A response to Ben-Dror Yemini's column: "An Inside Look at Demonization"
Published as Ad in Maariv's Shabbat Magazine (in Hebrew)
Ben-Dror Yemini's column, "An Inside Look at Demonization (Ma'ariv, July 16th, 2010), was infuriating and outrageous. A second reading of the contents, as well as most of the comments on the article, only reinforced the sense that Yemini is not calling for dialogue, nor for profound soul-searching. At worst, he's calling for incitement of the worst possible kind. At the least, he is drawing the line between correct and incorrect, worthy and contemptible, between the faithful and the traitor, between the sane and the delusional.
In his opinion.
Thus, Ben-Dror drags us all into a dangerous discourse of a zero-sum-game, successfully riding a murky wave of hatred and fear, which these days is turned into legislative initiatives designed to limit the steps of those who – according to Ben-Dror’s narrow doctrine – are on the wrong side of the line.
Ben-Dror uses the words of an anonymous woman who participated with us, the undersigned, in a leadership development seminar but chose not to reveal her identity, and accuses us of subversively working for the destruction of Israel. But, as opposed to Ben-Dror, we, who attended the seminar, state openly and clearly, using our real names as listed below: these things never happened. The seminar was not about the rejection of the existence of the State of Israel, nor its destruction. These accusations are the fruits of the imagination of the person who chose to hide behind the pseudonym "Shlomit".
The people accused of these harsh allegations are men and women, Jews and Arabs, of different ages and backgrounds, Mizrahim and Ashkenazim, immigrants and natives; people who hold different opinions and worldviews, who work on diverse issues. People who came to the seminar to have an individual and collective learning experience that will strengthen their leadership skills.
For all of us, our motivation springs from a profound commitment to the communities we come from and in which we work, and the issues we seek to advance: reconciliation, dialogue and life in a shared society, social justice, environmental justice, community empowerment, health, gender equality and human rights. Yes, human rights, a phrase that Yemini insists on turning into an obscenity.
Last Friday, we awoke to a vicious slap in our faces, and were surprised to learn that, according to an anonymous woman, we are no less than the "the danger threatening the State of Israel".
We have no interest at this point in arguing with Ben-Dror Yemini, but we are stating loud and clear: the campaign of Yemini and his friends to undermine NIF and the human rights community is the real danger. It seeks to crush the partnership between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel, a partnership that wonderful people have been struggling for years to strengthen and safeguard despite the harsh political reality. It seeks to destroy the partnership between people from different backgrounds and of different opinions, who are committed to eye-level dialogue which incorporates the expression of legitimate national identities.
Ben-Dror Yemini makes a distinction between "worthy” and “lofty” social causes, and those that are illegitimate. If only NIF was to adhere to the former, he would have no problem with it. Who are we to confuse a seasoned journalist with facts, but the truth is that there is hardly an enterprise for social justice, for underserved and marginalized communities, for strengthening the voices of liberalism and tolerance, which has not been the beneficiary of New Israel Fund and Shatil’s support. Because New Israel Fund and its organizations are simply a little more courageous than Ben-Dror. Which is why they chose the difficult path, of broadening the scope of public discourse to include as many groups and individuals as possible. Apparently this confuses Ben-Dror, or fatigues him, or….something.
The seminar participants and the human rights activists are not gullible lambs caught up unwittingly in an anti-Semitic discourse. We are all people who are connected deeply to this country and who believe that the way to ensure a better future for our children and grandchildren is through dialogue and partnership, and the ability to hear viewpoints different from our own. These are the people whom Ben-Dror bashes time and time again. It is unclear what his motivation is or whose interests he serves. Two things are clear: first, Ben-Dror is not serving the best interest of our society and country. And second, we shall continue, no matter what, to believe in and work towards a better and more tolerant society.
We chose to place an ad, so that our words are brought in full, and not distorted.
Nabila Espanioly, psychologist, director of Al-Tufula Center, Nazareth
Jaber Asaqla, Shatil
Ron Gerlitz, co-director, Sikkuy
Ariel Dalomi, program director, the Negev Institute, AJEEC
Arik Yellin, A Different Voice, Sderot
Vered Cohen-Barzilai, director of communications and publications department, Amnesty International, Israel
Patrick Levy, independent
Anat Langer-Tal, Just Vision
Dana Myrtenbaum, lawyer, Itach-Ma’aki: Women Lawyers for Social Justice
Oshrat Mizrahi-Shapira, community theatre director and dialogue groups facilitator
Emmy Sa’ar, director of the hotline, Hotline for Migrant Workers
Anat Saragusti, Agenda: Israeli Center for Strategic Communications
Sharon Tzionov, lawyer, director of the Center for Clinical Legal Education for Human Rights , Law Faculty, Hebrew University
Ruti Shuster-Eliasi, Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam
Raabaa Berhum, Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam
Hagit Shachar, Shatil
Adi Barzon, environmental activist