Laura Wharton
Jerusalem City Councilor, adjunct lecturer in political science

The Home Front

I have great confidence in our soldiers and in the IDF’s ability to protect us from the terrorists attacking from Gaza. We are all doing everything possible to support the troops and their efforts along the border by sending food, supplies, and encouragement — and visiting the injured, the bereaved families, and all the civilians in bomb shelters. We couldn’t be doing more, or better, to defend ourselves from the Hamas.

Unfortunately, on the home front we’re failing terribly.

Israel was founded not only as a home for the Jewish people but promised in its Declaration of Independence to “foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture theat.” We fought the outrageous accusations leveled at us in the UN in 1975 until then General Assembly Resolution 3379 (XXX), which determined that “Zionism is racism” was revoked. Yet racism is raging in our streets, and no less a figure than Foreign Minister Lieberman publically called on Israelis to boycott Arab businesses, ostensibly only those that protested the killing of innocent Gazan civilians (as if this were possible to determine).

We like to say that we don’t do harm do innocent bystanders. We were all outraged by the 2009 Goldstone Report that charged Israel with directly targeting civilians, and felt victorious when in 2011 he retracted. I certainly believe that the IDF is doing all it can to limit civilian casualties, and I join in the protest against the false accusations of our targeting, most notoriously the libel claiming we targeted children in the UNRWA school bombing.  Yet in Jerusalem, just this Friday, two utterly innocent Arabs youths were attacked in a pogrom that (until the writing of this editorial) no Israeli leader has yet responded to or publicly condemned. The memorial erected in memory of the Palestinian child who was kidnapped and then burned alive just a month ago has been destroyed twice (and rebuilt by members of a youth movement). The three Jerusalemites arraigned for the murder claimed in their defense to have simply sought revenge for the murder of three Israeli youths. 

Israelis also like to emphasize their pride in Israel being the bastion of freedom and democracy in the Middle East. Israel has indeed, throughout all its history and even in times of war, managed to preserve not only its democratic system but all its laws. We have guaranteed all the rights promised in the Bill of Rights — and more. But lately, all of these have come under attack: peaceful demonstrators have come assaulted (at a rally in Tel Aviv some leftists were so badly beaten they required hospitalization), critics of the war have not only been harrassed on facebook but sent death threats by phone, numerous cases of dismissals from work have already been reported in a McCarthyist outbreak that should embarass us all. Worst of all, innocent Arab citizens have been attacked by gangs of thugs seeking to vent frustrations. Many are afraid to leave their homes, especially in the evening, for fear of the random violence that has been especially frightening in Jerusalem.

This war will come to an end. Negotiators are already working on a settlement that will try to guarantee the security of Israel but address the needs of the people of Gaza. Hopefully, they will manage to prevent Hamas from regaining or maintaining any military strength, or presenting any sense of victory. Most importantly, it will bring Israelis and Gazans a better future. But that safety is dependent not only on what goes on across the borders but within them.

The spread of hate and racism within Israel may take much longer to confront, especially since the leadership has not only ignored but actually added to the incitement in recent weeks. Rather than helping in the real war effort, the petty criminals turned monsters emerging from the gutters of Israeli society are eroding the very fabric of what makes us proud of our country. Seeking to protect the innocents in Gaza, our Arab neighbors and our civil rights does not erode or detract from the war effort — on the contrary, it is an integral part of what makes it all worthwhile.

About the Author
Dr Laura Wharton is a member of Jerusalem's City Council as a representative of Meretz and an adjunct lecturer in the political science department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Born in the U.S., she immigrated to Israel after receiving a B.A. in the government department of Harvard University and then served a full term in the Israel Defense Forces. She subsequently completed an M.A. and a Ph.D. at Hebrew University. For research that later served as the basis for her book "Is the Party Over? How Israel Lost Its Social Agenda" (Yad Levi Eshkol, 2019) she was awarded the Prime Minister's Prize in Memory of Levi Eshkol. She is a mother of two and has been living in Jerusalem for more than two decades.