blues," the right and left on security/Palestinian issues, because a bridge does not bring the two banks closer, only connects them. Rather we need to build a new space, redefine the issues, accept multiple identities, so people find ground where they can meet. One asset
is the constantly changing paradigm between Jewish communities in Israel and abroad. We have completed phase one of Zionism, to create a stable, established state. The second phase is to define it as Jewish which means just. ...also increase the engagement of Jews abroad with Israel. The second asset is the younger generation, which has new energy. He noted the small number of younger people in the room and said we should correct that.
Neta Ziv is the director of the Cegla Clinical Law Programs at TAU. She practiced previously as civil rights lawyer. She said that progress has always depended on liberal democratic institutions. She spoke about several areas of hope or challenge. The political crisis reflects that the police are honest, not deferring to the power of the prime minister. A serious concern regarding the Arab minority is the (temporary) change in the law not allowing Arab citizens to marry Palestinians in the territories and bring them back home. This is a question - are Arab citizens of Israel really partners or not? Regarding women, she is encouraged by the several high profile challenges to sexual harassment by prominent public officials. A second challenge is the situation of the poor. There was enthusiastic implementation of the program to move poor people from welfare to work, but often they ended up with no welfare and no work.
Naomi, former MK and incoming president of the NIF refused to predict what was going to happen with the current political crisis. She said that prophesy has been given to children and fools. The future is unclear, but the rise of Tzipi Livni reflects a civilianization of Israeli politics, which is encouraging - not just moving to the next general or military hero. On the other hand, in a poll the very term "politics" creates a physical negative reaction among Israelis. The challenge is not only to be good watch dogs, but how to empower people to be more than guardians of their leaders. The first choice would be for more good people to go into politics, but this seems not an acceptable option to most people. The second is to get people to Know
they have the power and should use it. They don't take this serious, so there is a disconnect between how they vote and how they really think.
Lunch was served with break out into small discussions. I went to one with Sawson Zaher, a lawyer specializing in social and economic rights in the Arab community, a former NIF law fellow. She spoke about various issues in that community, but also disagreed with Moty Cristal. She does not see a balance between civil society values and the security establishment, but a deterioration of civil rights in many areas.
Lunch was followed by two sessions of panels on various subjects. In the first period, I went to The Medium and the Message: Media and Social Impact
. The first speaker was Maya Sabatello from B'tselem. She noted that B'tselem, which is concerned with human rights of Palestinians, works only beyond the Green Line. She spoke primarily about the "Shooting Back" project, where they distribute video cameras to people living at hot spots to document what is going on. She showed two clips. One was of settlers in a new settlement area in Hebron, right up against the home of Palestinians. It showed a settler child spitting at them and a settler woman repeatedly calling the camera woman a "whore" in Arabic. The second clip was of an Israeli soldier at a demo against the separation wall shooting a handcuffed demonstrator, under guard, in the leg, point blank. He was clearly ordered to do it by his commander.
The second speaker was Yvette Alberdingk Thijm of Witness. This is a project which does similar documentation of human rights violations on a world wide basis. She showed a video taken before the Olympics in Tibet, which was posted on their website, as well as on YouTube.
The third speaker was Eliezer Yaari, NIF executive director in Israel and former prominent TV journalist. He spoke about the NIF long support of B'tselem. He said this work as a question of who owns "justice." Whose story is seen as legitimate? The first video above delegitimated the settler movement, while the second led to a serious inquiry into the actions of the army. He talked about the problems in TV journalism. It used to be that priority was given to what was important. Now it is what is "interesting." (Israeli version of "if it bleeds, it leads.") You must present important information in a way perceived as interesting. He also spoke about the new project "New Voices in the Stadium", combating racism in Soccer.
The second panel I attended was What's Stand-Up Gpt tp Do With It? Popular Culture and Social Justice
. (I can see I was drawn to cultural subjects, as opposed to hard economics or politics.) The first speaker was Yisroel Campbell
, who spoke about the value of humor to get people to think about things they would not ordinarily think about. He spoke about his solo performances, as well as performing with contrasting performers of various types. He was born American and gentile, and converted to Judaism three times (Reform, Conservative, Orthodox). He is very funny, but spoke about how he raises issues by what he talks about. One example: "It says 39 times in the Torah to be kind to the stranger. We suck at that! We're really good at shatnez (not mixing wool and linen clothing)"
The second speaker was Daniel Chalfen, a documentary film maker and advisory committee member of the Other Israel Film Festival. He spoke about the need to reach beyond the converted. He talked about a series on You Tube on the lighter side of Arab Israeli Life. He also spoke about raising issues of disabilities. The final speaker was Naomi Schachter, associate directer of SHATIL. She said pop culture was not the main venue for NIF, but it is growing. The use of popular culture has a long history, going back to Lysistrata during the Peloponesian War.
The conference closed with several comedy and literary presentations. For me the highlight was a presentation by Yisroel Campbel
l, focusing on his Israeli life. He is really good, really funny, pretty profound. I recommend hearing him perform, or even bringing him to your community.