Believe in men's rights? Want a secular state?
If you happen to have an offbeat or nonmainstream platform for Israel, now is the time to run in the Jan. 28 parliamentary elections. One lesson to be learned from the list of the 30 parties vying for Knesset (see page 18) is that Israelis are disenfranchised, and looking for alternatives to the major National Security issue.
And while Aleh Yarok (Green Leaf) -- the party promoting marijuana legalization -- always seems to hit the headlines a week or two before elections (despite publicity before the last elections in 1999, the party mustered 34,029 votes, representing slightly more than 1 percent of the electorate -- 15,000 votes short of the 1.5 percent threshold for Knesset membership), other parties with less headline-grabbing platforms are really set to win big.
Take Tommy Lapid's Shinui (change) Party (see page 22). Their two-page campaign booklet doesn't get to their political leanings until the second page. The self-described "democratic, secular, liberal, Zionist, peace-seeking party" platform includes creating "a secular state, a free-market economy, [obligatory] military service."
Does 2 percent of the country really believe legalizing pot is the most important issue? Are 12 percent really going to vote for Lapid, a former in-your-face talk-show host whose primary goal is to secularize the country? (Incidentally, Shinui is attempting to do for the secular what the religious parties -- and in particular, Shas -- have done for years: exchange its vote on security for social benefits such as money for schools.)
"I've covered a lot of Israeli elections, but I have never seen one like this. I've never seen the Israeli public less interested in the two major parties -- indeed, in the whole event," Thomas Friedman wrote in The New York Times on Jan. 19.
What this means for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is an even bigger headache on Jan. 29 than he had on Nov. 5, 2002, when he called for new elections (can anyone actually remember why?). But it also means that the major parties had better start looking at secondary campaign positions if they want to be relevant to the Israeli people.
Israelis, in answer to the question, "How is everything?" might reply: "Hakol B'seder, chutz mimah she'lo b'seder" (Everything is all right, except for what isn't all right). The situation with the Palestinians is so not all right, and the Israelis feel so powerless, that everything else just seems so much more important.
Meanwhile, here in Los Angeles, the tide seems to be turning the other way vis-à-vis involvement. These last 10 days in Los Angeles has seen a flurry of Israel-related events and visitors almost as busy as the Oscar buildup. The University of Judaism's lecture series featuring Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, turned out nearly 6,000 people. Peres also gave an informal talk to some 100 of Hollywood's glitterati (including Barbra Streisand, Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman, Annette Benning and Warren Beatty), hosted by fellow countryman and producer Arnon Milchen ("L.A. Confidential").
A similar group of impressive Hollywood stars turned up at the home of DeVito and Perlman to hear out another set of visitors, Mohammed Darawshe and Daniel Lubetsky, of One Voice: Silent No Longer, a grassroots petition effort seeking more than 1 million Arab and Israeli signatures urging an end to the violence and a commitment to peace.
"My eight-year-old child came up to me and said he aspires to become a soccer player, a doctor and a martyr," Darawshe told some 70 people last Wednesday at a more public event at Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Darawshe, a Palestinian, is working with Lubetsky to enact change in Israel, and now "my son doesn't want to become a martyr, but a leader. I showed him that a leader was the best."
And finally, on Sunday, Jan. 19, some 400 people attended a full-day workshop at Temple Beth Am, "Learn[ing] how to defend Israel: on campus, in the media, to the White House, at your office." The StandWithUs Advocacy Conference actually had to turn away more than 100 people from the intense and practical seminar, which included talks on European anti-Semitism, by the Wiesenthal Center's Rabbi Abraham Cooper; effective lobbying by Dianna Stein, the American Israel Public Affair Committee's deputy director for the Southern Pacific Region, and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Dist. 24); and writing letters to the editor by this column's most frequent contributor, Rob Eshman.
What does all the activity on this side of the Atlantic mean? While the Israelis are deciding between indifference and apathy, the American Jews are finally beginning to wake up from their 30-year slumber.Â When I lived in Israel I remember screaming at my friends in America how important some issue was, and how can they not know about it, and why do they want to talk about the lastest Spielberg movie?
Now, I find it's the reverse: from Los Angeles, I'm calling them for their opinions on the upcoming elections, the latest diplomatic effort and no, I don't want to talk about the latest Spielberg movie.
It might take two to make a marriage work -- but usually it's one party's commitment that balances a lack of it on the disinterested one's part. American Jews' increasing involvement in a process that Israelis are ready to throw the towel at -- well, that's just what the marriage counselor ordered. That, maybe, instead of a toke of the green stuff.