My Version of Zionism Is Now Beyond the Pale

Something broke on March 18, and I'm left wondering: Do I still belong here?

Guy Spigelman
Guy Spigelman
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Zionist Union backers react to first exit polls at party headquarters in Tel Aviv, March 17, 2015.
Zionist Union backers react to first exit polls at party headquarters in Tel Aviv, March 17, 2015.Credit: Associated Press
Guy Spigelman
Guy Spigelman

Something broke on the morning of March 18, something deep. For the first time since moving to Israel 21 years ago, I thought perhaps my place is not here anymore.

I know what some on the right might think: “You shrimp-eating-Tel Aviv-snob, you lose an election and want to run away. Who needs you anyway?” Maybe not exactly in those words, maybe not all of them, but that is the spirit of what some must not only be thinking now, but did throughout the election campaign.

I voted and actively volunteered for Isaac Herzog and the Zionist Union. I really believe that Bibi has been a bad prime minister – both in terms of managing the country and in terms of his ideological direction. I wanted to replace the premier with a better alternative. This is entirely legitimate – or so I thought.

But in the words of our Illustrious Leader, I wasn’t trying to replace a prime minister by democratic means, but rather I was trying to “overthrow” him, to commit a coup.

Then I found out that the party I support is not really the Zionist Union, but rather the “anti-Zionist Union,” and that our candidates may as well be members of the Hamas.

Two weeks before the election, the Negev was on fire. Hundreds of people faced the sack from factories with local Likud activists declaring “no more,” no more will they vote for Benjamin Netanyahu. With soaring housing prices and stagnant wages, the ground was fertile for a change in government.

But something happened. A series of events led to a surge in votes for Likud, not least of which included the prime minister's fear-mongering announcement that the Arabs were descending on the polls, and that all right-wingers must get out and vote Likud to save the homeland.

This is when I started to crumble. Could it be that the prime minister of the Jewish State employed racist propaganda tactics to win an election? Did that actually happen? Well, yes, it did. And it worked.

The next day, when I met a group of Arab hi-tech entrepreneurs from Nazareth, I asked them what they felt about Bibi’s strategy. They told me they weren’t surprised; that they already believe that, on the whole, Jewish Israelis don’t fundamentally accept Arab Israelis as full citizens. In my naivety, I thought that all citizens are full citizens and have the full opportunity to succeed. But then I realized in Israel there isn’t just a glass ceiling for Arabs, but a concrete ceiling – and the right-wing leadership wants everyone to internalize and recognize this.

As we tried to come to terms with the shock of what happened, a few Tel Aviv residents in their frustration declared that they would no longer donate to the poor in the south or the north: “They voted for Bibi, let them suffer.” And I have to say, I can understand this gut reaction. It was condemned by Zionist Union leaders, but that doesn’t matter; the right has already used this to justify all their claims that us Tel Aviv people are snobs that don’t care.

But here is the point: I do care. I care a lot. I spend most of my life dedicated to closing socio-economic gaps. This time at the polls, the hi-tech and creative classes of Israel didn’t vote en masse to improve their own lot. We did that in 2013 by voting for the Yesh Atid party of the middle class.

But not this time.

We voted for the Zionist Union, which published a full economic platform that spoke of investment in the periphery, improving education and health, reducing poverty for elderly Israelis. We voted in solidarity with all Israelis.

So I ask the question: Why should we feel extra responsibility for the education, health and welfare of all Israelis? The new government will keep spending billions of shekels in the territories, and won’t have enough money to help poorer Israelis – and now I am expected to feel guilty if I don’t pick up the bill?

But more than that, I feel like my form of Judaism and Zionism is no longer good enough for the ruling majority. I have to accept that I am in the minority. That my dream of an Israel, secure and strong, an Israel that seeks justice for all its citizens, that pro-actively pursues peace, and that maintains its democracy as one that protects the minority – and not just imposes the tyranny of the majority – is an Israel that I may never live to see.

So what should I do? I love my life here, but another war in the summer and another war after that, physical attacks on artists for being left wing, new laws to restrict human rights groups, destruction of the legal system, more settlements and a whole raft of joys awaits. I wonder, is it worth it?

I am not making any decisions yet. But what I am doing is posing a challenge to the right. You want people like me to stay? You want the almost 1 million citizens who voted for Zionist Union and Meretz, whose form of Zionism and Judaism don't align with yours, to not disengage from the rest of Israel? Prove to me that we are not outside the fence – because that is how it feels at the moment.

Guy Spigelman is CEO of PresenTense Israel, a Jerusalem based organization that promotes social, technology and small business entrepreneurship amongst all of Israel’s diverse population.

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