February 6, 2003
Making Marriage Work
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 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. 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, in Orange County and Los Angeles, the tide seems to be turning the other way vis-à-vis involvement. Last month, the Israel Merchant Faire at Tarbut V'Torah in Irvine attracted some 4,000 people and took in $10,000 -- enough to make a sizeable donation to the Israel Emergency Fund, according to Charlene Zuckerman of Laguna Niguel, who chaired the event; one vendor reportedly made $40,000 on the day.
And on Feb. 9, MERIT and the JCC will present a public lecture, "An Update from the Front" with Mark Paredes, press attache of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles and Dr. Yaron Brook, executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute.
In Los Angeles, this month saw the University of Judaism's lecture series featuring Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, attended by almost 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.
And finally, on Sunday, Jan. 19, some 400 people from throughout Southern California attended a full-day workshop at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles, "Learning 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.
Among those who turned out were students from UC Irvine and other local universities. These students, said StandWithUs organizers, often face virulent anti-Israel speakers and protests on their campuses.
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. 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 latest 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.