- this summer’s tent cities and protests over the cost of living
- demonstrations against the exclusion of women in the public sphere
- demonstrations for Ethiopian rights
Although these causes may seem diverse, each of these demonstrations is fundamentally motivated by the same need: the need for an ethnically and religiously open society in Israel.
Much of the economic pain in Israeli society is caused by economic arrangements that have allowed certain religious subgroups to create a culture that makes it embarrassing for men to work and further raises children without the basic education needed to hold professional jobs, should they chose to work. Though individuals can hardly be blamed for the culture in which they were raised, their inability to work turns them into a drain on the tax base rather than part of the process to build that tax base up.
This same status quo rarely questions a group’s right to create separatist enclaves. In the name of “peace”, Haredi children don’t have to learn the national core curriculum and they can easily opt out of army service. In the name of “integration”, we create separate Haredi army units where men work with and are commanded by other Haredi men. They rarely need to see a woman, and rarely encounter even secular males in the military.
We should hardly be surprised then when rabbis of these communities refuse to speak up against the kind of religiously motivated violence and shaming we’ve seen in Beit Shemesh or on various bus routes. Nor should we be surprised to discover that a rabbi was one of the motivating forces behind the group of Kiriat Malachi residents that signed a pact refusing to sell or lease to Ethiopians.
There are only two ways to create tolerance: exposure and equal privilege. Demonizing a person you’ve never met is easy. Demonizing someone who has cried tears with you and sipped coffee with you is much, much harder. But without equal privilege exposure leads to paternalism. We must level the playing field so that all ethnic groups and philosophical streams can practice Judaism and live out Jewish values as they understand them. We must all work towards changing and even replacing institutions that make one group of Jews out to be more valuable or more Jewish than another.
It is absolutely essential organizers in each movement begin to find each other and recognize the common goal. Without building connections to one another, we risk fracturing social energy into separate advocacy groups each seeing the other as the enemy. We make ourselves easy prey to those trying to block change. As Merav Michaeli writes in a recent HaAretz editorial:
“A new consciousness has arisen among us, and it will remain,” Ethiopian activist Gadi Barkan told columnist Nahum Barnea at a recent anti-racism protest in Jerusalem.
“The ground is burning beneath our feet… and it is burning, ever so quietly, beneath the feet of our leaders as well,” wrote author Almog Behar on Israeli social criticism website Haokets, in a look back at the six months that have passed since the summer protest.
And our leaders, in response, are meticulous in decimating the chance of solidarity among us. Backed up by nationalist forces on the one side and economic forces on the other, they are taking “divide and conquer” to the next level. With one hand they are sponsoring heavy-handed legislation against various minorities; and with the other, they are pitting one segment of the population against the other, so that we fight each other while they laugh all the way to the bank…