Friday, March 27, 2015

No apologies for being privileged בבועה ולא מתנצלת

Here’s how Ari Shavit described me and my ilk in yesterday’s Haaretz:
“Many of them [“sushi eaters”] don’t know a single Likud voter. Many of them have never heard the music of Amir Benayoun.
The economy of high-tech, natural gas, and business mergers has allowed some two million Israelis to live a very good life in a closed world, whose values are those of California. The prosperous liberal colony that they founded on the Mediterranean allowed them to live in an illusory incubator of advanced technology, totally disconnected from reality, the state, and the land.
Between Florentine and Arsuf, and between Ra’anana and the Peres Center for Peace, they launched startups, watched Channel 10, and didn’t know where they were living. They had no direct contact with Jews of Middle Eastern origin, traditional Jews, struggling Russian-speakers, Haredim, or Arabs (though they talked about them a lot).”
Well. I had no idea I was being awarded a Diversity Score on Shavit’s Divers-o-meter, or I would’ve made sure to listen to Amir Benayoun and make friends with some Likudniks. While I don’t reside in the area bordered by Florentine - Arsuf - Ranaana - PCP, and I don’t eat sushi when I can avoid it, I certainly count myself in the demographic that Shavit so witheringly describes. But I refuse to feel ashamed of belonging to that demographic.
I plead guilty to having friends who believe as I do, with whose politics I feel comfortable. I plead guilty to having chosen an address where I feel comfortable as a woman, as a non-Orthodox Jew, and yes, as a leftist. But if I’m guilty, so are the rest of Earth’s inhabitants, most of whom live in enclaves, whether they be liberal, conservative, religious, or ethnic. So no, I don’t count any Arabs, ultra-Orthodox, or Russians among my friends, and don’t interact on a regular basis with Mizrahim or those of low income, but I do strive to treat every individual with whom I interact with courtesy and kindness.
It is precisely having grown up as a minority member that informs my leftist views. Granted, growing up as a Jew in North America, I was able to blend, and rarely if ever encountered anti-Semitism. But that didn’t mean that I wasn’t keenly aware, practically every moment, of not being part of the dominant group. I brought that awareness with me when I made aliya, which is why the first thing I ask when encountering any policy or social phenomenon is “Where are the Arabs?” / “How will Arabs feel about that?” This, besides setting an example for my children by (multiple) attempts to learn spoken Arabic and (laboriously) teaching myself to read Arabic, which I’ve advocated be a required subject in all schools from 3rd grade (to little avail).
So I don’t have any Arab friends. Does that mean I can’t still act upon and speak out for the principles of equal rights and against segregation? Is socializing with minority members a requirement for voting Meretz? I’m Ashkenazi, comfortably middle class, and have a post-secondary education. I can’t erase any of those blessings, nor do I want to. And those data do not preclude me from “talking about” Arabs, or ultra-Orthodox, or any other group. In fact, we should be talking about them, and keeping their issues on the agenda, as I want mine on the agenda as well.
I’m annoyed with the self-flaggelation of the Left. I’m tired of it. I don’t need to refine or redefine – or whatever it is the pundits say we need to do – my vision. My vision has been the same since I hit these shores in 1981. Like Zahava Gal-On, I’m an avowed leftist and secular, a fighter for human rights, an opponent of the occupation, and a supporter of social justice who opposes religious coercion  the struggle for social justice also as a fight against the occupation, against the violation of Palestinian human rights, against continued illegal construction in the territories and excessive budgetary allotments to the ultra-Orthodox.
And what’s new as far as voter behavior? What we just saw happen here in Israel has been true in the US for decades: The poor continue to vote against their own interests; newcomers, especially if they’re people of color, naturally migrate to slums, where, predictably, they’re abhored by longtime residents and are believed to steal the latter’s livelihoods (while actually doing lowly work that nobody else – rich or poor – is willing to do). Right-wing politicians play on the poor’s fears and perceived weakness, and – surprise! – look at the results, in both countries.

I take issue with the critique of Meretz that it doesn’t appeal enough or target itself to the Mizrachim. This claim actually insults Mizrachis’ intelligence. What? They don’t have access to the same media as whites? They’re not targeted the same as the rest of us? If parity and leveling the playing field; if channeling funds away from settlements and toward the populations in need; if separating church and state don’t appeal to underserved people, then playing Amir Benayoun in the background of campaign ads certainly won’t convince.

Don’t get me wrong: I was stunned and grieving last Wednesday morning. But I’m a glass-half-full kind of gal: Left-wing parties have historically sat in the opposition. Meretz winning five seats – one owing entirely to soldiers – is great. This Knesset has more women and more Arabs than any previous one: also great. And the Left certainly gave the Right a run for its money. Plus, the game’s not over: We will sit in the opposition and continue to speak out against injustice and in favor of democracy.

Sitting in Hot Mobile last week being helped by an agent, the customer next to me, a woman who looked about my age, announced she was expecting her 10th grandchild. I wished her beSha’ah tová. Then she said something about never dividing Jerusalem. I surprised myself by speaking up (reminding everyone that this is Eilat). I said, “Let ‘em divide it already!” to which she replied, “Divide it? You don’t divide your home!” To which I replied, “It’s already divided.” After all, who knows? Maybe it's she who lives in a bubble. Maybe she needs her assumptions challenged that everyone in a random public place at a given moment agrees with her views.

Ten or even five years ago, I would’ve been too timid to speak my mind like that in public. But somehow – age? “Tenure”? Feeling like we’ve got nothing to lose at this point? – I’m less inhibited about my views. Knowing that those five MKs are there, speaking for me – purely and without dithering – keeps me strong. No one will silence us.

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