Habonim Dror SA: Resisting Polarisation

Martine Alperstein’s blog post, which implies that Habonim Dror Southern Africa is now “anti-Israel,” requires a response. None of the incidents to which Ms Alperstein refers had anything to do with Habonim. She has unfortunately bought into a fringe campaign to delegitimize Habonim, without any truth whatsoever. Habonim remains South Africa’s standard-bearer for Jewish youth development, broad-minded leadership training, and Zionist education.

Has the debate surrounding the latest conflict in Gaza become so polarised that we are no longer able to see the shades of grey between the points of two perspectives? By reading the flood of articles and myriad of comments online, it would appear that to hold a “left” or “right” perspective on the war in Gaza automatically means that one is associated with, and holds the opinions of a selective typecast group of people, with no room to think anything in between.

In her piece Ms Alperstein lists a variety of different incidents occurring recently in South Africa and seems to apportion some blame for them, and the general climate in the country, to Habonim. Ms Alperstein fails to note, however, that none of these incidents had anything to do with Habonim. Sadly, this appears to be yet another opportunistic attack on Habonim, with no evidence with which to substantiate her claim.

As a former member of Habonim, Ms Alperstein acknowledges that Habonim was always a “pro-peace, pro-tolerance, pro the right of Palestinians to exist and pro a 2 state solution” organisation. She then goes on to say that Habonim was never anti-Zionist. Yes indeed, it never was. And nothing has changed.

It would seem that, in many eyes, Habonim’s main crime was the launch of its 242 campaign, motivating (as it has done for many years) a two-state solution to the current impasse between Israel and the Palestinians.

Habonim’s constitution, as voted for by its madrichim, states that “Habonim strongly supports a negotiated two state settlement…. Habonim envisage a Jewish State and Palestinian State co-existing peacefully alongside one another.”

Is there no longer space for Jewish youth to dream of Israel and Palestine living next to each other in peace and security? Habonim sends countless channichim and madrichim to Israel ever year. Over the last six years, hundreds of young Jewish South Africans have spent time in Israel on Habonim programmes.

Some spend a full year studying, learning and understanding the Jewish homeland on our Shnat programme. Currently, we are guiding about 15 potential applicants through the 2015 MASA application process and hope that all of them will choose to spend their gap year in Israel next year. This year, 41 16-year old channichim participated in our three week Shorashim tour to Israel. Their parents had the following to say about their trip:

Natalie Barnett: “..for my kids I have found Habonim to be invaluable in developing their leadership and education skills, social responsibility awareness, opening their minds to diversity and varying opinions, and giving them the space to explore their own and others’ beliefs; allowing them to openly discuss, argue and criticize; creating a safe space for them to interact with their peers, and for instilling in them a love of Israel and their Jewish heritage.”

Karen Milner: “Thank you Habonim Dror Southern Africa for giving our kids on Shorashim an experience of a lifetime, teaching them a love of Israel in all its complexity and bringing them home safe under such difficult circumstances.”

Karin Kopenhager Mervis: “The 2014 Shorashim group came home yesterday. They came home elated, inspired and happy… I have always been proud of my Habonim background but it is now an absolute privilege to enjoy what this movement has to offer through the eyes and experiences of my children. Kol Hakavod to you all.”

Every year our top madrichim visit Israel on our Bogrim tours, engaging with issues relevant to contemporary Israel and its place in our world today. At our annual machaneh in December, more than 15 Israeli madrichim travel to Onrus to teach our community’s children about Israel and Zionism. Our full time schlichim, meanwhile, assist greatly in all aspects of the daily running of the movement, as they always have.

Habonim runs educational camps and activities all throughout the year, all which aim to produce young people who are able to think critically and be tolerant individuals, while still generating a love and appreciation for Israel and its achievements. This approach is neither new nor controversial.

Is this the basis upon which one should hold Habonim in contempt?

How can pro-peace Jewish Zionist leaders like ourselves not be left surprised, exasperated, demotivated and disillusioned, if the conclusion drawn by people like Ms Alperstein is that Habonim is no longer Zionist? Not one of our recent actions is contrary to the principles of Habonim that have existed for many years. None go against our pro-peace Zionist ideology. Thousands, if not millions of Israelis and Jews around the World support our position. Moreover, none of our actions conflict with the values of the movement that Ms Alperstein and many others participated in.

Even in times of conflict, it is important to hope. Our members feel real pain when Israeli and Palestinian civilians bear the brunt of fighting. It is irresponsible to not educate on some of the mistakes made over the years in the milieu of conflict – acknowledging these and discussing them is how we inspire our channichim to advance a progressive agenda in Israel and from South Africa. It is how we build a stronger Israel.

Thousands of people have gone through Habonim. All developed opinions on a variety of subjects. Most have been influenced by others outside of the movement. All think differently, in their own ways. Some have made aliyah and are serving in the IDF, while others choose to pour their energy into South Africa. Many fall in the middle. There exists a spectrum of views and opinions – and Habonim should not be defined by poles on either end of this spectrum.

Habonim remains a part of the Jewish and Zionist community, and we will continue to be a voice of tolerance, reason and peace within it.

We will continue to be the place where young Jewish people can dream and help to build a better future for Israel, South Africa and the world.

*Ilan Price is the Mazkir Klali of Habonim Dror Southern Africa for 2014

About the Author
Ilan Price is the Mazkir Klali (Secretary General) of Habonim Dror Southern Africa for 2014.