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Sunday, 10 February 2008

A Space in the Middle - (from LSE to Leeds)

A Space in the Middle - Charlie Gluckman
Sometimes I find it difficult being a Zionist. As some may have read in
the Jewish Chronicle last week, an extreme and provocative anti-Israel
motion - Making Apartheid History - was put forward at the Student Union
of the London School of Economics. As a postgraduate student at the
LSE, as a Jewish and Zionist member of the Student Union, I found the
motion ugly and hateful. I felt it as a direct and personal attack on
me; on my Jewish, Reform Zionist identity. I was labelled a racist, an
ethnic cleanser. Zionism was reduced to discourse of colonialism.
There are other times when I find it hard to be a Zionist. After the
motion was defeated (by just 7 votes) the Jewish Society immediately
claimed it as a victory against our oppressors. This, I thought was
indicative of the attitude that we must defend Israeli government policy
at all costs. Any Jew who does not is a self-hating Jew. I often find
this attitude nauseating. Here, Zionism was reduced to discourse of
survival.
On reflecting on this I think there is a relationship between these
two. I think that they feed off each other. I think that they both
fail in any attempt at self-reflection and in attempting to reach out,
to understand and have dialogue with the other. That is why I think
there is such a clear space in between this total rejection of Israel on
the one hand, and on the other the unequivocal support. I believe that
it is within this space that Zionism must exist; Progressive Zionism
can, and in many cases does, provide this space. I was lucky enough to
be a part of such a space on Sunday 3rd February at the Pro Zion 2008
Mervin Elliott Memorial Lecture, hosted by Sinai Synagogue, Leeds.
Rachel Liel, the Director of SHATIL, the New Israel Fund's Empowerment
and Training Centre for Social Change Organisations gave an inspiring
and thought-provoking lecture on whether Israel at 60 is either an
Adolescent - associating this idea with being a visionary and wanting to
change the world – or an adult - bringing a notion of experience and
focus. Rachel pointed early on to the fact that whilst Israel at 60 is
an amazing picture, can you say that all religious and ethnic groups are
integrated into society? The idea that all citizens will be equal, that
all citizens will be taken care of, is a very Jewish one. In order to
do Tikkun (repair) we have to consider the experiences and emotions of
those that are powerless in society, that feel they do not belong, those
to whom nobody listens. We have to, Rachel said, provide a platform for
marginalised groups, and for this policies have to change. We must
cultivate the leaders from amongst us, not just scream about things, but
rather come up with ideas of what to do about it. Both vision and focus
are necessary.
There were over 60 people that came to this event, and after the
lecture, there was plenty of time for questions to be put to both
Rachel, and to Ellen Goldberg, the Executive Director of New Israel Fund
UK. There were questions on Bedouin Women, new immigrants, issues of
Religious Pluralism in Israel, Israel's Arab Citizens, and issues that
affect Palestinians that live in the West Bank. The atmosphere during
the event was great, and the questions ensured that there was thoughtful
discussion.
The event showed that there are plenty of individuals and organisations
around our movement and beyond, that are seeking out this middle space.
That thought provides comfort as a Progressive Zionist. Through more
meetings such as this, and by uniting these efforts more effectively,
Progressive Zionists can be begin to be a more dominant voice.

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