Thursday, November 24, 2011

I Have a Great Idea - Democracy 101

It has occurred to me that there is something more I could be doing to help fight the fascist trend that is trying so hard to overtake Israel. I now have an idea for helping combat this rise in fascist trends.

It occurred to me that a number of our Members of Knesset (a partial list includes all of the MKs from the Yisrael Beitenu party, Michael Ben-Ari [for those of you who read Hebrew, here is information about him], and Danny Danon from the Likud) have no idea what democracy is, what it entails, why it is so precious, and what it stands for.

For a number of reasons, these MKs (and others) missed the classes and lectures on democracy, that set forth what this type of governance and government is all about. Perhaps, for that reason, we can't really blame them; they are just ignorant because they never learned about it (like I never learned physics...)

My proposal, therefore, is that we come to the Knesset (since they are very busy people and might not be able to make classes elsewhere) and give them an intensive course on Democracy 101 (or Intro to Democracy, as it would most probably be called here).

The good news is that there are many such courses available, many have materials posted on the Internet, and we could use these course materials as a good basis for our course. (For example, the United Nations Development Program has a course that looks good, which can be found here. And I also found a simple, but useful, outline of basic principles of democracy at this link). 

I'm thinking about 12 class periods of 2 hours each for the first semester. For those who get at least a 70 (we don't want to be too hard on them the first time around), they can go on to the second semester for a more advanced course on democracy. By their third semester, they should be pretty good at it, and then they could do a class project that put democracy into action. 

We're looking at a time frame of one year (if they have three consecutive semesters of courses). This means that by December 2012, or January 2013 at the latest, we can expect to have some real concrete activities, based in democracy, undertaken by our MKs!!

 I only hope that our country can hold out until then...

If you would like to be part of the faculty for such a course, please send your materials directly to the Members of Knesset noted above (you are free, of course, to send them on to other MKs and Ministers as well). If you drop me a line with what you sent to whom, then I can keep track of how our course is going, what we should include in the exam, and when we can expect to have some concrete examples of democracy at work.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

I'm So Tired

I am living in a different country than the one to which I immigrated, back in 1972. There are so many times when I barely recognize it, and too many times when I am very frightened by what we have become. 

I know that what I once thought to be true, wasn't necessarily so, and I know that I was young and naive and ignorant when I came, and I know that we have a tendency to be nostalgic about the past, and to see it in a better light than it probably was. But still, it was better (At least if you were a secular Jew.)

Back then, we sang Hevenu shalom aleichem - we have brought you peace - and even meant it... Back then we sang Shir la'shalom (a song for peace) and even believed it... Back then we thought our democracy was as strong as strong could be, and relegated fascism to other distant regimes.

                       (Hevenu shalom aleichem - we brought you peace)

When I came to Israel, I thought I was coming to a country that embraced democracy, a country that valued equality, and freedoms. I thought the leaders of my new country would not lash out when they encountered diversity. I thought the society was one that encouraged the voices of different peoples, from different backgrounds, ethnicities and religions to be sounded and heard. I thought that its people knew what  racism, discrimination and persecution can lead to and why we must make sure it never occurs on our shores. I thought that my country would not only excel in scientific and creative initiatives, inventions and development, but also in the expression of values such as mutual caring, social and economic justice, community, solidarity.

The country in which I now live is focused on division, separation, and fear. The leaders of my country are focused on proposing law after law after law that aim to curtail freedoms, quash human rights, suffocate voices, negate anyone that is not Jewish. The country in which I live is becoming uglier and uglier. The country in which I now live is tiring, and angering, and frustrating. So frustrating.

How many petitions can I sign against draconian Knesset proposals to curtail yet another freedom?
How many emails can I send out to friends warning about this dangerous law proposal or that one?
How many news articles can I read that discuss another attempt, proposed by MKs from Yisrael Beitenu, the Likud, and Kadima, to do away with our democracy ?

How many blog posts can I write to protest the ugly country we have become?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Oh Freedom Over Me

This is dedicated to the brave Palestinian freedom riders who, today, November 15th, 2011, tried to ride the bus to Jerusalem, that is only accessible for Israelis.

Sing along!

The wheels on the bus go round and round
round and round
round and round
The wheels on the bus go round and round
all through the town

That is if you are a Jewish guy
or a Jewish girl
in a settlement
If you're a Muslim,
a Palestinian guy
you can't ride this bus!

The horn on the bus goes beep beep beep
beep beep beep
beep beep beep
The horn on the bus goes beep beep beep
all through the town

The police on the bus say
get off now, get off now, get off now
The soldiers on the bus say
get off now
if you're not a Jew

The driver on the bus says
tickets please, tickets please, tickets please
The driver on the bus says tickets please
all through the town

The Palestinians on the bus are led away
led away led away
The Palestinians on the bus are led away
for daring to get on!

To my Palestinian brothers and sisters: May you have the continued courage to try to ride the bus.

To my Israeli brothers and sisters: Stand up for justice, and protest the separation laws. You can ride the bus; support the Palestinians' rights to do so as well. 

Enough discrimination, enough oppression, enough Occupation.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Dear Foreign Governments and Foundations - We Accept Dollars and Euros, VISA and Master Card

A short story, from today:

Once upon a time, in a place called the Holy Land, there was an attempt to have a democratic society. But democracy meant securing and ensuring freedom, and rights, and equality, and diversity for all of its citizens, not only those who belonged to a certain people, and the ministers could not have that.

The ministers gathered together to put an end to this monster, democracy, that had been created. They gathered information about human rights groups, that called attention to injustices and discrimination. They  quaked with fear, as they saw that these groups published their findings, spoke out loud about justice and peace, and about infringements of these rights, and went looking for support for these ideas outside of the borders of the land.

The ministers saw that foreign powers, and foreign foundations liked this idea of democracy and equality, and were willing to invest money in such projects, so that freedom could ring throughout the land. This became intolerable.

"It is a terrible thing to fight for human rights. It goes against everything we stand for. We cannot allow voices to cry out when there are injustices. It is suicidal for our society to back human rights group. We must do everything in our power to stop human rights groups from hanging our dirty laundry out for all to see"
cried the Israeli ministers.

"Stop the funding! Shut the mouths!
cried the Israeli ministers

"Enough with these bleeding hearts."
shrilled Knesset Member Fania Kirschenbaum

"Show the traitors what for!"
growled Minister of Foreign Affairs, Avigdor Lieberman.

 "Those anti-Semitic foreigners never understand us" bemoaned Likud MKs Tzipi Hotovely and Ofir Akunis, who sponsored bills to cut funding, and to place high taxes on any group that dared to fight for democracy. "We will have another Shoah if we allow human rights groups to work here!  As always, the whole world is against us"

"Children, you have my blessings" said Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, as he patted them on their heads. "We will put an end to this travesty, and make sure that human rights are erased from our land."

And the words

were erased from the language of the Holy Land.

The ministers and Knesset members slept very well that night, content that they had defeated the monster of humanity. 
Things did not go so well for the ordinary people. They tossed and turned, and broke out into cold sweats. They tried desparately to wake up from the frightening and dark nightmares, but, unfortunately, found no respite. 

Dear foreign funders - stand with us as we tell our ministers and Knesset members that they do not frighten us.
They try to erase democracy, rights, freedom, equality, justice and peace, from our vocabulary and from our land They have tried, but they will not succeed.
We will continue to fight for human rights.
We will double and triple our efforts.
We accept dollars and euros, VISA and Master Card.
Thank you for your continued, and larger donations.

For those of you who can stomach reading the details, you are invited to read about how Israeli ministers have backed bills to limit funding for Israeli human rights groups (read the Ha'aretz story here)

Friday, November 11, 2011

And Now it's Time for a Movie

Here is a link to a new short documentary that was made by the cinematographer Ose Oyamendan. The name of the film is Bridges over Blood, and mainly focuses on the Gaza-Sderot region, but also deals with people-to-people peace processes between Israelis and Palestinians (from the West Bank and also within Israel).

Bridges over Blood is a film that can give many people hope, for while we have not yet grown to the critical mass needed for bringing about a change in our relations, and an end to the war and Occupation and siege, it shows how much is possible when people reach out to one another in brother/sisterhood and caring.

Sit back and enjoy the show. Please send the link (and this blog) on to others. Spread the word that where there is a will, there is a way.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Nazi ghosts from the past, Jewish voices from the past in the present

It's been awhile since I delved deeply into German-Jewish (Israeli) relationships in the shadow of the Holocaust. I thought that I had pretty much heard it all, thought about it all.

The weekend in Bad Honnef taught me otherwise.

We were 22 people - 14 Christian Germans and 8 Jews (1 German and 7 Israelis). The topic of our Friendship across Borders (FAB) seminar was Memory and Forgetting, in the context of the Shoah, and we looked at these two sides of the coin from many different ways. I won't go into the different group exercises and discussions that we had - many with words, others using 2 black boxes (one a shoebox, another just a small carton colored black for effect) that represented the harsh memories that we try to forget when thinking about the Holocaust. We also used our bodies in some of these exercises, in order to move beyond words, that can't always express deep inner feelings and knowings.

I do not go into detail  since if you weren't there, I am pretty sure that the meaning of what we did will really come through. I will just say that the exercises and discussions were so meaningful, and jolting, that, at times, they not only brought tears to my eyes (not a hard thing to elicit in my case), but touched something so deep inside, that I surprised myself with how deeply I (re)connected to the topic, and to all of the participants.  

For over 20 years I have been engaged in the psycho-social significance of the Holocaust in the lives of the victims, their children and grandchildren, and sometimes the perpetrators as well, and their children and grandchildren. My PhD dissertation was on this topic (from the side of the victims). I have written a lot about this in academic articles and in my books. I have interviewed hundreds of survivors, children and grandchildren, and run seminars for the 2nd and 3rd generations in Israel, and also with German colleagues in Germany. I thought that I had pretty much heard it all, thought about it all.


The Germans in our group tended to talk about the ghosts (Nazi perpetrators) of their past, that often haunt them, leaving an inner darkness that never quite dissipates. We Jews spoke more about the voices of the victims from the past that accompany us at different times through life. These voices cause sadness and loss, and they sometimes warn us about putting our trust in other peoples, that is, in non-Jews.

Schade, חבל, what a shame, that one people is haunted by demon-like terrifying ghosts, and one people (the group to which I belong) is fraught with existential fear about potential enemies just waiting to annihilate us. These are not such good ways to live.

I thought I had pretty much heard it all, thought about it all. But I learned during these three and a half days that the demons and the fears of the past still linger in all of us, even if they have become more and more faint, at least on the conscious level. I (re)learned that we can never be completely free of our traumatic past, and that there will most likely always be a part of us Jews that see Germans and think 'Nazi', for a fleeting moment, and that there will most likely always be a part of the Germans who see a Jew and think 'stay away - danger', for a fleeting moment. But we also (re)learned that by facing our connected pasts together, we Jews and Germans can look these demons and fears in the eye and not succumb to their hatred, nor feel lost in an endless black hole of total loss.

This seminar in this picturesque town, situated on the Rhine, surrounded by woods filled with trees changing colors, touched me deeper than I anticipated. I thought that I had pretty much heard it all, thought about it all. It was good to be proven wrong. It was good, even it was very, very difficult, to reconnect to this topic of the Holocaust, to the meaning it has for me in my life, and the way I perceive the German 'others'. It was deeply moving to rediscover the goodness of humankind that exists in people who refuse to let their dark collective past turn them into angry and frightened people.

It's not completely true, but after this weekend seminar, we/I can more honestly say:
I/We ain't afraid of no ghosts...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


I am trying to figure out why Netanyahu, and some others in his cabinet, hate us - the people  - so. Have we been so bad to him/them that they feel the need to punish us, and perhaps put us in mortal danger?

The news is filled with discussions concerning our (Israel's) possible attack on Iran's nuclear development sites (read the Ha'aretz story here). There are 'experts' in favor and against; some say that we must bomb them, in order to prevent another Shoah. Others say that if we do bomb them, then all of our lives will be in terrible danger, as thousands of rockets will be rained down upon from us, from the North to the South.  This will not be a war of army versus army, but rather one in which civilians are the targets, and the ones who will pay the price.

But the voices of attacks agains Iran are growing
and stronger
and stronger

In my professional opinion - THIS IS NUTS.

Why must we always look for another enemy, someone else to fight, another country to threaten? What is the reasoning behind continuing to make more and more enemies in our region of the world. We live in this world. We live in this region. Wouldn't it make more sense to work on creating sustainable neighborly relations than creating more war?

We have a very cold peace with Jordan and Egypt. Who knows how long those will last? We occupy Palestine - in the West Bank - and  the Gaza Strip through the siege and total control of its land borders, air space, and sea. We have hostile relations with Lebanon and Syria, which are our immediate neighbors, and have threats going back and forth between us and Iran.

Now do not get me wrong. Ahmadinejad is VERY, VERY dangerous. He is unpredictable, he is cruel to his own people, he is a tyrant, anti-Semitic and a Holocaust denier. He does not believe in democracy and free choice and women's rights; heck he has no interest in people's rights of any kind.

But playing this war game with him and outwardly threatening to attack his country is unnecessary and dangerous escalation. It is playing with fire, and we are the ones who will be burned.

All of our social psychology research tells us, that when you relate to the other as an enemy,  they respond in kind. All of our social psychology research has taught us, that when we enter into competition with the other, then the other does the same, and our relationship becomes consumed by the need to try to beat the other. The concept of cooperation disappears. 

We have a government that only knows to threaten and bully and bring up the Shoah in every sentence to justify every offensive tactic we make. We have no clue how to think in different ways that do not involve extreme military strength.


Oftentimes, our neighbors are no better than us (what is happening in Syria is a crime against humanity, for sure), but this does not make our actions okay. They (Syria, Iran) are wrong and we are wrong.

Dear Mr. Netanyahu, DO NOT BOMB IRAN. Do not put our lives in further danger. Do not look for another enemy to lash out at. Do not threaten and threaten and threaten countries closer and further away, do not punish and punish and punish the Palestinians by keeping their borders sealed, the checkpoints in place, and by building more and more houses in settlements on the little territory the Palestinians have left.

You say you want peace. Then do it. Just do it.
You say you care about our security - then do something to ensure it.
You say that you will not let Israeli citizens be harmed - then stop harming us.

Enough with the threats.
באמת - מספיק
(Really - it's enough)