I slipped inside the room just in time to hear the speaker for my last session of the General Assembly of the Jewish Federation of North America begin. The topic was “The Untapped Strategic Asset: Israeli-Americans”. Now, silly me, I had thought this was addressing Americans in Israel, and I came desperately seeking to have my assets tapped. I mean, it’s been too long since I had a good asset tapping. But it turns out that the session was dedicated to Israelis in America. Of course it was. I mean, they’re the ones with the guilt and the money, ready to be exploited. I just have mother tongue English and a naïve Zionist ideology, and that and my Rav Kav card will get me on the light rail. I stole that last phrase. See, Anglo Israelis are simply not trustworthy. I debated whether to stay to be polite, but then I saw someone else bolt, and decided I was never going to see most of the people in the room again, and the ones I was going to see already know I’m a horrible person.
So, I snuck out and headed for my second choice, which was “Two Years Later: Israel’s Social Protest Movement”. I remember the protests of 2011 very well. While I also believe that there was, and still is, a housing crisis in Israel, I didn’t think setting up tents in the most expensive neighborhoods in Jerusalem was the best way to handle the situation. For me, the protests were a symbol of the disconnect that young Israeli adults have from their actual place in the world. They want to live in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv in a nice place, eating cottage cheese on brioche for breakfast, but they want to pay $500 a month on their apartment.
The median salary for Israelis is less than $1500 a month, and the real estate markets in the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem areas are on fire, with prices skyrocketing, and no sign of a slack in demand. Our young people have been watching too many reruns of Friends and MTV Real World, where upwardly mobile 20-somethings can live glamorously without any real effort. And in my opinion, the lack of progress in the last two years on areas which could really affect the cost of housing in the country, such as encouraging businesses to relocate to areas with much lower costs of living, or creating strong transportation networks to the periphery, shows that the establishment realized that if they give a few surface level concessions, and waited for autumn, when school was back in session, the complainers would pack up and go away.
However, some of the protestors, and others in their age group, have managed to tap in to an underlying anger with what is perceived as a lack of opportunity. And a few of these individuals participated in the Social Protest panel. The first speaker was Rachel Azaria, a member of Jerusalem’s City Council, and a self-described Orthodox feminist. She spoke of her history in working with social causes such as Mavoi Satum, which lobbies for the rights of agunot. Next she described the obstacles she faced, both while trying to be elected to City Council, as well as in fighting against the encroachment of religion into the sphere of individual rights. In particular, she mentioned having to go to the Supreme Court to have her campaign ads placed on city buses, because previously pictures of women had been banned.
I am basically in agreement with Ms. Azaria, so I was pretty content as she passed the mic to the next speaker, Mickey Gitzin, executive director of Israel Hofshit. I ended up thinking that the name of the organization might well be changed to Israel Fullshit, because Mr. Gitzin doesn’t seem to think much of our country. Some of my favorite Mickey Gitzin statements:
“Progressives don’t have a voice in Israel.”
“We need to return to a Welfare State.”
“You can’t have good healthcare or get a good education in Israel’s public system.”
Dude, really?! You think that no one is listening to liberals here in Israel? The country as a whole is certainly the most progressive in the region, and leans left like a gangsta. But I guess if you used to be a spokesperson for Meretz, it might be difficult to have some perspective. As for the concept of the Welfare State, I’m a “teach a man (or woman) to fish” kind of chick, instead of saying “give everyone some crappy canned tuna, and tell them that dolphins have extra protein”. What we need is less protectionism, so that we can increase the levels of entrepreneurship. We also should place more of a focus on helping the disenfranchised, such as haredim and the Arab minority populations, into jobs. And, while I sometimes miss American style medicine, I can’t argue that both the medical system and the schools perform pretty well, in spite of their low cost.
I was already a little upset when the final speaker, MK Stav Shaffir, took the mic. She is our youngest MK, and I appreciate her drive and enthusiasm. And that’s about it. Below are some takeaways from MK Shaffir’s presentation.
“Gen Y and Millennial Israelis were brought up in a culture of fear, and we should be focusing more on our future.”
And my favorite exchange of the session:
MK Shaffir – I dislike parties that don’t have a real agenda. Some of the parties say that they are in favor of pluralism and then they work with the most fascist…
Mickey Gitzin – Settler
MK Shaffir – Yes. Settler… The Jewish Home party.
I understand that Meretz, and certain sections of Labor think that the Jewish Home party is fascist, and here in Israel, despite Mr. Gitzin’s protestations, we hear plenty about this viewpoint, and we also have representatives from the right who rebut it. But no one in the Federation audience called the panelists out on any of this. And the reason for that is Federation members are presumed to be Progressive. They already believe “settlers” are evil and one step away from lining up the Palestinians against a wall.
The whole GA experience has me questioning whether the Federation is really that supportive of Israel and if they are a partner in good faith. I guess we’ll see if the actual experience of coming to Israel allows the attendees to get a balanced opinion, because they certainly wouldn’t have gotten it from the GA itself.