Everyone is talking about “Pictures of Victory”.
That’s mine — accompanying this piece.
Taken not very long ago in the town of Lod, the epicentre of our beloved country’s current catastrophe. The town of Lod, Israel’s back-yard; ten minutes drive and seventy years distant from Ben-Gurion international airport.
The photograph is of the next generation of the second beautiful Israeli family that I have been blessed to parent, Merchavim – The Institute for the Advancement of Shared Citizenship in Israel.
It is a photo of Jewish and Arab-Palestinian-Israelis, secular and orthodox, black and white, immigrants and veterans. An image of Israelis of all sexual orientations who get about and get by as best we can.
It really is a photograph of “good people on all sides”.
But not in the populist, corrupted, morally equivalent, and too-popular sense of “good” Jews and Arabs, of “good others”. Rather in the meaningful and just sense of people of all backgrounds who recognize each other’s humanity and choose to build a better shared future for all our children grounded on a shared commitment to an ever fairer and hence ever more successful shared future.
But of course, Merchavim’s picture of organizational victory – the other great parenting miracle of my blessed life – is also the clearest and starkest image of my failure.
The great failure — not mine alone of course but I can only take full responsibility for mine — is to have so far failed to persuade enough Israelis of all backgrounds, and all those around the world that love Israel and the vision of our founders, that this is Israel’s only realistic picture of victory.
Crucially and tantalizingly – but equally fortunately – the failure is not a result of our not knowing what needs to be done or how to do it effectively. Decades of knowledge, experience, and proven success of initiatives of the kind Merchavim and other agencies implement — often with government ministries and with business — show conclusively that we do.
Our failures – also mine – more specifically include the following. And make no mistake, this is an attempt to begin the work to set them right – together:
- Failing to persuade enough Israelis of all backgrounds that this is the only possible picture of victory. I have worked with Israelis of all backgrounds for over thirty years. I know beyond all reasonable doubt that the great majority of all backgrounds, are ready to be persuaded, but we have not provided the hope and opportunities.
- As a direct result of this failure, we have not persuaded enough Israelis to ever elect a government that is post-tribal and is truly committed to spending as much money in one year on shared citizenship education as it does in any given week on so-called Jewish education. Not pluralistic Judaism that respects diversity both within the Jewish people and across all humanity, but rather a brand of orthodoxy that reinforces the ethnocentric entitlement that undermines the Vision of our Founders, the prospects of a better shared future.
- As a Jewish-Zionist, I have failed to persuade enough Jewish-Israelis and hence unsurprisingly Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel that as national homeland to the Jewish people Israel can and must be ever fairer to all its citizens. Had I succeeded, lots of genuinely well-intentioned Zionists would have been persuaded that the Nation-State Law only made an already hard Zionist argument, still harder — and can have inadvertently only contributed fumes to the current combustion.
- Failing to convince over thirty years what our current government and Hamas have just proven in the space of a week; that everything is inter-connected and that without an end to the conflict and a two-state solution, Israel’s 80% Jewish majority and 20% Arab minority are destined to a bleak and bloody shared future on the road to Israel’s destruction.
- A failure to persuade far too many on the “progressive” side of the political spectrum that Israel’s history has been one of overwhelming miraculous progress over immense odds. That 73 years back an overwhelming majority of the then less than half a million shell-shocked and traumatized Israeli citizens of all backgrounds, would have surely signed up for the immense success story that has been written — flaws and tragedies past and present all included.
- Failing to call-out too many of those same progressives for claiming that Israel bares loan responsibility for the on-going conflict and occupation. To ignore or deny Palestinian responsibility is a terrible fault of too many progressives; born of post-colonial guilt, post-modernism and (when you scrape the surface) sometimes spiked with racism that somehow, Jews are exceptional, better, and even all-powerful. We are not. When cut we bleed, when traumatized we behave worse not miraculously better, precisely like all other nationalities and species.
- Failure, especially as the founder of an NGO, a civil society professional and a thought-leader, to inspire enough good people of great financial means to invest sufficiently or even at all in funding the existential change that is needed.
Of course, the reality is that our line of work — building trust and communities and a decent shared future for all — is immeasurably harder than funding its destruction. Gravity — the laws of the universe whatever their source — have decreed that it is harder to build anything than destroy everything. But ours is the right path and I am proud to walk it with countless (but still not enough) friends, colleagues, believers, funders and stakeholders.
- Related, we have failed to win the argument that as Israeli citizens, and stakeholders in Israel’s future around the world, we cannot seriously say “it’s the government’s job” or “Israel’s a rich country now and there are lots of rich Israelis”. No Israeli government to date has been ready to take on the task. Thankfully, the last two arguments (that Israel and Israelis are richer) are increasingly true. But those who seek the same picture of victory, must do the work, persuade those Israelis and invest decisively in winning these arguments or face the collective consequences.
And above all — and patently to date — is the failure to inspire enough good people on all sides that we have to step-up and win and that we can. So here I go again — and will do the same in Hebrew and Arabic in the coming days:
Israel, The National Homeland of the Jewish People, is the greatest achievement and most precious creation of the Jewish People for millennia. Its foundational political achievement was to create the citizenship that all Israelis share; our only shared identity save our humanity.
For a host of reasons that I have written about elsewhere, having established the state with great sacrifice and ingenuity, we have done far too little to make meaningful and share the full promise of our shared citizenship.
We have not even begun to find the words.
It is extraordinary that many highly educated Jewish-Israelis with the proven intellect to innovate and lead in technology, business, medicine and defense even today say “Israelis and Arabs in Israel must stop killing each other” when they mean to say, “Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel must stop killing each other”.
The average junior-high schooler has the cognitive capacity to distinguish between the most fundamental political categories of the modern era, between citizenship, peoplehood, residency and so forth. But only if those lessons are taught and in Israel they never have been and still are not. This for various fallacious reasons including the baseless fear that Israeli citizenship taken seriously will threaten Jewish identity and Peoplehood.
Educators have shown and children demonstrate everywhere that children can learn three and more languages and still know precisely who they are. Merchavim and other organizations have pioneered the teaching of communicative Arabic to Jewish-Israelis for years, but it is still not part of the curriculum. How could it be, when Arabic is viewed by too many as the language of the enemy (within and without) and that learning it should primarily serve the needs of military intelligence?
Of course, that is also tragically still true, but it will always be true, unless Jewish-Israelis also learn Arabic to speak, listen and — in the case of many Jewish-Israelis — to enjoy a rich part of their own Jewish heritage.
So now is the time to act, to make Merchavim’s victory photo what it must become, our collective victory.
None of us can take total responsibility for this — but we must all take full responsibility for ourselves. Those like me – for whom this is our day job – must work still harder and more effectively; make the case, employ best practices, partner better, achieve tangible and scalable results, shape innovative and strategically game-changing new initiatives and provide hope.
To those with financial resources, private and philanthropic, this is a call to you for action.
You must invest more strategically, more effectively, more sustainably and — crucially — much more. Your goal in this endeavour must be to win — not merely to participate. You must do this based on the truth; that the State of Israel can never be stronger than the fabric of the society from which it is woven.
Whatever we are each able to contribute, we builders — whose task is anyway far harder — are being out-played, out-spent and — God Help Us — out-gunned by those for whom our victory photo is their greatest fear.
So, let’s all step up; each bringing our respective skills, knowledge and assets. Because failure is truly not an option and our victory will be so sweet, a victory for Israel, for all Israelis, for the Jewish People and for humanity.