Avi Shamir

What My Father Didn’t Live to See

When my poor old dad was too indisposed to know what the commotion in the street was all about, I was down the block demonstrating against the now former prime minister, holding a sign that claimed “We are the hope.” There, on the corner of Itamar Ben Avi where Jabotinsky meets Ben-Gurion, a group of upright Netanya residents of diverse political orientation stood on a traffic island that winter in the cold and the rain, three times a week, relentlessly calling for change.

“Why is everyone so angry?” my dad would ask me when I’d come over to see him after every demonstration I attended. While he was too world weary and unwell to take in all the chaos he saw on television, I had a strong sense that the nationwide protest movement would make history.

“We’re not the angry ones,” I would begin, and go on to clarify where the anger was coming from. I would tell him about the name calling, the cursing, the spitting, the derisive taunts that were fired our way like poison darts from the foul mouths of frenzied Bibistim as they drove by our island of sanity. I would mention that we always asked for and received police protection from the haters. Conversely, I would talk about the police brutality directed against the protestors by the PM’s Balfour residence in Jerusalem, a weekly show of ruthless force that was barely covered by the mainstream media. And I would see profound sorrow eclipsing failing health written on the face of my father, this model holocaust survivor who in his stolen youth had triumphed over tyranny.

With good cheer and strong resolve, he had arrived in the new State of Israel in 1948 after a long internment on Cyprus. The future looked oh so promising to him then. But over the years he came to understand that the homeland, surrounded by enemies, faced an even bigger threat from within. With all he had been through, it deeply pained my father that we Jews can’t get along in our own country.

In his last winter, with nothing to look forward to but his own mortality, he sought solace from his family, and perhaps enlightenment. With my conviction for change, I conveyed to him one last hope. “When all this is over, we will finally have a unity government, like you always wanted.”

We had been talking about this for years. I was the cynical one, he was a true believer in a national consensus. I couldn’t fathom a scenario where Right and Left sit under the same roof. My dad would always say: “Right, Left, what difference does it make? Where’s the common ground? Why can’t we all get together and do what’s best for Israel?’”

I would answer that it’s not so simple, with all the internal discord, not to mention the haredi parties holding the balance of power. My dad would come right back at me: “The haredim are a minority here, and they’re outside the consensus. If we’re still dancing to their tune, we have only ourselves to blame. Why can’t the big parties come to their senses and form a government without them?”

He foresaw it long before I did. I only realized he was right when unity was the only real option.
My father died two days before the last elections, three weeks shy of his 99th birthday. While in mourning, I missed the last demonstration which celebrated the election results. My father, may he rest in peace, missed the realization of something new in the Jewish state: a Change Coalition led by a religious Prime Minister that combines Right, Left and Center elements along with an Israeli-Arab party. A coalition that doesn’t have to pay a king’s ransom to the haredim to stay in power.

It’s not exactly the kind of unity my father envisioned as Israel’s largest party is not part of the mix, mostly on account of its discredited leader. Be that as it may, my father would have appreciated the businesslike atmosphere and relative calm that now graces the Change Coalition.

It’s not the kind of government I dreamed about either. In its current alignment, the mostly Right and barely Left coalition will not initiate meaningful dialogue with the Palestinian Authority anytime soon. But, as my dear father always said, “peace begins at home, and a show of unity is the best way to start.”

So rather than look at the glass that’s half empty, we can count our blessings: Former adversaries are setting aside their ideological differences and working together. They have passed Israel’s first budget in over three years and are starting to get things done. Like finally addressing the matter of armed violence in the Negev along with the urgent needs of its Bedouin population. Like introducing legislation on environmental issues, regulation of medical cannabis, amendments to outdated abortion laws and much needed education reform. Like leading the country through two waves of the pandemic without crippling the economy. Like refraining from the sickening, divisive rhetoric that characterized the previous government. Like fending off the incitement that now brands the opposition.

Against all odds, cooperation has won out over hate as this highly unlikely but proving itself government is now completing the first year of its term.

If this is why we stood out in the street to call for change, I say it was worth the fight.

About the Author
Avi Shamir is a freelance writer, editor, translator and the author of "Saving the Game," a novel about baseball. A Brooklyn College graduate with a BA in English, Avi has contributed to the Jerusalem Post, The Nation, Israel Scene, In English and The World Zionist Press Service.