My Opening Remarks
Me on incitement and a culture of peace
Me on the Trump Administration and normalization
My Opening Remarks
Me on incitement and a culture of peace
Me on the Trump Administration and normalization
As with any insider view, Michael Herzog’s eye opening account of what happened during the last round of Israeli Palestinian negotiations contains fascinating details.
There is a confirmed backchannel of Dennis Ross, Isaac Molho and Hussein Agha. We learn of what turned out to be a confusing shuttle diplomacy strategy by the Americans. The timeline of the collapse is clarified and the internal discussions of the Israeli side are revealed in greater depth.
As commentators and analysts go through the details, deducing lessons for future efforts, much attention will be paid to the mistakes in process and the reality of the gaps in the positions.
In the zone of possible agreement section, Herzog gives the readers a glimpse of where the parties were on key issues. Much was already suspected. He goes through the question of Jewish State, something that Kerry would later publicly pick up in his last speech on the issue, telling the world that there had been progress made on a regional level on this issue. He details the security work that General Allen’s team undertook, something that the Commanders for Israel’s Security and the Center for a New American Security later spelled out in greater detail. The refugee question got updated to include the plight of Jews from Arab lands (though the conversations were never concluded) and Jerusalem was punted.
All of this was pretty much suspected if not known by the end of the Obama administration. Yet Herzog finishes his account of the possible agreement with a surprising final line.
“Finally, a new section initiated by Tzipi Livni on the “Culture of Peace” was introduced.”
Herzog offers no analysis or explanation but a footnote to an interview that Livni held with David Horowitz, the editor of the Times of Israel, in September 2014.
Towards the end of the interview Livni revealed that there was agreed text of what a culture of peace should look like. Below is the full part of the interview.
That’s not my point. What I’m asking is why you haven’t focused on the centrality of the need to put an end to the incitement against Israel, and to create a more honest narrative?
You’re wrong. I suggested at the start of the negotiations (in 2013) that we finalize the clause relating to the so-called “Culture of Peace” in the future agreement. First of all, implementing that clause need not wait for a full agreement. Let me see if I can find you the text. (Livni searches in her i-Pad.) It has been a while. I’m not talking here about the bilateral committees on incitement, where each side ran to complain about the other. This is something (we worked on) with Abu Mazen, which did not get implemented but which I really think has to be done.
We also need to look at ourselves. I’m Israeli. I want to protect Israel. That’s my chief interest. But to say that our texts…
… and our maps that don’t show the West Bank. No, we’re not perfect.
Or describing the Palestinians as “shrapnel in the butt” (a reference to Economy Minister Naftali Bennett’s likening of the Palestinian conflict last year to shrapnel in the rear end — DH).
So, I’m very much in favor of the Palestinians being okay, but we should be too. And one doesn’t contradict the other. Both sides have to be okay. (Livni finds a document and shows it to me on her i-Pad.) This was a text on civil society and the culture of peace. It was meant to be part of any agreement. Here we set out…
Can I have a copy of this?
No, there’s a limit. (She laughs.) But you can look. You can see there are clauses against “supporting incitement.” A whole section… (The section of the document Livni shows me deals with preventing racism and discrimination, and features language highlighting the imperative to “promote mutual understanding, tolerance and respect.”)
If you implement steps like these, it might be gradually possible to help create a different atmosphere.
I wanted to do it simultaneously. Not to halt everything. I thought it could be implemented. That didn’t happen.
Again, surely he should have an interest in implementing this.
Who do you mean by “he”?
The leader you’re not representing in this interview.
(Livni laughs.) And you’re assuming that he’s the one who refused? Look, it didn’t happen. You know what, it didn’t happen. We immediately also got into the core issues. I suggested it to the Americans.
This “Culture of Peace” proposal also included clauses relating to incitement by religious leaders, media…?
Everything. Everything. Actually, I think we had an agreed text. I’ll check again. Had we extended the talks (last spring), I think we were going to implement it during the extended negotiations. But we didn’t reach an agreement to extend the negotiations.
I think it’s something that should be implemented anyway. I’m telling you, I suggested it at the very beginning.”
One of the challenges of the negotiations between Israel and the PLO has always been that ‘nothing is agreed upon until everything is agreed upon’. The linkage means that incremental process is invalidated unless a final deal is achieved. This keeps key concessions locked away until every part of the deal is worked out so it can be sold to both populations as a package deal.
Yet the problems that a deal will solve metastasize in its absence, making compromises harder and harder to reach. The most obvious and well known is that of settlements. The longer there is no agreement on borders the more that settlements grow, making it harder to generate the political will to pull back by creating new facts on the ground.
While the settlements are a physical manifestation of a barrier to progress, no less significant is the fear, mistrust and hate that the conflict has generated between the populations. While the power balance between Israelis and Palestinians is asymmetric, the mistrust and fear is equal. If political will is needed to open the space to get to an agreement between the parties, then the agreement of creating a culture of peace cannot wait until a full agreement is signed. It is needed as a necessary precondition.
Livni in her interview recognizes this, stating that this clause should be implemented anyway.
With the collapse of the negotiations, the Quartet report of July 2016 became the next key document to lay out a way forward. The final recommendation of the report requested that,
“Both parties should foster a climate of tolerance, including through increasing interaction and cooperation in a variety of fields – economic, professional, educational, cultural – that strengthen the foundations for peace and countering extremism.”
Since then legislators in the US and UK have advanced a concept of an International Fund for Israeli Palestinian Peace, whose aim would be to actualize a strategic, scalable attempt to create a culture of peace through dedicated funding. It is based off the successful International Fund for Ireland. Later this month the United States Institute of Peace is holding a half-day conference on the lessons that can be learnt between the two funds. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who oversaw the Good Friday agreement and was the Quartet representative for many years, has endorsed this idea.
What these efforts toward the fund realize is that one of the consequences from previous failures has been an incredulity gap that now exists between the two peoples. If this cannot be bridged, Israelis and Palestinians will continue to drift further apart, making any deal politically impossible for the parties to sign. The ‘culture of peace’ work is needed to ensure that the populations move their leaders closer together, rather than drive them further apart.
With the revelation that there is agreed upon text out there, it should be released and form the basis for the proposed fund to sit upon. While borders, Jerusalem, security, refugees and the other final status suffer from a linkage that makes them rise and fall together, it is never too early to start the excruciating, necessary work of trying to break the barriers of mistrust and hate. While a culture of peace cannot survive in the absence of a political horizon, a political horizon cannot be created without a population who believes that peace is possible.
Over the past month, there have been 57 bomb threats to 48 Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) around the United States. Jewish infants sleep at our JCCs in daycare, our toddlers learn their first Hebrew letters in the JCC classrooms, our children attend camps held across the JCC network and our community comes together to learn within the JCC halls. The JCC movement has been the beating heart of the American Jewish experience, and it is now under terrorist threat, yet no one outside the Jewish community seems to care much.
At the largest civil rights marches in the past twenty years, the women’s march did not mention the threats to the Jewish community during the intersectional speeches given on the National Mall. The Trump administration has been silent in the face of hundreds of Jews being evacuated on almost a weekly basis from their community centers.
Outside of the bomb threats, we have had Neo-Nazi marches planned against a Jewish community in Whitefish, Montana, swastikas pop up across the New York mass transportation system, and a shul in Chicago’s windows smashed in. A sense of anxiety has crept into the American Jewish community that the hard won safety of US Jewry might be shifting.
American Jews, unlike their European counterparts, have, since around the 1960s, considered themselves as part of the white majority. When I arrived in the US five years ago from the UK, I was surprised when my wife told me to tick the white box on the ethnic surveys that I had to fill out on various government forms. Growing up in the UK I, like most other European Jews I knew, had always ticked the other box on the census and written in ‘Jewish’ in the space provided.
The otherness of European Jewry was not controversial. We did not suffer persecution from the government for not being part of the majority. It was just how things were. You knew that those in the majority saw you as different, and you made your peace with it or you left. I enjoyed full and equal treatment in the UK as a British-Jew, and also suffered from some anti-Semitism, but generally enjoyed life as a minority group.
In the US, the integration of the American Jewish community into the majority of the US population was a shining achievement of the community. Joe Lieberman as a vice-presidential nominee was seen as the height of integration and no one saw Sen. Bernie Sanders’s faith as something that would be questionable in his campaign- if anything, his lack of religiosity was called into question. The hyphenated identity of all US Citizens, being a nation of immigrants, allowed the Jewish-American to be just as American as the Italian-American or the Irish-American.
Yet with the steady beat of the neo-Nazi ‘alt-right’ within the 2016 election campaign and the nativist appeals that undergirded President Trump’s win, the question of the place of American-Jews within the fabric of US society seemed to open up again. Op-Eds on if Jews were white started to appear, much to the glee of racists like David Duke and Richard Spencer. Just days after Mr. Trump’s inauguration the bomb threats started and the anxiety started to grow.
As Jews were feeling a little nervous, the women’s march came and as I watched the power of millions of American’s marching, I was a little annoyed that the threats to the JCCs somehow were left out of the many speeches going through the various challenges minorities were facing in this new era. It felt like a betrayal of solidarity and an extension of the campus debates of whether the Jewish experience fitted into the intersectional struggle.
Yet this nervousness changed to fear during the embarrassing and shambolic episode of the White House’s handling of the Holocaust Memorial Day statement. I was not particularly upset by the administration’s oversight in leaving Jews out of their statement, mistakes happen. But when called out on it the administration went out of their way to insult and denigrate everyone who disagreed with them. The White House chief of staff first came out saying that ‘everyone suffered in the Holocaust.’ I am not sure how Mr. Priebus’s family suffered, but my grandparents, who came over to the UK as part of the Kindertrasport while their families were murdered, suffered a little more than the general population at the time.
After the Zionist Organization of American (ZOA) and the Republican Jewish Committee (RJC) issued gentle criticism of the statement, Sean Spicer, the White House Press secretary called ZOA and the RJC “pathetic”. Mr. Spicer’s defense was that the author was Jewish, or as Saturday Night Live put it, “the guy who wrote the statement was super-Jewy, so back off.”
The idea that if a Jewish member of staff has written something it is immune from complaint demonstrates the fallacy in believing that Mr. Trump’s Jewish picks will protect us from his neo-Nazi white nationalist supporters.
As US Jews attempt to come to terms with the changing environment we should be aware that we do have allies. The state representatives in Montana came out in support of the community against the neo-Nazis, passengers riding in the cars cleaned off the graffiti on the subway in New York, and the Chicago catholic diocese pledged solidarity with the Chicago Loop Synagogue that was attacked.
Yet for this nervous moment to pass we need both our government, and the resistance to it, to recognize that American Jews are feeling a little frightened right now and some kind words and solidary are needed sooner rather then later.
My grandfather Joe was 14 when he left Fulda and my grandmother Ruth was 11 when she left Leipzig as part of the 10,000 members of the Kindertransport that left Germany for the U.K. They arrived with nothing.
I was thinking of them this week in the furor of President Donald Trump’s executive orders and as I came to the end of my own immigration story. On Tuesday, January 31, 2017, I, Joel Braunold, became a U.S. citizen.
Having lived in the States for the past five years on a student visa, then a Green Card, the anxiety that the new administration has created for foreign nationals in the U.S. has been extreme. It is not simply, as Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, an inconvenience or a delay to Green Card holders at the airports. Reports of people being coerced to give up their residency rights, orders that indicate that if a removable alien is charged with a crime (not convicted) that they will be deported, spread anxiety and terror amongst a community that has already been extremely vetted.
To understand the cruelty of what started this weekend, I wanted to share my own immigration story so that those who have not been through the process can understand the seriousness of what currently is taking place.
I have lived as a Green Card holder in the United States for the past four years. Before that I was a student on an F1 visa for nine months and before that I came and went on the visa waiver program as I was dating my future wife, Jorie, over a two year period (staying for a few days or a week every two to three months). While we were dating, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was suspicious that I was trying to live in the U.S. (I was not) and a note was placed on my file. I was subject to secondary processing a few times when I came to the States, often for hours. I was told that despite the fact that it was clear I had never overstayed my visa (or even got close to doing it), the note was in my file and would be there forever. When I applied for my student visa during my interview in London in 2011, this note almost led to the rejection of my application. The officer went through every one of my stays and saw that I was telling the truth and issued my F1. As an F1 I attended graduate school, having to go to Israel for my grandfather’s funeral, and went back to the U.K. once or twice. I got married as an F1 and started the process of applying for my Green Card. Getting the card took three months, lawyers, around 200 pages of evidence and applying for parole to leave and work (which were granted) that allowed me to leave the country and work while I waited. I received my temporary Green Card (for two years) and would receive my full Green Card on the condition that Jorie and I stayed married, paid taxes, informed the government of where I was living and did not get into any legal trouble.
After two years, I hired the same lawyers, and ten months later I got my full Green Card. Five months after receiving it I was eligible to apply to be a U.S. citizen based on three years of marriage with my Green Card. The process took nineteen months, the bulk of the time on an FBI name-check that took over a year to clear. I had to count every day out of the country I had spent to ensure I had not been outside as a collective for more then six months and list every charity or group I had ever belonged to. Given my Middle East travel they felt the need to do further checks on me. I got a second set of biometric prints, did my interview where they told me they could not confirm if I was eligible as they had not had time to read my file (which by then looked like something out of Kafka, it was maybe 15 inches thick). I had, by this point, submitted for my citizenship application almost 500 pages of evidence.
Six weeks after my interview I was informed that my oath ceremony will take place on January 31st.
Now all of the above took five years, cost around $3,500 (excluding lawyers) and in my view was totally fair. U.S. citizenship is a wonderful privilege and the U.S. should not just give it out willy-nilly. It was an intense, very stressful process. It created a level of status anxiety that U.S. citizens can’t imagine. Even Jorie would, from time to time, tease me about being so cautions or too worried, but I knew that any screw up and it was over.
Given the extreme vetting that is already in place, the wait times, the cost, the evidence required (for starters), what the administration subjected Green Carders to was horrendous. These are people who have been vetted and checked. They are allowed to travel unlimitedly – conditional that they don’t spend more then six months out of the country. Folks who have waited years for this freedom just had it removed. Some are separated from their families and lives as they were traveling on business, on family issues or for any other reason. They will have to wait on a case-by-case wavier that who knows how long it could take.
Trump’s order also affects F1 students who travelled home, J1 holders, professors and post-docs and every single foreign national from those countries who are not on diplomatic visas. Reading the order, the list of countries can be added to at his or discretion. We have no way of knowing if the list will be broadened in the next 90 days and a whole class of documented foreign nationals will find themselves in limbo. At my oath ceremony I was sworn in alongside 113 other new citizens. Even for a naturally cynical born-and-bred Londoner, it was a deeply moving occasion. When the officer conducting the ceremony did a roll call of the countries represented smiles broke out amongst all of us as Iraq, Sudan and Yemen were read out and the citizens of those states stood.
The ceremony itself featured videos and speeches reminding us of the diversity of America, its creed of welcoming its arms to those seeking liberty, the ingathering of the exiles of the world which forms the bedrock of America’s civic-patriotism. We 114 were the newest members of a covenant that truly makes America great and is the keystone of American exceptionalism.
After receiving our certificates of naturalization collectively we 114 new citizens of the United States all performed our first civic act. We exited the double doors of the auditorium and, one by one, registered to vote.
Much has been written about Secretary of State John Kerry’s parting remarks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But while most of the analysis has focused on whether the speech was too harsh on Israel or how well Kerry defended the U.S. abstention in the United Nations, one theme of the speech has been overlooked: the idea that the two-state solution’s cause of death is not likely to be settlements or incitement, but rather the total lack of trust between Israelis and Palestinians. As Kerry said:
“In the end, I believe the negotiations did not fail because the gaps were too wide, but because the level of trust was too low. Both sides were concerned that any concessions would not be reciprocated and would come at too great a political cost. And the deep public skepticism only made it more difficult for them to be able to take risks.”
That line is important for multiple reasons. First, it underscores that the belief gap between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership today is so wide that even if they agree completely on all of the final status issues—borders, Jerusalem, refugees, security arrangements—they are incapable of making a deal. Second, the leaders on both sides will never take the necessary risks for an agreement without overwhelming public support. That is, while public trust and support may not be a sufficient condition for a just and lasting peace, it is a necessary one. And third, the innovation that is needed to get to a deal is not finding ever-new bridging formulas on the final status issues, of which the Kerry principles are just the latest iteration, but rather a focus on how to start traversing the incredulity gap that divides the people.
Mind the gap
Secretary Kerry is correct that nothing expands the belief gap more than continued settlement building on the Israeli side and glorification of violence on the Palestinian side. The crux of the quest for peace has been the concept of land for peace, and both parties seem incapable of giving the other side what they need to believe. Israelis may talk a good game, but Netanyahu’s statements about his willingness to negotiate land fall on deaf ears while settlement outposts continue to grow. The Palestinian security cooperation might keep the worst of the violence off the streets of Israel, but no level of coordination will be enough while stabbers and shooters of Israeli civilians are lionized by Fatah and monuments are dedicated to them.
Building trust between the populations requires different strategies than those for building track-one negotiations. It requires a systematic outreach approach to civil society, both in attention and, when appropriate, funding. At best, the U.S. government, alongside the other interested nations, aided civil society work in episodic bursts. At worst, they saw it as irrelevant while negotiations were ongoing.
We have both worked for years—one of us within the U.S. government, the other with Israeli, Palestinian, and American NGOs—to make the case that any peace process will fail without public support. Thus, we agree with Kerry’s comments that focusing solely on the Israeli and Palestinian leadership and ignoring the people will only perpetuate this situation of total distrust. Yet it is frustrating that it took Kerry four years to understand this point.
To be clear, the civil society track is an “and” rather than an “or.” It buttresses other strategies and enables their successes, rather than stands alone. While it is not sufficient, it is necessary for any initiative to be successful.
Unlike settlements and incitement, which are driven far more by Israeli and Palestinian domestic considerations than international policy, engagement with the Israeli and Palestinian publics is one area where the U.S. negotiating team could have played a positive and effective role. Had Secretary Kerry realized in 2012 the importance of encouraging the public to push their leaders to stay at the negotiating table, he would have likely invested more time and money in supporting the efforts of civil society groups dedicated to preserving the two-state solution. Instead, the State Department largely ignored civil society, remaining laser-focused on the top leaders.
There is one important exception to this point. The U.S. government has repeatedly and strongly defended Israeli civil society in the face of an increasing attack by the Israeli government. During Kerry’s tenure as Secretary, the United States forcefully pushed back against different iterations of a harsh NGO law that particularly targeted foreign funding of human rights organizations.
However, during the 2013-2014 negotiations, Kerry made over three dozen trips to Israel and the West Bank. Yet despite the millions of miles flown and the tremendous amount of time that the secretary spent in the region, he never found a moment to meet with civil society. These were the groups, the people, whose expectations were raised when President Obama said in his 2013 speech in Jerusalem:
“And let me say this as a politician—I can promise you this, political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change that you want to see. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.”
Civil societies were expected to market the negotiations to their skeptical people, knowing that their governments were pouring cold water on them. Throughout the 14 months of negotiations, no senior member of the negotiating team held a town hall or public meeting with those who were expected to sell the process—either to hear their concerns or to give them the necessary boost to build domestic support for their efforts. And while there were some private attempts at outreach to civil society, they were insufficient and lacked the necessary high-level support to move the dial. When even the negotiators don’t take the efforts of those supporting them seriously, it is hard for them to be taken seriously within their own societies and by their own leadership.
Throughout the Obama administration, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provided $10 million a year in funding reconciliation programs between Arabs and Jews, Israelis and Palestinians. Not once did this line item make it into the Obama administration’s budget. Each year it was added to the federal budget after considerable effort on the congressional level in an ever-more difficult fiscal environment. When compared to how much the United States spends on military assistance to Israel and paying down the debts of the Palestinian Authority, it is a fraction of the resource to something that the administration only now recognizes as the underlying foundation to move forward.
Ball in Trump’s court
The next administration, whose dedication to the two-state solution is questionable, might look for some out-of-the-box ideas to try and unstick the parties and move the situation to a more stable setting. If we have any advice for them it is this, it starts with hope and change. It might seem odd that the Obama slogan needs to the be organizing philosophy for their approach to the Israeli Palestinian conflict, but without hope, the parties will never move beyond their retrenchment. The key to hope is change, that the status quo can be different, that people do have agency.
To help each society recognize this potential, all the tools in the foreign policy toolkit must be used, including working with civil society groups. That’s essential for delivering that message and demonstrating to skeptical people that we are in a new era with new opportunities.
This should include:
We are glad Secretary Kerry understands how important it is to establish trust and confidence among the leaders in order to preserving the two-state solution. And we are glad he made a strong case for why the Israeli and Palestinian people must push their leaders to take political risks.
With the Paris peace conference on the horizon, a new U.S. administration being sworn in, and the parties jockeying for position in the new environment we hope that the lessons that took four years for Secretary Kerry to learn can be remembered and reflected on as seriously as the principles that he presented.
As the endless autopsies of the 2016 election continue to pour in, what is clear is that the left needs a new organizing message. Luigi Zingales warns us against attacking Trump in order to focus on his policies, and Mark Lilla decries the end of identity politics for the progressive movement, but what is the foundational message that can serve as the cornerstone of the liberal comeback?
As a newcomer to America, it appears obvious to me that American liberals have an inbuilt advantage over their European counterparts. As a born and bred British citizen, I remember well the debates that Gordon Brown faced when trying to define British values. Coming in after the failure of the multiculturalism, a tactic that did not seem to create a cohesive society, Prime Minister Brown decided to call for community cohesion. What the community was supposed to unify toward became a national conversation about what British values are today.
America does not suffer from this problem. The civic-nationalism that is America’s founding creed, and its populace of hyphenated identities, allows for an inclusive patriotism accessible to all. The Irish-American, Jewish-American, African-American and Muslim-American can look to the second part of their hyphen and see a commonality. The Constitution and Bill of Rights lay out a doctrine that is fundamentally inclusive. The universal nature of the American experiment, its civil religion, is the core of American exceptionalism. What makes America the shining city on the hill is its openness to all those striving toward the values to which we all hold dear.
These values are what allowed Hamilton, the musical, to be beloved by Vice-President Dick Cheney and President Obama. It is what enabled Captain Humayan Khan to serve the nation. It is the centerpiece of America’s soft power around the world.
In the most recent election, Donald Trump’s campaign carefully turned American patriotism into nationalism. For most, it was economic nationalism, for others, it was white nationalism. In each case it was a zero sum game- if you were not gaining, it was the fault of an “other”. Those “others” could be the countries, like China and Mexico, that Trump says saw us as an easy mark. But they could be American immigrants and minorities that some felt received unfair help from the Federal government, enabling them to leapfrog “real Americans” in social advancement. The rallying cry was America First, and he convinced his voters that they were the real America; the “others”, including other Americans, were responsible for keeping them down.
The key to gaining back the narrative is to reclaim the patriotic mantel. Baked into our social values is a pride in being American. There is a reason why E pluribus unum has been the unofficial motto of the United States.
Democrats searching for an organizing philosophy that can rebuild the party, from the local to the federal level, do not need to start from scratch. The American base setting is one of optimism. It is one of faith, service and the belief that anyone can rise to the top. If a Trump administration aims to turn Americans against each other in a national Apprentice competition, Democrats can rebuild through an appeal to civic service and belief in community.
This does mean a reorientation. We must move away from messages implying that the state has the only answer to inequality. American fear of the federal government goes back to the founding of the nation. A return to communal resilience and a re-creation of social capital can be the fertile ground where red districts become purple or even blue. Promoting programs in the community, dealing with common problems, and linking those left behind by globalization can be a far more effective than speaking about tax credits.
We also need to find ways to link communities of faith around common service projects. As the evangelical community, which overwhelmingly voted for Mr. Trump, continues to define their political identity in these changing times, where public morality is no longer their touchstone, the left should try engaging with them in service projects that link black and white churches, multi-faith projects and those that serve the poor. Not only will these provide new avenues to help bridge cultural divides, but they will also provide opportunities to campaign on common causes and enable a less partisan divide.
Finally, and this has been written before, we must concentrate on what we share as a nation, rather than the identities that divide us. We cannot and should not descend into demography and think that it ensures a democratic future. The hard fought wins for communities of color and others who have been historically discriminated against must never be given up. But we must be for more than just battles for minority groups. The American values that immigrant groups accept so proudly should give the native population a great comfort. It’s those values, and the proponents of them, that are the best messengers to a socially anxious population. Whether the Islamic gold star family or the job-creating first generation immigrant CEO, these are the leaders that can reframe the debate away from a narrow nationalism and towards a civic patriotism.
2016 in general has shaken liberals the world over to our core. Being a new immigrant to America, I truly believe that we have a head start that no liberal democratic party has. We have as a nation agreed upon what our shared values are. We now just need to live up to them.
Israel’s population is a mishmash of Jewish communities from around the globe with a healthy dash of the local Arab population. Like any society, Israel struggles to find a way to create a healthy shared society between the disparate parts of the community that came to the land with their own customs, cultures, emotional baggage and expectations.
The conflicting nature of the tribes of Israel- the secular, the national religious, the ultra-orthodox and the Arabs- has best been captured by President Rivlin who has made his presidency about promoting true community cohesion and anti-racism.
In most societies, the place where a sense of civic identity is created is in the public school system. Coming from different backgrounds, the children of a nation are socialized together learning common themes and values, helping to overcome the differences that make up part of their home life.
In Israel however, the segmented nature of the education system means that public schooling is the foundation of the walls between the tribes, rather than the melting pot to mix them up. Israel has separate tracks for secular, religious, Arab and ultra-orthodox education. Though the Education Ministry is the second largest government department (after defense), the Minister finds it hard to affect the classrooms of children not from his constituency. Just ask Minister Bennett about the teaching of english and mathematics in the Ultra-Orthodox schools at the moment.
The divided nature of the school system means that there is no place where Israelis from different religious, and in some cases ethnic, backgrounds meet one another. Instead, the fulcrum of civic patriotism moves from the classroom to the battlefield with universal conscription being the birthplace of a unified society.
There are two obvious problems however. First, Ultra-Orthodox and Arab citizens don’t serve in the military, meaning that they miss the access point to civic-national identity that bonds the nation across socio-economic, religious and ethnic boundaries. Second, unlike the classroom, where free expression and critical thought are the backbone of educational instruction, the Army is a place for order, authority and militarism. The national values of Israeli society are not coming from the public school, but from the IDF, which further divides society within the context of the ongoing conflict.
The exclusionary nature of conscription within an ever-diversifying state of Israel means that citizens are finding less and less common cause with one another. The divided nature of public education leads to a social anxiety for each segment, each believing themselves a minority within a system where the other tribes have advantages or are burdens upon them.
There are some phenomenal efforts to try and mitigate the worst aspects of the systemic educational separation. Groups like Givat Haviva try and ensure that pupils from the different schools meet, the Abraham Fund ensures that each school sector prioritizes the others’ language, Merchavim look to place Arab teachers in Jewish schools. The biggest challenge to the separation of the schooling system is the Hand in Hand school system, whose national network of seven schools looks to create a true bilingual environment for its students.
Yet despite these efforts, the root cause of the continuation of the tribes of Israel are the divided schools of Israel. As Israel becomes more religious and more Arab each passing year, how much longer can the divided school system prop up a society with such deep fissures within it?
As Israeli patriots like President Rivlin look to try and create a truly integrated, inclusive society, a radical idea might be to start re-examining the anachronistic nature of public education in Israel, find ways to try and change it root and branch.