Monday, April 4, 2016

2 Knesset Members, 3 Sacred Documents, 1 Arab Citizen of Israel, 1 Institute for Democracy,Protests, a Day of Rage, and That's Just the 1st Day!

July 19, 2017

What a day! It started at 3 AM. That wasn't on the schedule. That was just the jetlag. I couldn't get to back to sleep, so after tossing and turning for several hours, decided to take a morning jog down to the Western Wall. The Wall has dominated the Israeli news in the last few weeks, first because of the suspension of the deal the Israeli government made to open up a better space for egalitarian prayer and then because of the killing of two police officers on the Temple Mount (that is why this picture includes the policeman; there is so much extra security there right now, even at the crack of dawn). One of the things we hope to do here is both lobby Israelis to reopen the egalitarian prayer space project, since I, and most American Jews feel so strongly about the concept. Yet, even with all its problems, I am mystically and inevitably drawn to it. It was the first place I wanted to visit, even at 6 AM, and I literally ran to it.

Our day officially started with a visit to the K'nesset.

Just the California Rabbis
The Full Contingent of Progressive Rabbis on this Trip
Upon our arrival we were met by protesters, but not the ones we were expecting. We were expecting something having to do with the "day of rage." Palestinian leaders declared that today should be a day of rage? Why? Because in response to Palestinian terrorists shooting and killing those two policemen (who were Arab Druze, by the way), Israel put up metal detectors leading to the Temple Mount. They have had them at the wall for years. But some of the Palestinian leaders read that as an Israeli claim to sovereignty, as ridiculous as that might sound. When people use guns to kill, metal detectors for security makes sense.

Instead, though, we were met by people from the North of Israel wanting the government to invest more in green energy. It was wonderful to see that Israelis care not only about things like security, but about the environment.

We met with two K'nesset members. First was Stav Shafir of the Zionist Union (formerly Labor) party, the moderate left wing party. She is only 32 years old and was elected at 27, after leading a grass roots social justice movement for fair housing. She is really quite a rock star, the kind of progressive Zionist most people in our community would likely support. She is a big believer in religious pluralism in Israel, and her dynamic presence is inspirational.

Knesset Member Stav Shafir
We then met with another member of Knesset, Yehuda Glick, who is a member of the ruling party, Likud. He was not expected to actually be in the Knesset, since he was way down on the party list (in Israel you vote for the party, not the person), but when others dropped out, he ended up serving. He is not like most politicians; he is completely unfiltered. That's the refreshing part about him. The problem with him is that he is a fanatic. He wants to build the Temple back on the Temple Mount, which no other member of his party does, since it would likely bring World War III immediately as well as change how we "do" Judaism. Even stranger, he is a big supporter of religious pluralism (meaning rights for Reform and Conservative Jews within Israel), despite his fanaticism about other issues. Israel is a strange country. But I give a lot of credit to AIPAC for making us meet with him as well as those we are inclined to agree with. We kept hearing from, just about every speaker across the political spectrum that, including Arab citizens of Israel, that as American Jews, we must engage with all Israelis, not just the Left. That's how we will have the most influence. Pressure and protests only increases Israel's feeling of isolation and entrenches Israel in its positions. I don't know if I completely agree, but it was certainly something to think about.

We then paid a visit to the top secret Israeli archives, where we saw several important documents not available to the general public, including:

The actual peace agreement
with Egypt 
The U.N. Statehood Vote
Gun used to assassinate Yitzchak Rabin
We also met with speakers from the Israeli Democracy Institute, Haaretz Commentator Amos Harel, and Mohammed Darweh, an Arab Citizen of Israel who serves as an advisor to the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, and Israel. He talked about Israel's poor record on rights for Arab citizens of Israel, socially, economically, and politically. He did not pull punches, giving it to us straight. Again, credit to AIPAC for showing us a real insider's look at Israel, warts and all. But he also pulled no punches with the Palestinians. The advice he gives them is that the road to peace will go through Tel Aviv, not Brussels or the United Nations. Israel has proven time and again that pressure doesn't work.
 Arab Citizen of Israel and Advisor Ohammed Darweh

And that was just the first day. I look forward to sharing more tomorrow when we visit a border crossing, Ramallah, and a West Bank Settlement.

Laila tov!