Healing starts at home

Tel-Aviv rally for Jewish-Arab cooperation / Courtesy of Standing Together
Tel-Aviv rally for Jewish-Arab cooperation / Courtesy of Standing Together

The new government likes to call itself “the healing government.” To be more than empty words, some reckoning needs to happen between the Right and Left.

I live in a very friendly neighborhood. Our WhatsApp group is so active, you can get anything you need anytime, from eggs to sports equipment to any kind of help imaginable.

Ours is a wealthy, secular and progressive town. Pride month is big here. So were the demonstrations against Benjamin Netanyahu last summer, with many neighbors joining in and several of them texting repeatedly about it, despite being asked not to.

I wasn’t really surprised then, when, last month, as things were starting to heat up in Jerusalem around the Sheikh Jarrah controversy, one of our neighbors texted she was collecting second-hand items as a good will gesture for Arab towns. She reiterated her demand while we were already in a full-blown military operation, hiding in shelters. A few days after the cease-fire was signed, another neighbor shared a message, asking for donations to repair the house of the Arab family in Jaffa, which was accidentally damaged, it turned out, by an Arab youth throwing a Molotov cocktail by mistake, thinking it was a Jewish house. Several neighbors enthusiastically joined in.

I have nothing against kind gestures or charity initiatives. On the contrary, it’s actually one of the things I love most about Israel. We hear about a tragedy, and people will immediately start collecting money for the bereaved family, bring them food or rebuild their house. Israelis at their best. It enables us to stay sane in an otherwise insane reality.

And yet, those messages left me wondering: why were my neighbors able to see the pain and discomfort of their fellow Arab citizens, even in times of war, but no one had said anything about the Meron’s victims’ families only a few weeks prior? Why would someone want to repair the Jaffa house that got accidentally burnt down, but not the Sderot and Ashkelon houses that were very intentionally hit by Hamas rockets? Or the Jewish houses, cars and businesses looted by Arab mobs in Lod, Acre and Jaffa?

The answer, I think, has everything to do with the screaming match we saw at the Knesset last week while Naftali Bennett was trying to present his new government’s roadmap.

Conservatives have never done better

In their criticism of the new government, many on the Right point out that it’s built on the Left’s old elites, and that it shuns the Mizrahi electorate. Mizrahis traditionally vote Likud. With the party’s thirty MKs seated in the opposition for the foreseeable future, we can assume most of them aren’t be represented in the new coalition. But what is also remarkable is that the Right still considers the Left to be the elite, although that elite is slowly but surely dissolving.

Certainly, like in most Western countries, progressivism is still the dominant voice within Israeli academia, media and the judiciary system. And yet, conservatives have never done better in the country. Journalist Amit Segal, who famously said in a 2019 interview that he still stands out among his colleagues as a right-wing commentator, is a celebrity who fills lecture halls and gets millions of views on social media (in a country of nine million citizens). More and more of his fellow conservatives are being heard and sought after on national television, and hold top jobs in every sphere of public affairs. The same goes for the cultural scene: Mizrahi pop has dominated the music industry for years. Religious musicians now succeed in mainstream genres. More and more artists feel closer to tradition and Judaism, incorporating it in their art, openly posting about it on social media.

That wasn’t the case 20 years ago.

Even Aviv Geffen, the secular and provocative icon of the 1990s, not only recorded a song with Haredi singer Avraham Fried, but also publicly apologized to the religious sector for writing disparaging lyrics about them in the past.

And then of course, there is a parliamentary majority of right-wing parties in the Knesset, even after years on end of conservative administrations. If not divided on Netanyahu’s leadership, those parties could easily establish a 70-seats-strong coalition. As many have pointed out, Naftali Bennett is also the first PM of Israel wearing a yarmulke.

Add to that the vibrant think tanks, new conservative colleges, publishing houses, forums and podcasts, and you have an Israeli conservative Renaissance on the ground. There have never been more jobs, more opportunities and more momentum for anyone who identifies with the Israeli Right at the moment.

And yet…

And yet, many in that community still feel like underdogs to the Left elite, leaving one wondering: why hasn’t a feeling of empowerment started to trickle down?

Back to my neighborhood text messages. People like my lovely, well-meaning neighbors don’t intentionally intend to, but they often overlook their fellow Mizrahi, traditionalists or religious Jews. When they want to stand in solidarity, they do so with Arabs, with Palestinians, or with African illegal immigrants in South Tel-Aviv (for whom they regularly collect clothes, too). And when there are Arab riots they put out Facebook stickers, “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies,” rallying under the same name on Rabin Square.

But when right-wingers behave violently, or even just rudely, they are less inclined to be compassionate. Their reaction is often, at best, to roll their eyes, at worst to ridicule, attack and despise.

This is rather common between Left and Right, all over the world. But in Israel those ideological divides touch to the very core of our identity, of what it means to be Jewish and Israeli, or Israeli and Jewish. And so, for both sides, misunderstandings go deep. So does the pain.

The new Bennett-Lapid government likes to call itself “the healing government.” I’m not sure a government can actually heal any kind of society, being that it’s not its mission. But if that name is meant to be more than empty words for those who support the idea, then the healing starts with looking at those we normally overlook, listening to things we normally don’t like to hear because it hits close to home. Especially when it hits close to home.

There is really no other way.

About the Author
Myriam Shermer is a journalist, lecturer, and worksops facilitator. Born in Jerusalem but raised in Paris, she has studied Cinema, Psychology, Political Science and American Jewish History. Formerly editor-in-chef of the JPost French Edition, she is a commentator on i24 news, and gives talks on Israel to Jewish students and tourists. She uses psychological concepts to analyze the news and hopes to bring more mindfulness into public conversations.
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