The results of the last general elections indicate the need to unite with political rivals, in order to advance a common agenda, even if it is only partial and temporary.
As a Zionist, liberal, secular and opinionated person, I find myself in an unfamiliar situation. I am enthusiastic about the example of integration and pragmatism that Mansour Abbas provides us, although I strongly disagree with his views on most of the issues he promotes (except for the justifiable demand for equal rights for the Arab sector).
I see Naftali Bennett’s political doctrine as a disaster to the future of Zionism, because it will lead to a bi-national catastrophe, but I really support a partnership with him in a coalition that will remove Netanyahu’s toxic and corrupt control of the Israeli politics.
We must internalize that there are significant sectors in Israel with whom we cannot agree on many things, but they are not going to disappear. Abbas represents a significant public of religious Muslims, with whom we do not agree on liberal values, such as LGBT rights, as we do not agree with the Jewish ultra-Orthodox parties. However, the alternative to Abbas in terms of representing Islamists is not Ayman Odeh, the liberal with whom we can easily agree. The alternative is the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, headed by Raed Salah, or Islamic terrorist organizations. Of course, I am in favor of working with Ayman Odeh and Arab liberals, but also with the southern faction of the Islamic Movement, represented by the RAAM, with which we can cooperate on a number of issues.
In the same way, Naftali Bennett represents a very significant part of national religious people, with whom there is a chasm between us on the issue of a Palestinian State, but our children serve in the same units in the army, and do a year of national service together and we can find common ground with them on other issues. The alternative to Bennett is the racist Kahanists from “Lahavah”, “Noam”, “Jewish power”, etc., and not the liberal religious former Knesset party “Meimad”, which have unfortunately disappeared from our politics.
The ultra-Orthodox will not disappear either, and if the demographic trend does not change, their share of the population will be much larger than it is today. We will not agree with them on the issue of separating religion from the state, nor on their contemptuous attitude towards the liberal currents in Judaism, which severely harms religious pluralism in Israel and our connection with Diaspora Jewry. Despite this, the ultra-Orthodox parties have in the past been partners in governments that promoted territorial compromises.
We also tend to underestimate the representatives of the central camp, on the grounds that they have no ideology and that they are trying to maintain their populist position in the middle, while the middle is only a statistic artifact that changes according to public opinion fluctuations. However, in the last elections, Yair Lapid’s responsible leadership was one of the reasons why the left-wing parties survived and passed the threshold percentage, and we will all be happy if he forms the next government.
As a diplomat, I learned over time that spaces of dialogue, listening and engagement with the others must be created, even when they were critical of the State of Israel, which I represented for many years. I learned that influence occurs in dialogue rather than in a debate. On the other hand, it is actually within my own people that I always find it difficult to listen to opinions other than my own, and the disputes cause me to be angry and excessively emotional, in a way that does not allow for meaningful discourse. I have always explained this to myself by saying that it is easier for me to cope with values that I resent, like racism in others, than in my people, since they are mine.
The recognition that I must learn to have a constructive dialogue with my people has recently arisen as part of the “Encounter” program, which produces a magical journey of encounters with Palestinians in order to listen and learn their point of view. During the conversations between us Israelis after the meetings, I realized that it was much easier for me to bridge the gaps with the Palestinians than the gaps with some of my Israeli friends, and especially with one of them – a wonderful man whose religious worldview has been a blind spot for me.
Some of my friends on this journey with “Encounter” invited me to a workshop as part of the “Shacharit” institute, which tries to create a dialogue between various sectors of the Israeli society, in order to find a common good. In this workshop I was exposed to the need to listen to other perspectives and find ways to collaborate.
I heard MK Tehila Friedman talk about her attempts at the Knesset to find partners in other parties to advance a common agenda on various issues. She particularly moved me when she told us about the embrace that she received from the Islamist Knesset member Iman Khatib Yassin of the Ra’am party after Friedman’s first speech in which she presented her worldview as a religious, liberal and Zionist Jew.
It is important for me to make it clear that I am not calling for dimming out our ideological positions on the Zionist left. We must continue to fight for our values of strengthening weakened groups in Israeli society, ending the occupation of the Palestinian people and protecting our democratic institutions. The message of this article is that it is easier to promote a political agenda effectively when looking for partners outside our camp, and when allowing a dialogue that enables to listen and empathize with other sectors of the Israeli society, because they will always be here and it is necessary to find a way to live together.
The poet Yehuda Amichai has already written: “From the place where we are right – flowers will never grow in the spring, the place where we are right is trampled and hard as a yard. But doubts and love make the world growl like a mole, like a plow. And a whisper will be heard where the house is destroyed.”