“Progressive Israelis, Americans and Palestinians Inhabit the Same Planet”
By Michael Prashker, author of “A Place for Us All: Social Cohesion and the Future of Israel,” for Heart of a Nation
The current assault on democracy is not confined to the United States and Israel. Evidently our unprecedentedly crowded, pressured and inter-connected planet provides as fertile conditions for a populist pandemic as it does for other viruses. Though a cliché, such moments of crisis do offer opportunities. One is to address the profound schism between progressives around the world and Israel caused by the long-growing perception of an increasingly unbridgeable democratic divide. The distress and anger of progressives with Israel which has grown since 1967, accelerated during the Obama administrations. With his election, progressive Americans and progressives everywhere were brimming with confidence that democracy was imminently entering the promised land.
Over the same period Israel looked to be moving inextricably in the opposite direction. When progressives around the world looked at Israel they saw among other things; successive right-wing governments, the ever-receding prospect of a two-state solution with all that entails, and toxic political discourse that was still unthinkable back home. But with the election of Donald Trump and years of sustained assault on the institutions and fabric of many western democracies; the perception gap has surely narrowed. After decades of growing disconnect, it is now clear that Israeli progressives and progressives everywhere inhabit the same democratic planet.
That is not to claim that our democracies lack for differences. Democratic journeys are always distinct, shaped by time, history, geography, geo-politics, and more. But the common topography and pitfalls are now very evident. We all face challenges including tribalism, racism, entitlement, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia. The ripe global conditions for sowing division are also shared: exponentially faster demographic, communal and technological change, growing socio-economic gaps, a deficit of inter-communal trust and of trust between citizens and state institutions. In the USA, Israel and around much of the democratic world, citizens are unable to imagine let alone cooperate to shape more successful shared futures. These are the weaknesses that our respective extremists exploit. For them, the very idea of more cohesive societies that dignify, include, and offer the prospect of ever fairer shared futures for all their citizens, are anathema.
Given our shared democratic distress, it makes urgent sense for progressives around the world to pool our considerable experience, knowledge, and resources. From an Israeli perspective it makes good sense to give particular attention to the conversation and cooperation among progressive Americans, Israelis and Palestinians
This effort will greatly benefit from the strong foundations and extensive networks of progressive cooperation built up over decades. These span large parts of civil society (NGOs and philanthropists), hundreds of educators and academics, and dozens of agencies. Effective cooperation will require frank clarification of stubborn misapprehensions, some of which have persisted since before Israel’s establishment. We must also address a mutual lack of basic knowledge. When it comes to misapprehensions, we need far more sophisticated mutual appreciation of our fundamentally different circumstances and hence perspectives.
Progressives around the world should acknowledge the sometimes inevitably ugly realities of sovereignty and the use of state power — their own as well as Israel’s. They should also better appreciate the enduring fears that sear the Israeli psyche. Fear is equally toxic whether fermented by threats that are real or imagined. Progressives need to better understand the inherent sensitivity and fears of Jewish minority communities, especially at this time of greatly increased levels of antisemitism, some of it deadly.
Given that the great majority of far older and more secure western democracies are still struggling to come to terms with their own democratically-flawed pasts, let alone fulfill their own democratic aspirations; greater introspection and circumspection about Israel’s democratic challenges might be expected.
If conducted thoughtfully and robustly, as well as contributing valuable comparative knowledge for our respective democratic struggles, such cooperation will also build our mutual understanding and empathy, thereby strengthening our frayed relations.
Be assured, if we progressives join forces and undertake serious and honest work to address our respective democratic challenges; the extremists will not replace us — they will unite us.
Mike Prashker founded MERCHAVIM: The Institute for the Advancement of Shared Citizenship in Israel and currently serves as Senior Adviser for Strategic Partnerships at The Ted Arison Family Foundation. Prashker’s book “A Place for Us All: Social Cohesion and the Future of Israel” is published in a single volume in Hebrew, Arabic, English and is available at www.aplaceforusall.org.
Original artwork by permission of Johnnie Hughes.