The tide has shifted in Israel

For far too long, the ‘good Israeli’ has either been compliant, or silent. Now the diaspora needs to decide if dissenting voices are part of the pro-Israel space

July 08, 2021 10:23

We are rightly critical of the ‘good Jew, bad Jew’ dichotomy. People in political circles often like to uplift the voices of whichever Jew fits their agenda, often at the expense of other Jews, regardless of how representative they are or aren’t. It’s tokenistic, and it’s rather insulting.

With that in mind, we must avoid falling into the same trap with Israelis. An example that has been playing on my mind resides in Hollywood. Natalie Portman meets Gal Gadot.

Two of the most famous Israeli women in the world. Natalie Portman has recently spoken in solidarity with the residents of Sheikh Jarrah, and has previously distanced herself from Netanyahu. Many Israel advocates responded with condemnations, or even accusations that she isn’t really an Israeli. Then, in response to the recent Israel-Gaza conflict, Gal Gadot posted a non-political Instagram post.

The truth is that Gal Gadot didn’t say much, politically speaking. Her words were generally anti-violence, pro-peace. But many chose to interpret it as politically pro-Israel, whatever that means. Some condemned her, and others applauded her – either way, politicising an Israeli, our community placed her neatly in the ‘good Israeli’ box.

Too often, we choose to applaud and uplift the ‘good’ Israelis who are politically silent, and to condemn and distance ourselves from the ‘bad’ Israelis who choose to speak out against the government. 

By that standard, I am a bad Israeli. 

I spent much of 2020 in Israel. Like most people, my year was characterised by lockdowns, but I also went outside – and I protested.  Like many of my friends and family across the political spectrum, I felt compelled to join the Black Flag protests. The demonstrations had a pretty clear message: Benjamin Netanyahu is corrupt and divisive, and he must go. This movement was a response to a never ending cycle of elections, the ongoing corruption charges against Bibi (including bribery, fraud and breach of trust) and frustrations with a leader whose clear focus was remaining in power above all else – meaning, above us, the citizens of Israel. 

Of course, these protests were covered in worldwide media, as well as Jewish media outlets. But too many of those who so often speak about Israel, advocate for Israel – were rather silent. Sure, there was an event here and there to explain the protests. But it was a side issue, not the main story. The reality is that this movement will go down in history. Thousands of Israelis across the political spectrum came together and demonstrated all over Israel, saying – we’ve had enough. We want change. 

That change has just begun.

The celebrations in Israel when Bibi stood down as Prime Minister should tell you the mood music of my country. We weren’t celebrating Bennett, but rather the change we so desperately need, so desperately desire. And now, those who used to sit on the side-lines are in government. A wider spectrum of Israelis than ever before is being represented. The status-quo we were trapped in is being criticised, changes are being made, more voices are being heard. But what about the supporters of Israel abroad? Will you hear us? Will you support us, too?

Meretz, Labour and Ra’am aren’t protesters anymore. They are the government. Our lawmakers, our representatives.

It might be easy to dismiss the Israeli left as fringe, but we have ministers now. Will they be given the same chance and platform that Likud’s representatives were given?

We need to understand the gravity of Netanyahu’s legacy. And we ought to celebrate the protests, the movements, the people who fought for change. 

We love to praise Israel as the only Democracy in the Middle East.

Under Netanyahu’s regime, Israel’s democracy has slipped into a dangerous and dark place. We’ve seen journalists lives being threatened – and some have been physically attacked. The press has long been lauded as a ‘left wing’ enemy by the government. During the attempts to form the now existing government, a wide range of MKs and their families’ lives were threatened. Things got so bad that some MKs had to evacuate their homes. Netanyahu was silent as his son published the home addresses of opposition MKs. We aren’t just fighting over political disagreements. We’re fighting to salvage our democracy.

We love to praise Israel as a safe haven for LGBTQ people in the Middle East.

But Netanyahu brought Religious Zionism into the Knesset – and almost formed a government with them. Religious Zionism is a dangerous, Kahanist movement that is not only racist against non-Jews and Palestinians, but it also firmly opposes women’s rights and LGBTQ rights – in fact, they are in favour of reducing those rights that we so often praise in Israel. We’re fighting to preserve our progressive values.

The battle is far from over, of course. But the opponents of Bibi, the progressives, the Arabs, the left – we’re not a fringe movement anymore. Not a protest you can ignore, an inconvenience to the so called pro-Israel narrative. We’re in government. The tide has shifted.

For far too long, the ‘good Israeli’ has either been compliant, or silent. Now the diaspora needs to decide: does being pro-Israel allow a space for voices like mine?

Danielle Bett is director of communications for Yachad

July 08, 2021 10:23

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