Just because their candidate was defeated, say Hillary Clinton supporters in Israel, is no reason to stop fighting.
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So on Friday, a group of about 40 hard-core American-Israeli supporters of the Democratic candidate convened in Tel Aviv to ponder the following question: Where do we take it all from here?
Pantsuit Nation Israel was officially launched the morning after the election, once it became clear that Clinton had officially lost her bid to become America’s first female president. As founder Mindy Goldberg recounts, her inspiration was Pantsuit Nation, a closed Facebook group launched just a few weeks earlier that, at last count, had more than 3.7 million members.
Pantsuit Nation, which derives its name from Clinton’s signature outfit, has since spawned an international movement of sorts. In addition to the new Israeli chapter, local branches have cropped up in France and in Canada. Israeli Pantsuit activists report that they were contacted the other day by women in Sweden wanting to consult about setting up their own Scandinavian branch.
While all these groups see their overall mission as empowering women and championing progressive values, the Israeli chapter members are convinced that as the world comes to grips with a Trump presidency, they have a special role to play.
“We believe that we are in a unique position to influence American Jewish institutions and communities,” says Goldberg, a 33-year-old professional fundraiser who moved to Israel nine years ago from Seattle. “There’s a perception out there that the overwhelming majority of American-Israelis are Republicans. We’re here to say that that is not the case. The Republicans may have made a lot of noise in the last election, but we are a strong community here and we intend to make our voices heard as well.”
When Goldberg first decided to start a Facebook group called Pantsuit Nation Israel, it wasn’t meant to be anything more than a support group. “I was so distraught by the prospect of a Trump presidency that all I wanted to do was reach out and connect to people here in Israel who were feeling the same way,” she recounts.
Goldberg, who lives today in the central Israeli town of Modi’in with her husband and young son, had never been politically engaged before, she says, even though she has always made a point of voting.
What started as a closed cyber-space where progressive American-Israeli women could commiserate soon took on a life of its own. Today, the Pantsuit Nation Israel Facebook group has close to 850 members. Not all of them, as Goldberg notes, are women, and not all of them are Israeli. Some are not even Jewish. “There are many people in the group who’ve joined just to show their support,” she says.
Although the Israeli chapter of Pantsuit Nation officially defines itself as non-partisan, it has close ties to the local branch of Democrats Abroad. In fact, Heather Stone, a prominent Democratic activist in Israel, volunteered her law firm’s offices for Friday morning’s inaugural meeting.
A first action item approved at that gathering was getting members to sign a petition urging the Jewish Federations of North America to condemn the appointment of Steven Bannon, the former Breitbart CEO, to a senior advisory role in the new administration. “We think it’s important that the JFNA know that a large number of Americans here in Israel don’t want to see Bannon in the White House,” says Stone.
Jewish supporters of Trump, she notes, have argued in his defense that many of his controversial appointees, such as Bannon, are pro-Israel. “That’s why it’s so important that there’s a group like this here in Israel,” says Stone. “We bring a special perspective to this debate about whether someone who has berated Jews can be considered good for Israel. Americans need to hear people like us say that they cannot be.”
Summarizing Friday’s meeting in a post on the group’s Facebook page, Goldberg noted that while Pantsuit Nation Israel will focus on post-election developments in the United States, that did not rule out taking action locally as well. “We acknowledge similar trends in Israeli society and politics of growing bigotry and racism, and will connect those interested in these local issues to existing partner agencies,” she wrote.
The group plans to hold a follow-up meeting within the next few weeks in order to finalize its mission statement and approve further action items.
As a matter of principle, says Goldberg, Pantsuit Nation Israel will avoid taking a stand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She does not deny its inherent bias, however. “We are closely allied with Democrats Abroad,” she says, “and the two-state solution has been part of their platform for years.”
Pantsuit Nation Israel is planning to hold an event that will coincide with the presidential inauguration in January. It has not yet decided, though, what type of an event, says Goldberg.
Following the first meeting of the Israel chapter, Della Meyers, a tour guide who attended, wrote the following post on the main Pantsuit Nation group page. “NO! Israel is not the right-wing nation it is portrayed to be in the media and there are so many people in this land who value and support the values Hillary put forth in her campaign ... perhaps it took this cataclysmic-like event to make them come together in a more effective and visible way ... At least something good has come out of it.”
At last count, her post had more than 2,400 likes.