According to Israel’s defense minister, I’m a traitor. It’s an escalation in the campaign against the organization for which I serve as the executive director. I have a message for Defense Minister Ya'alon and members of his right-wing government: Your words and actions have far-reaching personal consequences.
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My grandmother, Grandma Ronit, was born in Marrakesh 83 years ago. She made aliyah with her mother and sister when she was 17. I don’t really remember her mother, my great grandmother, Masouda Biton. Maybe a blurry memory of a woman of large dimensions with beautiful green eyes, but not much more than that.
In 1951, Masouda decided that she’d had enough. Despite being descended from a respected family of rabbis in Morocco, the Nahmias family, she decided to go to Israel. She was a Zionist. She took her two daughters and came here. They reached a transit camp, and from there got to Moshav Yishrash. Her husband, my great grandfather Yosef, who at first opposed the idea of moving to Israel (“Why do we need it?”), missed them too much and arrived a few months later. Grandma Masouda and Grandpa Yosef are buried on the Mount of Olives. Legend has it that Grandma Masouda climbed to one of the highest corners on the Mount of Olives and chose two burial plots that overlook the Temple Mount. She wanted to be the first in line when the Messiah finally arrived.
Two years after she moved to Israel, at age 20, my grandmother met Grandpa Moshe. It was 1953. Grandpa, who came with his mother and father to Israel 20 years earlier from Poland, also for strictly Zionist reasons, had already enlisted in the Irgun (Etzel), and was a political prisoner for two years in the British prison at Latrun, saw the country he dreamt about come back to life and fought in the War of Independence in the Harel Brigade. He was in the armored corps and took part in the capture of the Negev. He is proud of that to this day. And I’m also very proud of him. Among other things, for falling in love with my grandmother, a Moroccan woman. Though it was not an acceptable practice for Ashkenazim to fall in love with Mizrahim back then, he followed his heart.
They married on Mount Zion, across from the Jordanian army. They made quite a statement. They were married by Rabbi Aryeh Levin, the “Rabbi of the Prisoners.”
Grandma worked for over 50 years in an agricultural center. She started as a junior receptionist and slowly worked her way up to account manager. She is the most committed and diligent person I know. Grandpa is an intelligent and quiet man. We don’t agree on almost anything. But I remember and cherish how as a girl, he would take me – us, the grandkids – to the Irgun and the Lehi (Stern Gang) museums. He told us a lot about history, philosophy, and no less, ideology.
When I grew up he gave me books to read. Between the lines, grandpa taught me about the struggle against the British colonial regime, about struggle in general (sometimes violent – part of which I am critical of today, but also some of which I feel humbled before). He also taught me about difficult personal price you must pay for the things in which you believe. A few years ago, as a student, I was searching for a book on the concept of “altruism,” and I sought his advice. He pulled a book out of his vast library called The First Tithe by Israel Eldad, the Lehi’s central thinker. He gently suggested I read it, even though he knew that his ideology is not aligned with mine. And I read it.
This is the environment in which I grew up – full of compassion and humanity and strong opinions. Where not much is agreed upon, but everyone knows how to sit down, talk, and argue. Not agreeing, but listening to one another.
So those are my grandmother and grandfather: 87 and 85 years old respectively. Not at the height of their health but full of a love for life.
Then a few weeks ago their phone numbers were posted in a status that’s been circulated around the WhatsApp groups and Facebook profiles of members of the Israeli right.
They are sitting in their apartment right now being aggressively harassed by phone calls from people who saw the post, written by someone a few days ago after Israel’s Channel 2 TV station’s report on Breaking the Silence; after hearing the defense minister order the opening of an investigation against us; Likud MK Yariv Levin call us traitors on prime time TV; Yesh Atid Chairman, Yair Lapid, jump on the bandwagon as usual; and this time Zionist Union MKs, Itzik Shmuli and Eitan Cabel, emphatically join the chorus. And now – Bibi Netanyahu told the world that we (us, yeah? Former IDF soldiers and officers) – are somehow connected to the terror attack in Istanbul.
So as my grandparents taught me – there are many personal prices to be paid when fighting for your country. But come on, isn’t it time someone put this gang of inciters in check? Why do Grandpa Moshe and Grandma Ronit, who don’t agree with their granddaughter, but love her and are tolerant of her views, need to be woken up at 1:00 in the morning by a phone call from someone telling them that their granddaughter is a whore?
Seriously Bibi, is this your tradition? Your legacy? This is what you’re willing to turn this place into just to keep your seat in power? Seriously Bennett, are you really willing to do this just to get another Israeli outpost on a hilltop in the West Bank?
My grandfather’s underground nickname was “Ze’ev,” after Jabotinsky; a generation of giants, who at least had an ideology, even if it was light years away from mine. Today, the “leaders” of this country, devoid of shame and ideology, are willing to place my grandparents in actual danger – a generation that dreamt about and fought for a national democratic home for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel.
Yuli Novak is the executive director of Breaking the Silence and served as an operation officer in the Israel Air Force.