I’m told I often over-emphasize the negative, overlooking the good here in Israel. I’ll attempt a bit of both in this piece.
Miri Regev, Israel’s churlish minister of culture, is promoting a “Loyalty in Culture” bill. Another peg in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inexorable and dangerously undemocratic slippery slope, the present act of populism would allow Regev to pull government funding from cultural events or organizations acting “against the principles of the state.”
Such actions could include denying Israel is a Jewish, democratic country; incitement to racism, violence or terror; supporting armed struggles or acts of terror against Israel; marking Yom ha-Atzmaut – Israel’s Independence Day – as a day of mourning; or acts dishonouring the flag or any other state symbol.
With no criteria delineating how manifestations of these disloyalties would be tested, critics, myself included, fear this bill, which passed its first of three necessary readings in the Knesset on Nov. 5, following a particularly raucous debate, will negatively impact freedom of expression in Israel. Many fear Regev and her cronies in Netanyahu’s government will use this new-found authority to silence critics and political adversaries not toeing the administration line.
This is not the first time I’ve written of my concerns Israel is heading in illiberal directions, with little light at the end of the tunnel. I say “little” but not “no” light in that passageway.
Recently I experienced first-hand some of that illumination.
My mom has just returned home from nine days of hospitalization at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel HaShomer, just outside of Tel Aviv. For those concerned, I’m happy to report she came out of this ordeal much better than going into it. And while that is wonderful news for everyone in my family, it’s not the “good news” I was referring to earlier.
Hospitals in Israel are bastions of communal co-operation. Jews and Arabs, Orthodox and secular, new olim and native-born Sabras, Sephardim and Ashkenazim. Doctors, nurses, support staff, patients and families – everyone seems to co-exist in harmony, without the daily tensions we here in Israel endure and are accustomed to.
So much so, that the Israel Reform Movement’s Israel Religious Action Centre – on whose steering committee I sit – commissioned a study of the healthcare sector to examine if Arab- Jewish harmony and collaboration actually exists in this area and if so, whether it might be replicated to other segments of our society.
In concluding their 125-page report, published in December 2016 and titled “Heroes of Health – Israel’s Healthcare System as a Model of Jewish Arab Co-existence”, the study’s authors noted that: “… laws and regulations alone cannot bring genuine and profound change; they must be accompanied by initiatives and actions in the social and public domain to change the current mindset and collective conscious. At the end of the day, there is no alternative to personal acquaintance, which knocks down walls and removes prejudices. As long as the wall of social, economic, and cultural segregation between Jews and Arabs in Israel remains as high as it is now, recommendations, proposals, and suggestions for improvements will be of little use. Only profound educational and social processes among both Jews and Arabs can promote real coexistence; coexistence that is maintained not only in hospital corridors but on the street, in line at the supermarket, and on the playground.”
And that is exactly what I experienced during my mom’s stay in hospital. Arab healthcare professionals working together with Jews. In tandem; as a team. And Israel being Israel – the partitions fell quickly. I know where Hadil, Mutasim, Omar and Abir come from and why they chose this calling. Watched as they worked together with Orna, Tatiana, Itzik and Anna. All caring and comforting their patients.
It was good to see.
No one questioning loyalties or even conjuring such notions.
Naïveté? Perhaps. “Lu yehi” – let it be.