Israeli Politics and Society Education Seminar (Part 1)

Yesterday morning we boarded the bus at 7:00 a.m. and made our way to Jerusalem. Although if you told me I was in Eilat I would have believed you because we went to one building and stayed there the whole day. By the end of the day my body felt tired because I sat the whole time, yet my mind felt tired because I had just learned so much.

The topic of the day was Israeli Politics and Society. We started the morning with a few activities to wake ourselves up and start to better understand all the political parties in Israel. There are more active parties in Israel in America, but just like the States they range from extreme left to extreme right.

We were split up into groups and each of us represented a party. My group represented a Sephardic religious party, Shas, and we had to write a one and a half minute speech, create a parody to a familiar song, and a poster. This was ours:

After some activities and coffee we sat down to hear the first speaker. He is an Orthodox man who is a Rabbi but now works in the Knesset – Israel’s parliament. He represents newer group known as the green party. He was introduced as a man who represents visionary leadership and values. The speech began by giving us a brief history behind how the Jews came to Israel.

120 years ago 96% of Jews went to bed at night having no clue what their life would be like the next morning. They knew that soon, if not the next day, they would be either kicked out of the country they were living in, or worse, killed. The result of this was the creation of the Zionist movement when Jews made their way to Palestine to set up a new life for themselves. In the end 2 million Jews made their way to the U.S. and 50,000 made their way to Palestine.

Today more than half the Jews in the world are living in Israel, even more than in America. Even more astounding, 99% of Jewish people don’t have to worry before going to bed about whether or not their life will change dramatically the next day.

Even still, Israel has many internal issues. Sometimes as Americans we tend to forget those internal issues because we look at the troubles Israel has that affect us, such as the peace process. Right now Israel is still trying to figure out exactly what it means to be a “Jewish State.”

The founding fathers of Zionism tried to create a “new Jew” that was adhered to more of a Western philosophy. The problem is that Judaism is a religion just as much as it is a culture. And according to our speaker, “A society can have a religion, but not an entire country.”

Due to this Israel is internally becoming more and more separated between secular Judaism and ultra-Orthodox Judaism. [Keep in mind that secular Judaism in Israel is a lot different than secular Judaism in Israel]

Aside from the Islamic and Christian religions that are found in this country, there are also currently 320,000 new immigrants who are defined as “not anything.” From them 100,000 children have been born who are also defined as having no religion. The problem here is that living in a country where ultra-Orthodox Jews have a lot of social, economic, and political power, you must follow some religion to be able to have certain rights.

I want to write about the problem of the ultra-Orthodox being in control of Israel in a separate entry. It is too much of an issue to be put into this one. However, I do want to mention the Rabbi’s idea to solve this issue. He thinks that if everyone from secular, religious, orthodox, ultra-orthodox, and non-religious groups come work and build together then a new alternative can be created. Slowly this is beginning to happen. For example, in some schools secular and religious students are learning in the same classroom.

Many times Orthodox and more specifically, Ultra-Orthodox Jews, look down upon other Jewish people and some even consider people like myself not even Jewish. Although I did not agree with all the points this Rabbi made, I admired him. He holds his traditional beliefs, but also wants to respect all groups of people for the greater good of Israel. When certain people are very much into their religion it is hard for them to separate between religion and state.

The next speaker we had was the Editor in Chief of the Jerusalem Post. He spoke with us on the topic of Israel and its perception both internally and externally. He began the discussion asking us that if we were conversing with someone who misunderstood Israel, but was willing to change their perception, what would be the biggest thing about the country that we could say?

He feels the two biggest misperceptions of Israel are its size and history. Because it is constantly in the news people think it is a lot bigger of a country than it actually is. Surprisingly, Israel could fit into the state of New Jersey with some New Jersey land left over.

Mr. JPost shared a personal story first about his son who was once a member of a karate class in Tel-Aviv that was put together by an Australian Jew. Both Palestinians and Israelis took the class together. He said it was an exceptional program and during the first class when the Palestinian and Israeli boys realized they were having fun doing the same karate moves and working together, it was truly an astounding moment. He then went on to say that Tokyo had invited these boys to a karate event and unfortunately some boys dropped out and didn’t go. For those that did, after the event they no longer came to Tel-Aviv to be a part of the class. Mr. JPost stressed that this wasn’t because they didn’t want to, but because those in power in Palestine highly recommended that they did not keep attending, and due to fear, they chose not to. It is an unfortunate situation for sure, but I want to stress here that most Palestinians are great people and they want peace just as badly as we do.

Mr. JPost then talked about how successful Israel has become. He said how there is so much brain power in this country and that the economy has been thriving even due to the economical problems in the world. He also said how immigration is booming which has been a major positive contributor. Natural gas has recently been found in Haifa which is an important find.

One problem in Israel is its lack of public relations to the rest of the world. This was particularly interesting to me, being that I was a PR major in college. Some of his solutions of ways to improve Israeli PR was to have diplomats in key areas, an English satellite TV station [currently in progress of being created], better representing the IDF, and… he could have went on and on but unfortunately time had run out.

Our next speaker was an employee from the Israel Religious Action Center. I’d like to write another entry on this topic so until then, I hope you all have a good day!

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