Eran Wolkowski - 27122011
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Over the past few days, dozens of Israeli ambassadors from around the world have arrived to get updates on government policy and equip themselves with information and public relations material. After hearing from their minister, Avigdor Lieberman, how to talk to the insolent Europeans, and being informed by the deputy minister of the dimensions of the chair on which to seat enemies of Israel, they should allow some time for an in-depth briefing from Likud MK Ofir Akunis. He is not just the founder of the Israel branch of Friends of McCarthy; he is also the head of the Knesset Forum for International Relations, established ahead of the UN discussion on recognition for Palestine in order to "strengthen the State of Israel's position among the community of nations."

In its founding charter, forum members promise "to provide strategic direction for Israel's diverse international activities, and to deal with the gap in government resources for promoting its policies, making Israel's voice heard in the media through public relations efforts and forming new alliances for the State of Israel." Who could be more suited to this than MKs Zeev Elkin and Yariv Levin of the Likud, the defenders of the outposts and the leaders of the campaign against the human rights organizations, the Supreme Court and the media? What Israeli voices could be more pleasing to foreigners than the peace choruses of Aryeh Eldad of the National Union, and Robert Ilatov of Yisrael Beiteinu? Who could compete with the public relations efforts of forum member Anat Wilf of Atzmaut, who greeted the arch-conservative radio host Glenn Beck, who was too extreme even for the likes of the chief executives of the Fox channel?

How is it possible to create new alliances with gentiles without first reinforcing the alliances among ourselves? When the whole world is against us, there is no coalition and opposition. Hence, the forum's chairman is Shai Hermesh, the kibbutz representative in the Kadima faction. His fellow faction members Nachman Shai, Yisrael Hasson and Yohanan Plesner accepted the challenge "of providing tools and information necessary for Knesset members to serve as diplomats in Israel and abroad." Hermesh's explanation: "Unfortunately, the Knesset consists of a mixture of personalities and opinions, and I have a hard time agreeing with many of them, but they are here. If we don't manage to stir up the people, they will be there for many more years. Should we leave the arena to them or maintain a position that makes it possible to also voice a different opinion there?" For his part, Nachman Shai said that the group is an extra-parliamentary one, and that to date he had not taken part in any activity organized by it.

It's not Christmas every day

This year once again, the Christian minority in Israel and in the territories was transformed into the celebrants on Christmas. For one day, they all became one people. The problematic ties between Palestinian and Jews on regular days pushed into a corner the loaded ties between Muslims and Christians. A pioneering study by doctoral student Anan Srour of Ben-Gurion University, a Christian married to a Muslim, sheds some light (or does it cast a shadow? ) on this.

The study is based on representative samples from the Muslim and Christian populations in Israel (1,164 adult Muslims and 805 adult Christians ) in 25 communities. The sampling from the West Bank included 106 Christians and 112 Muslims from Ramallah and Bethlehem. The research team selected eight major events for which Muslims and Palestinians have different narratives, such as the controversy over the Shihab a-Din mosque in Nazareth and the identity of a future Palestinian state. A focus group consisted of Christian and Muslim academics.

Out of concern that the questions would be perceived as threatening the unity of the Palestinian front facing Jewish society, the meeting itself was attended by only the Muslim and Christian researchers, Srour, Sirin Majli and Yehyi Hajazi, the latter two also doctoral students at Ben-Gurion University. The Jewish researchers, Prof. Shifra Sagy and Dr. Adi Mana, observed them from behind a one-way mirror. One of the participants noted angrily that "we are talking about the relationship between Muslims and Christians in Hebrew, and the Jews are sitting and observing us."

So long as the Jewish/Jewish state issue was on the table, the participants tended to disregard any conflict between their respective communities, and focus on the conflict with Jewish society. Not surprisingly, it turned out that the common conflict with the Jews, the exclusion of Palestinian Muslims by Arab society and of Palestinian Christians by Western Christian society increased the social necessity of Muslims and Christians for mutual identification and internal unity. This need increases the more that one group feels threatened and isolated than other groups in the area. The phenomenon is reminiscent of Jews in exile during times of duress.

In Israel and in the West Bank there was among Christians a strong sense of anger, negative stereotyping and little empathy for the narrative of the Muslim group. For their part, Muslims were willing to accept the Christian narrative and had a strong tendency to integrate with members of the "other" group. These differences were more prominent among West Bank residents than among residents of Israel proper. Sagy explained that because they are a minority in Israeli society and also in the West Bank, and also within Palestinian society within Israel, the Christians felt a threat to their social identity from both Jewish society and from Palestinian-Muslim society. In her opinion, this is the source of the strong collective sense of identity reflected in the rejection of the Muslim narrative, the challenge to the Muslim group and the emphasis on the distinct nature of the Christian group, and its proximity to Western society and its superiority in a variety of realms.

In contrast to the feeling of personal strength, the Christian community (primarily in the West Bank ), which feels more threatened than the other groups, developed a shared defense mechanism which sees itself as a meaningful religious community with clear guidelines and objectives. This collective sense enables members to live with difficult pressures around them. Happy New Year.