Dmitri Shufutinsky

Merav Michaeli, Keep Woke Politics Out of Israel

Dear Minister Michaeli,

I am writing this as the son of a Russian-American born in Moscow, a veteran of the IDF who was a Lone Soldier, an oleh chadash, and a proud American-Israeli: please do not bring woke politics to our country.

With all due respect, I didn’t know whether to roll my eyes, cry, or laugh when I read the recent news story of your condemnation of Omer Adam’s newest hit, “Kakdila.” The song has similar themes and undertones to most of his other music, as well as most other Mizrahi songs out nowadays. Unless you personally know Adam, you can’t say that he doesn’t “choose to meet” with young women (many of whom are fans of his and this song), or that he doesn’t “see and deal with” reality. I’m not sure why you chose to pick on this particular song out of many Mizrahi and Israeli pop songs with similar lyrics (including many of Omer Adam’s other hits). But given that he already defended himself eloquently against your charges, I’ll just stick with getting to my main point.

I fail to understand how you can even think Omer Adam would be “evil” because of this song, while thinking that Holocaust denier Mahmoud Abbas is a “partner for peace.” And how could you think this was the worst three minutes of the past year that you’ve heard when you’ve been in the Knesset chambers, hearing real anti-Russian statements and sexist comments from your fellow lawmakers? Abbas, too, made discriminatory comments about Soviet and Ethiopian Jews. So clearly, the issue is not about “discrimination” against the Russian-speaking community, but about looking “woke” instead of solving real problems. One of those problems is that you went back on your promise to immediately shutter the eyesore that is the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station—but I digress.

Where was the criticism when your husband, Lior Schein, satirically joked about Russian-speaking Jews? If the answer is that it’s “all in good jest and fun,” I’d point out that the same is the case with Omer Adam–except that he is actually a member of the Russian-speaking community, unlike Lior. Where is the criticism of the naked racism of many in the Israeli Political Left? Not only is this about Labor’s well-documented discrimination against Sephardic and Mizrahi refugees undergoing the trauma of ethnic cleansing from Muslim states. It also has to do with the condescension and paternalism towards the Ethiopian community and questioning the loyalties and identities of Soviet Jews.

It is well-known that Labor harbors a grudge against the Russian-speaking community for not being the same “socialist Ashkenazi Jews” of the first waves of aliyah. Today, many of these immigrants are not halachically Jewish, are Mizrahi (Caucasus or Bukharan Jews) such as Omer Adam, and right-wing. The days when the Russian-speaking community in Israel vote for left-wing political parties ended in the 1990s. Perhaps by addressing the needs of this community–including combating discrimination against us–the political left may be able to win over Russian-speakers again. But complaining about a song many of us like and see as proof of our increasing acceptance by–and influence in–Israeli society is certainly not the way to do so.

I left America and made aliyah through Garin Tzabar primarily to serve in the IDF–a move which I am very proud I made, despite the difficulties of being a Lone Soldier in the pandemic era. But another reason I left the US was because I was tired of the ridiculous and toxic political climate. It is bad enough that the worst impulses of far-right figures like Donald Trump were trafficked into the country by Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud cronies. It is extremely disappointing to see you do the same with the far-left’s “woke” dogma. Whether this is through abandoning the institution of marriage, suggesting that women not to send their children to the IDF, or calling to replace the national anthem to comfort Israeli Arabs, I am reminded of exactly why I feel politically homeless in the US and am disinclined to vote in their 2022 or 2024 elections. Both sides in the US are filled with ridiculous extremists hijacking their parties, engaging in pointless culture wars, and ignoring the everyday, bread-and-butter issues that regular people worry about. It seems that you are joining the likes of Miri Regev and Amir Ohana–merely from the other side–in doing the same here.

Woke-ism does not solve problems. Rather, it often provides fodder and legitimacy to even the most outrageous of political arguments of the opposing side (and vice versa). Of course, the main issue is that woke-ism is simply a new form of slacktivism. It allows the ‘armchair activist’ to feel good and accomplished while looking morally superior–all while actually contributing very little in the fight for social justice or environmentalism. This is why in America, for all the protests for Black Lives Matter, no actual change has been made in the case of Flint, MI’s poisoned water supply. For all the #FreePalestine trends on Twitter, we are no closer to a peace agreement with the Palestinians. And all the #DefundThePolice movement has accomplished is delaying police reform while contributing to the rise of crime in cities with decreased or defunded police presence. But, given your numerous meetings with progressive American government officials, you already know this.

Israel already has an enormous host of problems, compounded by the pandemic. Thankfully, most Israelis do not subscribe to these absurd and polarizing political ideologies. We are worried about congestion on the roads, rising crime in the Arab towns, terrorism, Iran, the coronavirus, and the rising cost of living. We do not have the time, desire, or luxury to engage in political squabbles that inflame society and benefit nobody. This government was elected and formed to end and heal the high levels of domestic rifts in our society. By bringing foreign, privileged Western woke ideas into a Middle Eastern society with many “pre-existing conditions,” so to speak, you risk deepening these rifts.


A Concerned Citizen

About the Author
Dmitri Shufutinsky is a freelance reporter with the Jewish News Syndicate, and a Junior Research Fellow with ISGAP. He made aliyah to Kibbutz Erez through Garin Tzabar in 2019, and served as a Lone Soldier in the IDF. Dmitri is an ardent Zionist and a supporter of indigenous rights, autonomy, solidarity, and sovereignty. He currently lives in Hadera, and a graduate of Arcadia University's Masters program in International Peace & Conflict Resolution.
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