Equality is not a gift

17 May

by Ilan Bloch

Lt. Col. Mahmoud Khir al-Din (left) and his wife Nahed, in an undated photograph published by the military on May 15, 2022. (IDF)

This week, the name of the IDF commander killed in a special operation in the Gaza Strip in 2018 was published. The death of Lt. Col. Mahmoud Kheir el-Din, a Druze Israeli, is a tragedy. However, it is not — as some have suggested — a reason to change Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People (2018), which promotes the establishment and strengthening of settlement on the land by and for Jews, as opposed to by and for Israelis, downgrades the status of the Arabic language, which was previously an official language of the State of Israel, and deliberately fails to mention the notion of equality between citizens.

The law should never have been passed in the first place. It is not wrong because it might offend Druze servicemen and their families who have linked their fate to ours in a brit damim (a covenant of blood) even since before the establishment of the State of Israel. Even if there were no non-Jewish IDF soldiers, and even if none had paid the ultimate price in sacrificing their lives for the state, it would still be wrong. The law is not wrong because Arab doctors, nurses and pharmacists (and a Druze COVID-19 Chief COVID-19 Officer) shepherded us through the pandemic. Even if there were no non-Jewish medical staff in the country’s hospitals, clinics and pharmacies, it would still be wrong.

A Christian Arab waiter, a Muslim Arab janitor, a Druze accountant, an unemployed Circassian and a Samaritan high school dropout are all valued and equal members of society. Equality is not conditional. It is not given by the majority by sufferance. Equality is a basic right. The death of this or that soldier, or the contribution of this or that doctor, does not change this. The law should not have been passed.

Ilan Bloch is a licensed tour guide.

The mission of Israel

10 Mar

by Ilan Bloch

Our Sages teach (Hullin 7a) that Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair was going to do pidyon shvuyim (redemption of captives) when he came upon the River Ginai.

He said to the river: “Ginai, split your waters and I shall pass through you.” The River responded: “You are going to do the will of your Creator, and I, the will of mine. It is doubtful you will be able to succeed, whereas I will certainly be able to do so.” R’ Pinchas replied: “If you shall not part your waters, I decree that water shall never again flow through you.” The River parted for him.

There was a man that was holding wheat [to make matzah] for Passover. R’ Pinchas said to the River: “Split for him too as he is engaged in a mitzvah.” The River split for him.

There was an Arab who was accompanying them. R’ Pinchas said to the River: “Part for him too lest it be said that this is what is done to those who accompany.” The River split for him.

Perhaps this short text can present a mission statement of sorts for the State of Israel:

  1. Redemption of captives — a great mitzvah, which takes precedence over other mitzvot; even monies collected for the rebuilding of the Temple can be diverted in order to fulfill this mitzvah. The right of the individual to be free, the pursuit of liberty, and collective responsibility for our fellow Jews in Israel and beyond are cornerstones of what the Jewish state should stand for. We will be judged on how successfully we work toward the building of an ethical society.
  2. Matzah — an independent state affords us a unique opportunity to grow Jewish civilization output and Jewish life. Allowing for, and facilitating, a framework for enhanced Jewish living – for those who want this – should certainly be part and parcel of what a Jewish state represents.
  3. The accompanying Arab — notwithstanding the above two points and perhaps even because of the first, a Jewish state must afford full rights to its non-Jewish population, viewing them as people accompanying the Jewish population of Israel on this miraculous journey of Jewish self-determination. This is because equality must be a fundamental governing principle of any democratic state, because we understand all too well what it means to be a minority, and also because “lest it be said that this is what is done to those who accompany” us. A Jewish state cannot be (only) about demography.

If we fail in any of these, we run the real risk of the River Ganai turning on us. In such a case it will force us to examine ourselves (and others to look at us), with ginui, condemning us, and bearing witness to our moral opprobrium. And, as much as many of us may ignore the censure of others (Ben-Gurion famously derided the United Nations as Um Shmum (“United Nothings”)), will we really be able to ignore our own self-reproach?! Some may criticize Jews who are ashamed as Jews who bring shame or even as “self-hating,” but the River Ganai is clear, and anyone who is willing to open her eyes will be able to see her reflection in its waters.

Ilan Bloch is a licensed Israel tour guide and teacher.

The challenges of Israel education

9 Feb

by Ilan Bloch

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

With Israel educational tourism still affected by the fifth (Omicron) wave of the COVID pandemic, it is an opportune time to reflect on other challenges affecting the field. In this post, I will present and discuss five key issues affecting Israel education today.

  1. Along with a heightened sense of political engagement, there is an increasingly dogmatic approach to political affiliation on the part of many learners (whether from the left or the right of the political spectrum). This can often be linked to their religious denomination, with some Orthodox students more likely to offer knee-jerk support for the right (both in the US and Israel), and some Reform and Liberal students more likely to offer robotic support for progressive causes (again, both in the US and Israel). The idea that students would critically and independently analyze issues on a case-by-case basis and come to their own conclusions, even if they sometimes differ from those of their declared political camp, seems to be rarer in today’s hyper-polarized world.
  2. Even with the best of intentions, tour guides are faced with a massive information deficit about millions of Palestinians and their lived experience. Without fluency in Arabic (and, of course, without the ability to travel to the Gaza Strip, or even to take groups to most cities in Area A of Judea and Samaria/the West Bank) the ability to truly engage is severely circumscribed from the get-go.
  3. Again, even with the best of intentions to present Palestinian narratives in order to give a more substantial and nuanced educational experience, perhaps there exists a subconscious inability and unwillingness on the part of Israel educators and tour guides, educational institutions and parents (and, even on the part of some students) to truly engage with (non- and anti-Zionist) Palestinian narratives.
  4. Growing disenchantment with Israel and Zionism as it becomes clear that even after 12 years of Netanyahu at the helm of the country and with the inauguration of a new “government of change” not all that much has necessarily changed. The occupation continues and, with it, a declared governmental policy of opposition to any peace negotiations. The worst excesses of the occupation can be seen clearly: a) with the massive increase in anti-Palestinian terrorism on the part of some settlers and their supporters, with almost no indictments filed against perpetrators; b) with former Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision to grant legal backing to the re-establishment of the Evyatar illegal outpost, and c) with ongoing government unwillingness to deal with the Homesh Yeshiva, operating illegally at the site of the former community/settlement for the last 15 years, with many of its supporters even attacking IDF soldiers. Moreover, even with no Haredim in the coalition, the government of change has not changed very much in regard to the status of the Reform and Conservative movements and even froze the Kotel deal, just like Netanyahu’s last government.
  5. And, perhaps the most difficult phenomenon to deal with: an increasing incidence of American Jews simply “opting out” of a relationship with Israel. As Israel educators and tour guides (and as committed Jews) we presuppose that engagement with Israel is an essential aspect of the life, and in the identity formation, of every Jew. But, increasing numbers of American Jews simply don’t. Sometimes this is based on non-Orthodox anti-Zionism but sometimes it is merely a matter of people who feel more than comfortable with their American identity and see no clear need to engage in any substantial manner with what they view as a “foreign country.”

Which Israel education challenges do you see in 2022?

Ilan Bloch is a licensed Israel tour guide.

Honi Ha’Meagel and Shimon ben Shetach, and Israel education

29 Oct

by Ilan Bloch

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Our Sages teach (Taanit 23a) that halfway through Adar rain had not yet fallen. The people send a message to Honi Ha’Meagel (Honi the Roof Thatcher), asking that he pray for rain, which he does, but to no avail. He then draws a circle and stands within it, beseeching God to open the skies, even stating that he would not leave his circle until God did so. God responds with only a drizzle. With chutzpah (audacity) he exclaims to God that he wanted more and God responds by opening the floodgates. With even more chutzpah, he tells God that this deluge is too much, and a regular amount of rain starts to fall. Overall though, the land is flooded (people even need to ascend the Temple Mount to gain shelter) and Honi lays his hands on a bullock for a thanksgiving offering, asking that the rains now stop. The clouds dissipate, the sun shines and the people go out into the fields to gather mushrooms and truffles. Disaster is averted. Honi manages to serve as an intermediary between the people and God, bringing deliverance to them in a miraculous manner.

Shimon ben Shetach tells him that if not for the fact he was Honi Ha’Meagel he would surely be excommunicated. Who acts so petulantly toward God, making demands again and again?! It is as though Honi is a toddler acting as one would expect when trying to convince his parent to grant him something special!

Honi makes things easy for the people, he gives them what they want, and he successfully serves as an intermediary, bringing the people and God closer to one another. Shimon ben Shetach wants the people to have to work harder to strengthen their relationship with God and to try to achieve a greater level of spiritual loftiness. He does not want them to rely on miracles or miracle-makers; he wants the onus to change the situation to be on them. Honi seems to be the hero of the story, whereas Shimon ben Shetach perhaps comes across as a stodgy man, making unnecessary demands of the people, pushing them unreasonably when easier alternatives exist. Honi may well bring people closer to God but the relationship might be one that is juvenile and shallow. Shimon ben Shetach may well push for a deeper, more complex connection, but people might give up on the endeavor because of the effort involved, or may find such an attachment once achieved to be uninspiring, and even artificial.

How might we understand this passage in regard to Israel education? An articulate and inspiring tour guide or teacher can spoon-feed his charges, serving as entertainer-in-chief, while offering Zionist sound bites or easy-to-digest messages. He may even receive top grades in terms of student feedback. His students may view him as their intermediary to connect with Israel; he might even be considered to be a miracle worker in the field of education and tourism.

A tour guide or teacher might also have higher expectations of her students. She may embrace the Socratic method continuously, even when students are exhausted; every new topic taught might need to be acquired by the students through hard work, rather than be simply transmitted by the guide/teacher. She might not prepare a source sheet or course reader but rather force students to look up original works to find a relevant quote or text. Every lesson or tour experience might call for indefatigable efforts on the part of students and force them to ponder controversial and complicated issues and clarify where they stand in relation to them. Her students may even hate some lessons or tours. By the end of the Israel program or school semester or year, the teacher might well not be seen as the central actor in the educational enterprise; student evaluations of her might not be as high as those of her colleague who embraces the approach of Honi. The students may have learned a lot and achieved a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the content matter, but they may well be missing some element of splendor, wonder and fun.

Perhaps Honi and Shimon ben Shetach are really on a spectrum and our job as Israel educators is to try and find our point on the axis between their two hashkafot (philosophical worldviews) — one which works for us as educators and for the learners themselves, which is suitable in terms of the content knowledge we are trying to convey, and which accords with the policies of the institution in which we are teaching or guiding.

Where do you stand? Are you more of a Honi or a Shimon ben Shetach? Why?

Inspired by a class with Nechama Goldman Barash.

Ilan Bloch is a licensed tour guide and teacher.

The UNGA, politics and Israel education

3 Oct

by Ilan Bloch

Too many times I have heard Israel educators, program administrators and presenters at professional development sessions say that Israel is not only about the Arab-Israeli conflict. They exhorted their audience to remember to forget the Palestinians, telling us that Israel is about more than our relations with the neighbors a few miles up the road over the Green Line and with those in the villages and mixed cities within Israel proper.

They stressed that the students’ relationship with Israel need not be inextricably linked to issues of peace and security, that Israel was about so much more than military conflict and diplomacy, and that there was so much more to examine in the short time that students would spend here. Exploring Jewish heritage, sampling culinary delights, enjoying music and art, meeting the LGBTQ community, and investigating Start-Up Nation (as though the high tech sector here is not closely tied to the IDF through Unit 8200 and Unit 81 graduates), and more, are all essential parts of Israel education, as important as – if not more important than – the (non-existent) peace process. The conflict/the matzav/geopolitics/news and current affairs was just another component of this tapestry which should make up an Israel education curriculum but, they would say, it is not the entire backdrop to the story of Israel. Each proponent of this view made clear over and over again that none of what she said was in any way intended as a political statement.

Just last week Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke from the dais at the United Nations General Assembly: “For way too long, Israel was defined by wars with our neighbors. But this is not what Israel is about. Israelis don’t wake up in the morning thinking about the conflict.” He sounded not just like a politician aiming “to shrink the conflict” but rather like one who wanted to try to ignore it completely and to make it disappear from the concerns of the international community.

I was immediately reminded of those Israel educators who say that we do not need to concentrate on educating about the conflict because Israel is about so much more. Both cases involve making a clear and bold political statement. And both are transparently seen as such by students hoping to grapple honestly with the complexity of the conflict, and who (rightly) view the conflict as a central aspect of life in the Land of Israel (at least for millions of Palestinians) and how they relate to it as a central component of their engagement with, and relationship to, Israel.

Minimizing curriculum hours spent on the conflict is just as political as a declared policy of minimizing the conflict itself. Our charges understand this. We need to as well.

Ilan Bloch is a licensed Israel tour guide and teacher.

Not just “good Arabs”

19 Sep

by Ilan Bloch

We need to bring Palestinian speakers to speak with our educational tour groups. Diaspora Jewish students need to be exposed to alternative voices, which support narratives which compete with the conclusions which they probably drew from their Israel education. In order to more fully understand Zionism and Zionist history and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and perhaps even in order to move toward becoming a changemaker who believes in peace, they need to hear such speakers.

We should not fear our charges hearing from speakers who define themselves as Palestinian citizens of Israel, as opposed to Israeli Arabs. We need not protect them from anti-Zionist voices, which see our national liberation movement as racist and discriminatory, and which seek to reconstitute Israel as a state of all its citizens. Speakers who feel equal (or even more) affinity with the Palestinian flag as the Israeli flag, and who don’t sing Hatikvah when everybody around them is doing so, do not need to be excluded from speaking to Israel program participants.

We should not be dispensing “kosher certificates” to speakers, ensuring they accept Israel as a Jewish democratic state as a starting point for discussion, vetting their social media profiles to ensure that nothing that they have ever written, thought or said might be seen as legitimizing terrorism, or checking they do not lionize Yasser Arafat as the grandfather of their national movement, before granting them “legitimacy” to speak to our groups. (One Palestinian citizen of Israel who spoke to a group of mine told me that she thought of Ben-Gurion the way that most Israeli Jews and Zionists think of Arafat.)

Not every viewpoint raised in our educational programs in Israel necessarily needs to be supported by the establishment – board members, program administrators, educators or counselors. Real education involves confronting difficult narratives, being exposed to challenging ideologies and being ready to really hear the Other, on her terms, and not on ours.

We need to be less fearful of potentially alienating partners and donors, parents, staff and the students themselves, and to be confident in our ability to educate our students toward independent, criticial and analytical thought, and in their ability to apply these skills in relation to new content knowledge. Of course, Palestinian speakers might well decide themselves to present different messages to different audiences and the same speaker might alter his content, tone and delivery style to target different audiences. This would be his choice.

Palestinian citizens of Israel who serve as “coexistence NGO” speakers, and who come to the table with a willingness to at least acquiesce to the status quo within Israel proper and even in Judea and Samaria/the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and who are even willing to be critical of the problems in their own society (e.g. violence, misogyny, etc.), have a role to play in Israel education. But real Israel education involves exposure to other Palestinian voices — not just those of “good Arabs.”

Ilan Bloch is a licensed Israel tour guide.

Sinat chinam (baseless hatred) is alive and well

18 Jul

by Ilan Bloch

אקמצא ובר קמצא חרוב ירושלים
 דההוא גברא דרחמיה קמצא ובעל דבביה בר קמצא
 עבד סעודתא אמר ליה לשמעיה
 זיל אייתי לי קמצא
 אזל אייתי ליה בר קמצא (גיטין נה:)

Jerusalem was destroyed on account of Kamtza and bar Kamtza. 
There was a certain man whose friend was named Kamtza 
and whose enemy was named bar Kamtza. 
He once made a large feast and said to his servant: 
Go bring me Kamtza. 
The servant went and mistakenly brought him bar Kamtza. (Gittin 55b)

In response to my recent blog “They’re embarrassed and ashamed” J.J., a fellow tour guide, an Israeli Jew, commented:

“I think Israel should retake Gaza. As an IDF soldier, I would be the first one in. God I hate left wing, self hating, liberal Jews. You are worse than all the terrorists combined”

I responded:

“Your sinat chinam is horrible, especially during the 9 Days. I hope you have a meaningful Tisha Beav. Tzom kal u’moil.”

He responded:

“if you love hamas and the Palestinians so much (and apparently more than you love your own people) then why don’t you go live in Gaza. I’ll come and watch you go in from the Israeli border. I don’t want to miss out on the fun as I know what they will do to you. You should also wear a kippa when you cross into Gaza, they will love that”

I responded:

“I feel bad that you’re so filled with hate. If you want to have an open dialog, then great. Otherwise, have a nice life! Goodbye.”

He responded:

“The liberal Jews of today are the exact equivalent of the Jews that used to help round up the other Jews for the nazis”

I responded:

“That’s a truly terrible comment. I’m sorry you’re so filled with hate for people who have a different opinion to you. Goodbye.”

He responded:

“I only have hatred for backstabbing Jews and terrorists who want to destroy the Jewish state”

I responded:

“I’m sorry you think any Jew who disagrees with you is a “backstabbing Jew.” I’m sorry you’re filled with such hate. I don’t want to continue this discussion with you. Have a good life. Goodbye.”

I have only included the initials of the person who chose to comment on my blog post with vitriol and invective, with what can only be described as incitement to hatred and violence, even though he happily posted publicly in his own name. I cannot imagine what goes on in somebody’s head when they think these things, let alone write them in a public forum. My initial blog post was simply a plea for Jewish unity and for dialog:- “But maybe, if we really, really care about achdut Yisrael (Jewish unity), we need to engage in an open and real dialog with our Diaspora sisters and brothers — “negotiations without preconditions” so to speak, without dismissing one another’s views a priori.” 

Sinat chinam is alive and well in Israel 2021. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” seems truer than ever. May we merit being wise enough to learn lessons from Jewish history.

Ilan Bloch is a licensed Israel tour guide.

They’re embarrassed and ashamed

30 Jun
Image taken from Haymarket Books website

by Ilan Bloch

Some American Jewish progressives are embarrassed by and ashamed of Israel. They see many of the actions of successive Israeli governments during the last decade as immoral and simply impossible to justify or accept. They are disgusted that Kahanists sit in the Knesset, with Binyamin Netanyahu serving as the midwife of the deal which planted them there. They are ashamed that more Palestinian families will be expelled from their homes of more than half a century in Sheikh Jarrah, because Jews can reclaim previously owned Jewish properties but Arabs cannot reclaim previously owned Arabs properties. They are repulsed by the fact that the government allows Flag Parade participants to march through the Muslim Quarter, some who shout and sing racist epithets and chants, forcing residents to close their stores and hole up in their homes. They are outraged that Israel – the country that they were told always extended its hand in peace to its Palestinian neighbors – has not even deigned to bother with any negotiations or peace processes for years, yet still saw fit to pass the “Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People” law, which explicitly failed to even mention the notion of equality between citizens. They have not forgotten or forgiven Netanyahu’s racist and patently false comments about “Arab voters… heading to the polling stations in droves. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them in buses.” They are abhorred by the unending price tag attacks against Palestinian property and person, for which the vast majority of perpertrators have not been arrested or prosecuted. They are outraged that two different national groups in the same territory do not fall under the same regime of laws, policing, prosecution or incarceration as one another. They are deeply upset that MKs from across the political spectrum (with a handful of notable Jewish exceptions) support the extension of the (temporary) “Citizenship Law” amendment first passed in 2003 during the Second Intifada, which blocks Palestinian spouses of Israelis from gaining Israeli citizenship — all in the name of protecting the Jewish State against a perceived “demographic threat.” They are appalled that Ayelet Shaked, the Interior Minister of this “government of change,” made the point at the “handover ceremony” with her predecessor that she would do all she could to rid the country of asylum-seekers. They are sick of leaders who entrenched the (Ultra) Orthodox hegemons and delegitimized and demonized other streams of Judaism.

Whether one agrees with their arguments or not is irrelevant; we must still nonetheless understand their narrative and grapple with it. They are not trying to protect their “progressive credentials,” nor are they trying to ingratiate themselves with their contemporaries. They are not concerned that their non-Jewish friends and colleagues will deem them not “woke” enough. They are not self-hating Jews, they are not auto-antisemites and they are not “un-Jews.” They are deeply committed and involved Jews who have enormous problems with Israel and Zionism. We can ignore them, we can condemn them, we can write them off or we can engage. For more than a decade we were ruled by governments who argued that Israel, and Judea and Samaria, are one, that there is no Green Line, that all of the Land of Israel between the River to the Sea is our patrimony. And when Jewish progressives internalize that message and agree that all territory under Israeli control is Israel’s responsibility and perceive that what is happening in the territories on a daily basis is emblematic of Zionism and the State of Israel as a whole, we expel them from the Big Tent, and condemn them as enemies of the Jewish people.

This does not excuse the actions of Hamas, which launched 4300 rockets at my people, and made me run with my four-year-old twins toward the bomb shelter, on May 10. Regardless of any power imbalance which exists between the sides, Hamas members have agency and must also be held accountable for their actions.

I too felt the isolation and pain caused by some Diaspora Jews being seemingly more concerned with the fate of Gazans than with that of their own people. I too still fail to understand those who gave Hamas “a free pass” because they are the weaker party, as though strength and guilt automatically go hand-in-hand.

But maybe, if we really, really care about achdut Yisrael (Jewish unity), we need to engage in an open and real dialog with our Diaspora sisters and brothers — “negotiations without preconditions” so to speak, without dismissing one another’s views a priori. Perhaps if we had had the courage and were willing to engage in discussion with Diaspora Jews about the issues raised in the first paragraph of this piece in a serious and constructive manner many years ago, perhaps if we had not, for the most part, refused to condemn (not just critique) Israel plainly and simply when called for (and bringing Jewish supremacists into the Knesset would have been one such appropriate occasion), perhaps if we had brought Palestinian (not just “good Arab”) voices and narratives to our educational frameworks in an ongoing, comprehensive and deliberate manner, we would not be where find ourselves today. Perhaps a true mifgash (encounter) needs to take place in order to heal the fissures.

Ilan Bloch is a licensed Israel tour guide.

Talking English with Israelis

24 Jun

by Tara Carey

Israel is the Land of Milk and Honey, and it is rich with culture and history. Our people are just the same. Every person comes with a story and a history, but Israeli history is filled with the colour of cultures and worlds combined. 

What do you associate with Israel? Falafel? The Kotel (Western Wall)? How about ice cream? No? I thought not. I am a cultural English expert and I help Israelis navigate the world in English. Let’s flip this now and learn some of the more fun things about Israelis. The ones you wouldn’t otherwise know.

One of their favorite expressions is pa’am shlishit glida. This means ‘third time, ice cream.’ It’s just one of those empty expressions that we all have. When was the last time you said “let’s get together” and actually did? If Israelis got together every time that they said third time ice cream, there would be more ice cream stores in this country than hummus spots. 

Understanding the culture you are visiting is such a crucial part of travel. Yeah, we all want to go to those touristy places, but what better way to learn who a people are than to learn how they tick? One of my favourite things about teaching them is laughing with them at their mistakes. Like when my students regularly go in their computers.  I have to remind them that it’s physically impossible to go in your computer.

Israelis are an amazing people. They are full of life, resilience and passion. They don’t let little things get them down.  They will fall and pick themselves back up again. They will pass you by on the street and a second later take you by the hand to have coffee or protect you from an incoming rocket. 

Make sure that when you are touring here that you take the time from your busy schedule to go to a local place (in whichever city or town you happen to be in) and try to strike up a conversation with someone. Most Israelis speak English well enough to converse with you. You won’t regret it. I warn you though, Israelis are known to be dugri (direct) and may just tell you exactly what they feel about something. 

What should you ask them?  Almost nothing is off-limits if you are prepared for their answers 😊. 

Tara Carey is a CELTA certified English teacher and a cultural language specialist. Visit her website for more details.

The end of an era: goodbye to Netanyahu

13 Jun

by Ilan Bloch

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Later today, barring any unforseen change in circumstances, we will bid farewell (and some might say good riddance!) to our longest serving prime minister. Dubbed “King Bibi,” “Israel’s magician,” and “Mr. Security” by many pundits, I want to take a moment to examine this last epithet. For some reason, there is less than the usual Israeli lack of accountability when examining Netanyahu’s record. I simply do not understand why people, who understand cause and effect when it comes to analyzing the policies of Shamir, Rabin, Barak, Sharon and Olmert, somehow ignore any hint of causality when it comes to Netanyahu’s policies. Suddently, when violence erupts, it is considered a force majeure, and some even express relief that Netanyahu, rather than a “weak left,” is in charge at such a time.

Take for instance the violence during the last month — both in terms of the conflict with Hamas and the inter-ethnic clashes in Israel’s mixed cities. One obviously cannot hold Netanyahu wholly responsible for what happened but it would be intellectually dishonest and outright disingenuous to ignore certain policies which he implemented or for which he bears (prime) ministerial responsibility, which lay the groundwork for the flare-up. It was the third major Gaza conflict since coming to office (It is said that Albert Einstein exclaimed, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”) but the real shock was the internecine confict within Israel proper. Newspaper headlines regarding this part of the conflict sounded like they had been cut and pasted from the time of the British Mandate. Let us discuss these policies, for which he should be held accountable.

  1. Years of so-called “price tag” terrorist attacks by Jewish terrorists against Palestinian property and person in Judea and Samaria/the West Bank and Israel proper, for which almost no perpetrators have been arrested or tried. Although Israeli security forces can locate a Palestinian youth who slapped a Haredi youth (an act I obviously condemn, along with the other handful of so-called “TikTok terror” attacks!), we cannot find the perpetrators of hundreds of anti-Palestinian acts?! This simply beggars belief.
  2. The incitement by Netanyahu and his minions against Palestinian citizens of Israel, including him trying to get Ra’am to split from the Meshutefet (Joint List) so it would not pass the electoral threshold, so Netanyahu would reach 61 seats, and then pretending to care about Palestinian citizens of Israel so that Ra’am would support the government from the outside so Netanyahu could evade justice (and now come the claims that the incoming government has “sold the Negev to the Bedouins” for making a deal with Ra’am that it appears he himself would have made).
  3. Six Jewish supremacists who hate women, LGBTQ, Palestinians and leftists, now sitting in the Knesset with legitimacy, which has given a tailwind to Jewish Blackshirts (I use this term both literally and figuratively) who want to – and do – attack Palestinian citizens of Israel, “hunting” them in downtown Jerusalem and around Damascus Gate. The Religious Zionism party comprises three components: Tekuma/National Union, whose leader Bezalel Smotrich has publicly called for either genocide, expulsion or apartheid/slavery of the Palestinian population (“Tochnit Ha’hachra’a“), who led a “Beasts Parade” to protest the “Pride March,” implying that a homosexual couple is equivalent to committing bestiality, who supports segregated (Arab/Jewish) maternity wards, and who was arrested in the lead-up to the disengagement and held by the Shin Bet for three weeks, which investigated him for conspiracy to blow up cars and damage infrastructure in order to try and stop the withdrawal; the leader of Otzma Yehudit Ben-Gvir is the ideological successor of Meir Kahane, whose legislative endeavors were likened to the Nuremberg Laws by Mickey Eitan (former Likud MK), and the Noam party, one of whose leaders previously spoke out against Knafayim shel Krembo, a youth movement seeking to integrate children with special needs and able-bodied children, who demanded that cabinet resolution 2331 (from 2014) calling for greater representation of women in public bodies be rescinded because they are mysoginists who think that women need to get back to being barefoot and in the kitchen, who hate LGBTQ people, and who refused to join the Union of Right Wing Parties when it was led by Ayelet Shaked because she is a women. This is the Religious Zionism party; Netanyahu served as its midwife!
  4. The absurd provocative decision to close the plaza of Shaar Schem (Damascus Gate) during Ramadan and then for the Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai to outright lie on prime time television that this did not represent a change to the status quo; Palestinian protests around Damascus Gate were met with disproportionate Israeli force; Jewish protests (by these same Blackshirts) were met with at most some pushing aside by Israeli security forces. 
  5. The situation in Sheikh Jarrah, which will see dozens of Palestinians evicted from their homes of decades and thrown out onto the street. How can a Jewish state pass laws which allow a Jew to reclaim property which a Jew previously owned (a Jew, but not the Jews who have moved in and not the Jews who will move in to these homes in Sheikh Jarrah) but simply does not extend this right to Palestinians? This is a challenge (to say the least!) to the idea of equality before the law and democratic norms and mores. It opens up 1948 and not 1967 as the problem which needs a solution, a Pandora’s Box, which even some thinkers on the right oppose. 
  6. Netanyahu actively propping up Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip, and weakening Fatah in the West Bank/Judea and Samaria, and actively embracing the split in the Palestinian polity. It is ever so convenient to say ‘If Mahmoud Abbas only represents half the Palestinian nation, why should I negotiate with him?’ when they are split, and then ever so convenient to say ‘How can I negotiate with Abbas when he’s in bed with terrorists? when any talk of Palestinian reconciliation come up; when exactly were negotiations meant to take place? The Abraham Accords, which largely tried to sweep the “Palestinian issue” under the rug, was also a factor. So too, the Nation State Law, which demonstrably did not include the word “equality” and demoted the status of Arabic as a national language also played a role..
  7. Blocking any Palestinian National Authority voting in East/eastern Jerusalem. Even though this was obviously going to be used as a pretext by Mahmoud Abbas to suspend (read: cancel) the elections he feared Fatah would lose, it allowed an opening to develop for Hamas to present itself as the guardian of al-Quds, and to break down some of the divisions between different groups of Palestinians in Israel/Palestine (Gazans, citizens of Israel, permanent residents of Israel in Jerusalem, in the West Bank/Judea and Samaria). Of course, Israeli force used on the Temple Mount, along with blocking busloads of pilgrims from entering Jerusalem in the lead-up to Laylat al-Qadr, also contributed to this.
  8. The insanity of even thinking of allowing a Flag March by national religious men, not a few of whom sing odious songs and chants, inciting to hatred, racism and violence, through the Muslim Quarter, forcing many residents to close their stores and stay in their homes, any year, but especially this year, was an unnecessary provocation.
  9. The ongoing process of supporting the “Judaization” of mixed cities through garin torani groups and through public housing company Amidar’s move to sell-off “public housing” in Jaffa, without allowing it to be transferred to the third generation, even though much of this housing belonged to Palestinian refugees in the first place, prompting a process of gentrification with ethnic hues.
  10. Finally, not having any proper governance for the last 30 months because the criminal defendant refuses to resign as he demanded of Olmert (who at the time of his resignation was not even charged; the ultimate indictment was for crimes which were much less serious than the crimes for which Netanyahu is already standing trial) had a significant effect. One cannot try to turn the Knesset into a rubber stamp, destroy the “gate-keepers” of democracy and surround oneself with sychophant political neophytes and think that it will not influence Israeli politics and statecraft. The crisis of last month which we suffered through did not happen in isolation, unlinked to Israeli governmental policies.

One cannot simply count the casualty figures when determining whether someone has contributed to or harmed Israeli security. Security is more than tactics, optics and soundbites for the eight o’clock news. And policies (and embracing the status quo is a policy!) have results. The Palestinians do not only act; they also react (obviously the same can be said for Israel). And they react to Israeli policies, they do not act in a vacuum, disconnected from who sits in Balfour.

This does not excuse the actions of Hamas, which launched 4300 rockets at my people, and made me run with my 4 year old twins toward the bomb shelter, on May 10. Regardless of any power imbalance which exists between the sides, Hamas members have agency and, just like Netanyahu, must also be held accountable for their actions.

עושה שלום במרומיו הוא יעשה שלום עלינו ועל כל ישראל (וכל יושבי תבל) ואמרו אמן.

Ilan Bloch is a licensed Israel tour guide.

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