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One in a Million

So September has arrived and with it so many blogging possibilities that I don’t know where to start. The school system, beginning another school year dedicated to Zionism and Jewish Culture. The month when the Palestinians will demand recognition in the UN. And the moment of truth for Israel’s social protest movement.

As I read the paper this morning, and looking back over the summer, I am struck by the fact that so much of our lives in Israel are dominated by fear. Fearof the Other – whomever that Other may be at any given moment. As another school year begins, once more we hear of schools refusing to take certain pupils because of their ethnic identity – whether Ethiopian, Mizrachi or the children of foreign workers. We hear of an Ultra-Orthodox group refusing to allow a neighboring Orthodox girls’ school to function for fear that their daughters may see the Orthodox girls. We hear yet again of ultra-Orthodox schools refusing to accept girls who don’t come from suitable (ie. Ashkenazi) backgrounds. Although the Education Ministry has made some attempts to deal with some of these problems, one can’t help think that at best it’s too little, too late. And the fact that resources are being poured into school visits to Hebron and other nationalist educational programs does not make me feel better about the prospects for the school year.

On the diplomatic level, our fear of the Palestinian initiative to demand recognition by the UN seems to have paralyzed us there as well. The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committe which has examined our level of preparedness for the Palestinian bid for Statehood has found that we have failed to lay the appropriate groundwork at the political level, although apparently the army has made substantial preparations. Yet it seems that no one even asked the question as to whether this Palestinian bid is something we need to ‘prepare’ for – we are so locked into our fear that we simply assume that recognition of a Palestinian State must be a bad thing. It seems that we are also stuck within a worldview that relies on our army to provide security. I’m not suggesting that our army isn’t necessary or shouldn’t make appropriate preparations, but our fear fools us into thinking that security is something our army alone can provide.

Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman suggested in an interview to a Polish newspaper that Israel is “terrified of peace” and “taking advantage of the Holocaust to legitimize unconscionable acts.” I would suggest that Israel is simply paralyzed by fear – and that although our leaders do sometimes abuse the Holocaust, the real problem is that we are so trapped by our trauma that we cannot overcome our fear.

This Saturday night we have the opportunity to rise above our fear. This Saturday night we can take to the streets of wherever we live in Israel and raise our voices in a cry for social justice. We can refuse to allow the security concerns on our Southern border and impending Palestinian statehood, which the government is only too pleased to stress, to dominate the national agenda and prevent us from calling for substantial reforms in our economic and social structures. Rather than fear the Other, this protest calls on us to express social solidarity with the many different groups that make up Israeli society, to come together rather than to be divided and conquered. But in addition to my identification with the general spirit of this protest, if not always its details, I strongly believe that it’s time that we showed that we are not going to give in to fear. Rather than manipulating and playing upon our fears, it is time for the government to step up and show some leadership, and respond to the challenge of protecting the interests of the whole of Israeli society, not just those with powerful lobbyists. And it is time for each and every one of us to join together and raise our voices to demand a more just and equitable society. We, the people, will make our voices heard.

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