Naftali, let’s talk dugri (straight)

I was really looking forward to hearing you speak.

I have always enjoyed the benefit of having a circle of friends with vastly different opinions on the challenges facing Israel and the policies that Israel must adopt. Many of these friends admire you and the party you lead. Especially because I do not share their appreciation for your party, I was excited for the opportunity at the upcoming Haaretz Conference on Democracy to see and hear your speak firsthand on your vision for Israel as a Jewish and Democratic state.

You made a huge splash last week when you announced that you were pulling out of the Haaretz Conference on Democracy. This move was quickly imitated by other scheduled speakers from Jewish Home, Likud and Shas. In a Facebook post explaining your decision you chose to smear the NIF with a broad brush, accusing the NIF of no less than working to “methodically and consistently attack our Israeli soldiers.”

I, who made Aliyah without any family when I was not yet 18, and who studied at yeshiva and proudly served as a combat soldier in the IDF, do not need do defend myself against your charges. Neither do I need to defend my colleagues who I know firsthand as true patriots of Israel, people who themselves and their families have served the country in myriad ways, including exemplary service in the IDF.

My Zionism did not end with Aliyah and service in the IDF. My Aliyah was motivated by my desire to play an active role, from the game court center, in shaping the Jewish State. Working at Shatil-NIF is a direct continuation of the ideals that inspired me to make Aliyah in the first place. And although we likely differ in how to make Israel a more just society I trust that you can appreciate the motivation that led someone like myself to go from suburban NJ through service in an IDF tank and into a career in Israel’s civil society.

Last year you gladly spoke at the same Haaretz conference, even thought that conference too was supported by the NIF. I understand that its election season, and that politicians are apt to do what they can to make headlines and shore up their base.

Yet you have long spoken about the need for the Jewish Home party to be more inclusive, to connect with multiple groups that are not naturally drawn to a religious Zionist party. It is for this reason that I am disappointed in your decision to participate in the populist game of deligitmization of one’s opponents, a tactic that your fellow candidate Ronen Shoval unfortunately excels in. By choosing to withdraw from the conference in a big show and to tar and feather those who genuinely work for a better Israel you have brought the pre election discourse to a new low.

There are two days left to the conference.  You can still change your mind and address this audience, even if it’s not an easy one for you to talk to, and despite the inexcusable treatment you received at last year’s conference. Such a move will help move Israel’s pre election discourse away from a one of slander and personal insults to one that is more substantive and policy based. And that, surely, is a goal that we both can agree upon.

About the Author
Chaim Landau is Director of Partnerships for the Peace of Mind Program for IDF Combat Veterans at Metiv | The Israel Psychotrauma Center. He lives in Jerusalem.
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