Shayna Abramson

Why I Feel Politically Adrift in Israel

I believe the Occupation is the biggest existential threat facing Israel.

First of all, I do not believe that Palestinian terror attempts will cease as long as the Occupation exists, and not having clearly defined borders makes it harder to prevent terrorist infiltration.

Second of all, I believe that the Occupation is eroding Israel’s status as a democratic state.

I believe that Israel should have equal opportunities for Jewish and Arab citizens, including equal funding for Jewish and Arab neighborhoods.

I believe that we need to have a serious discussion about the fact that Hatikva, our national anthem, makes many Israeli Arabs feel uncomfortable.

I believe that sometimes, in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Israel is the aggressor. I do not believe that Israel is the primary aggressor.

I believe that Israel should have four public school systems: Jewish religious, Muslim religious, Christian religious, and secular. The religious schools should be modeled on religious schools in the United Kingdom, and have to adhere to mandatory national curiculums in secular subjects. The secular schools should be Jewish-Arab, Hebrew-Arabic. This would be unpopular not just in some Jewish, but also in some Arab communities.

I do not believe there should be an official government rabbinate, or official government Muslim or Christian authorities.

I believe Christmas and Eid should be Israeli national holidays.

I believe it is highly unlikely that the two-state solution is viable at this point in time. Mahmoud Abbas’s credibility has been compromised by hateful statements, including statements about Jewish feet defiling the Temple Mount that may have inspired stabbing attacks against Israeli Jews.

I do not see harm in cautiously beginning negotiations, but I am also realistic that negotiations are unlikely to succeed, especially since the issues of the right of return and Jerusalem are likely to cause an impasse.

I do not believe in a Palestinian right of return: We do not generally accept that, 60 years after a war is over, refugees can return to their places of origin and kick out the current inhabitants. We certainly do not accept that 60 years later, kids or grandkids can return to their  refugee ancestors’ place of origin – even if they have meanwhile acquired citizenship and built successful lives in a different country – and kick out the current inhabitants. Since Palestinian refugee is an inherited status, passed on to kids and grandkids regardless of where they reside and which citizenships they hold, a right of return might very well apply to Palestinians who have never stepped foot in the Middle East. The question is, what makes the Palestinian case different from other conflicts? If all refugees have a universal right of return, where does the statute of limitations end – can grandkids of Holocaust survivors kick out the inhabitants of Berlin? Can Native Americans kick out farmers of European descent in Wyoming? If we accept that the Palestinian case is not an exception, but that the right of return should be applied to all refugee situations, we would find ourselves with a massive increase in global instability, possibly (re)igniting wars and ethnic conflicts.

I do believe in reparations, as a form of compromise, but I think that the United Kingdom should participate, as the colonial power that helped create the mess of 1948. Of course, the Arab states that participated in (dare I say: initiated?) the war of 1948 should contribute as well.

I do not believe in a bi-national solution, or in  “one state for all its citizens”.

First of all, as a Zionist, I believe that the Jewish nation has a right to self-determination in the form of a Jewish State. Unfortunately, the recent uptick in anti-Semitic attacks in the USA is a potent reminder of the need for Israel.

Furthermore, I do not believe taking Palestinians and Israeli Jews and forcing them to share one form of government is a solution to ethnic conflict, but rather, a recipe for transforming ethnic conflict into civil war.

I do not believe that the Right of Return makes Israel racist, any more than I believe it would be racist for Ireland to pass a law saying that Americans who can prove their grandparents or parents were from Ireland are entitled to automatic citizenship should they wish to emigrate to the country of their heritage.

I do not believe, given the historical record, that Arabs living in Israel when it was part of the Ottoman and British empires saw themselves as members of a  Palestinian nation. I do not believe that matters. I believe all nations are constructed communities. Palestinian nationhood has existed for at least 50 years; questioning it is both unfair and unwise.

I do not believe a Palestinian state will bring peace overnight; there will still be extremists, because hatred sometimes takes time to die.

I believe it is extremely likely that many settlements will have to be evacuated in order to bring peace.

I also believe that a mass evacuation of tens of thousands of settlers runs the risk of creating a new humanitarian crisis in order to solve an old one.  Any settlement evacuation must compensate settlers not only for the loss of their physical home, but also for the emotional trauma, while helping them to find adequate new homes, employment, and communities, alongside free counseling services.

I believe that hypothetically, the state of Palestine should include Jewish citizens, just as Israel includes Arab citizens – but not strongly enough to oppose the creation of a Palestinian state that would only offer citizenship to Palestinians.

I believe that hypothetically, Jews have the right to pray on the Temple Mount, as do people of all faiths -but not if it risks inciting violence.

I believe the Jewish people were promised the Land of Israel by God – but not at all times, under all circumstance, so that promise has no contemporary practical or political implications.

I believe Israeli citizens should be free to spend the Sabbath in the manner they deem best, but also worry about weekends in  which all shift work is given to Arab workers, since it’s not their holy day, or in which traditional Jews are pressured by their bosses to come into work or are pressured by non-Sabbath observant competitors to open their shops on the Sabbath.

So who should I vote for?

Bibi Netanyahu, who advocates for the status quo and is under investigation for corruption?

Boogie Herzog, an ineffective leader, who only supports some of my issues?

Zahava Galon, who I admire, but has made it clear that she sees her role as being the voice of conscience, meaning she is almost always in opposition, and also, has sometimes used rhetoric about religious people that makes me uncomfortable?

Yair Lapid, an effective politician who is centrist enough to not offend me, but has been showing signs of catering to the right wing?

Naftali Bennett, who advocates policies that I fear would completely destroy Israel’s democratic nature?

Avigdor Liberman, who has shown some signs of moderating as defense minister and does advocate a two-state solution, but whose campaign ads in the last election were full of racist insinuations?

Moshe Kahlon, Bibi’s lapdog?

The Joint List, which includes ultra-nationalist Palestinian parties and ultra-religious Muslim parties, both of whom threaten Israel’s nature as a Jewish democratic state?

The ultra-Orthodox parties who don’t allow women candidates and aren’t Zionist?

If I were to write to a certain political party and say “I won’t vote for you unless you do X”, they wouldn’t care that much. My vote is replaceable.

This is extremely different from America: If I write to my congressperson or senator, they know that my vote is extremely valuable. My replaceability is limited by the fact that the voter they find to replace me must live in my district or in my state. This is not an argument for creating voting districts in Israel, which would come with its own problems, but it is a recognition of an element of how the Israeli system works that makes voters feel less powerful.

And that’s why I feel politically adrift in Israel.

About the Author
Shayna Abramson, a part-Brazilian native Manhattanite, studied History and Jewish Studies at Johns Hopkins University before moving to Jerusalem. She has also spent some time studying Torah at the Drisha Institute in Manhattan, and has a passion for soccer and poetry. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in Political Science from Hebrew University, and is a rabbinic fellow at Beit Midrash Har'el.