Shari Eshet
Not giving up yet

It’s scary

It gets scary when the fate of one’s country is being deliberated. The security and peace issues surrounding the State of Israel are front and center when it comes to the nuclear arms deal with Iran. So it is not surprising to see that in the past few weeks over one hundred and fifty million dollars were pledged in the US for Israel advocacy to protect the State from complete annihilation. That is a great deal of money and there is a great deal of advocacy one could do with that.

JNF, the Jewish National Fund has received one hundred million dollars of that money, and has sponsored a survey of the American Jewish community on the issue of the delegitimization of the State of Israel and the BDS (boycott, sanctions and divestment) movement that has grown up around it. It was not surprising to me that Frank Lunz, who conducted the survey found , as quoted in the Times of Israel on July 5th said that “ when it comes to the most effective messaging, (Luntz) found that the statement “Women in Israel have exactly the same rights as men. No other Middle Eastern country offers women fully equal rights” was particularly well received “and he goes on to say that “It’s not security that needs to be highlighted, but [Israel’s] social justice and human rights.” Underlining Israel’s role in protecting human rights and promoting equality could be particularly resonant, he said.

“Wikipedia describes Lunz as an American political consultant, pollster, and “public opinion guru” best known for developing talking points and other messaging for various Republican causes and he himself calls himself right of center. We know what his bias is and should be respected for his transparency. And yet, I found it fascinating, as did he, that gender equality, is the issue that may be the key, may turn the tide in the onslaught of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism on college campuses.

Young Jewish progressives today are pro- choice, pro- same sex marriage, pro- human rights and want to see a progressive platform in the State of Israel, the state that claims to be both the homeland of the Jewish people and democratic as well. The attempts to woo over progressives with messages such as “look how hi-tech Israel is or what great beaches” no longer work. What young progressives want to know today is what is Israel’s civil and human rights record, what is its stand on reproductive justice, gay marriage? Women’s status in the workplace? Maternity/ Paternity leave? Healthcare for all? Picture1
All of these issues are being addressed in Israel today particularly through the women’s organizations, feminist bloggers, face book campaigns, academia, human rights NGOs and philanthropy.

One hundred and fifty million dollars towards Israel advocacy? Why not use some of that money to support a positive campaign for Israel, around Israel’s work for gender equality and message it right. Israel has state mandated fourteen weeks of paid maternity leave , Tel Aviv is the number one gay-friendly city in the world according to Fodor’s, Palestinian LGBTQs come to Israel for free HIV testing, something they cannot do elsewhere in the Middle East. Abortion is free and legal and does not require parental consent, although the system needs to be revamped .

Is Israel a utopia for women, Palestinians, LGBTQ people? Very far from it. That means we need to keep working and working hard especially with all the setbacks we have had particularly in the last few weeks. With conversion reform being rolled back, with religious courts being taken out of the Ministry of Justice and put into the Ministry of Religious Affairs, where there will be no serious supervision of its legal work, with women being removed from the committee to elect religious court judges, and no alternative to religious orthodox marriage, we have our work cut out for us. But still. Israel now has a Minister for Gender Equality and a law passed that says all national budgets must be analyzed through a gender lens if they want to pass. The Knesset will have its first committee meeting on the budget through a gender lens this week. For the sake of peace and security in the entire region, we need to get the message out loud and clear- we are working on it! Come work with us.

About the Author
Shari Eshet is the former director of NCJW's Israel Office, based in Jerusalem. Now a private consultant, she still works for the betterment of the State of Israel.
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