Merav Michaeli, the Israeli journalist and women’s rights activist-turned-Knesset member for the Labor Party, is a sign of hope for a progressive future in Israel. Last Tuesday, she tried to convince an exclusive crowd of worried Jewish leftists gathered in an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side that there was hope for the upcoming elections and for the future of a democratic Israel. The talk was sponsored by the progressive Zionist organization Ameinu, and also included journalists, professors, high-ranking members of the New Israel Fund and Encounter, along with representatives from Hillel, Habonim Dror, and others. What followed was a passionate, sometimes heated, and surprisingly optimistic discussion of the future of the Jewish State and the role American Jews can play.
*The first question asked was about the nationality bill, the controversial proposed law to officially declare Israel the “Nation-State of the Jewish People.” This question proved an easy one—since there is no Knesset, there will be no nationality bill. When there is a new Knesset, its makeup will likely be so different that it won’t even be proposed again.
*On the coming elections slated for March 17: Though the mood in the room suggested I was not alone in hearing virtually nothing but terrifying predictions of a rout by the right and another term for Netanyahu, if not a first term for the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home Party’s Naftali Bennett, she was hopeful. For the first time in a long time, she said, there was actually a good chance a center-left coalition headed by her Labor Party will take power, meaning Labor leader Isaac Herzog and not Bibi Netanyahu would be Prime Minister. “The feeling towards Netanyahu right now, there is so much grudge and hatred, people are sick of him. His approval ratings are very, very low,” she said.
To capitalize on this, Labor is busy forming a center-left bloc of parties that will include the recently-fired former justice minister Tzipi Livni and former defense secretary and chief of staff Shaul Mofaz to give Herzog an additional vote of confidence among the public. Though the political climate in Israel is notoriously quick to change, polls show that if the election were held today, this coalition would win the majority of votes. The goal, she said, is to create, “One address for people who want to restore a more democratic Israel, one that works towards narrowing gaps in society.”
*Another important point to come out of this discussion was the surprising and crucial role of the ultra-Orthodox in building this coalition for peace. Unlike religious Zionists, the ultra-Orthodox believe in land-for-peace and have joined left-wing coalitions before. It is also important that these parties were alienated by the current government for Yair Lapid’s strong policies on drafting them into the army, making them even more likely to join the side that he is not on (and Michaeli is adamant that he is not a leftist). Haredim are completely opposed to center-left social policies, of course, but, echoing a common sentiment, Michaeli emphasized that you have to find a solution to the conflict first and everything else comes second.
*On this note, she later mentioned that she wants this to be the first coalition to include an Arab party. How this might come to fruition are a little complicated, as she said, “I am ashamed to say the feeling in the Israeli popular culture today is that you couldn’t even think of doing that. Remember, one of the reasons Rabin was assassinated was because he worked with Arab parties in the Knesset when he went for Oslo,” before emphasizing that that’s what makes clearing this hurdle all the more important.
*On the role American Jews can play in Israeli politics: Michaeli explained that Israelis don’t really understand the diaspora; there is a popular feeling there that, since they provide a safe-haven for diaspora Jewry, there is a deep resentment towards them interfering in Israeli politics.
keyboard shortcuts: V vote up article J next comment K previous comment