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Ruth Calderon’s Message to Australian Zionists

August 18, 2013 – 9:10 am3 Comments

By Ittay Flescher

 lo rotzim2During her most recent visit to Melbourne as a guest of the Zionist Federation of Australia, I was privileged to hear Yesh Atid MK Ruth Calderon speak at three different venues. In these various presentations, she addressed these main themes.

  1. Relationship to Torah

Echoing the words of her now famous maiden speech which went viral on YouTube, Calderon again emphasised that the commentary and interpretation of the Torah should not be the monopoly of only one stream of Judaism. Speaking with secular Jews in mind, she said that the time has come to “re-appropriate what is all of ours, to delight in the cultural riches that wait for us, for our eyes, our imaginations, our creativity.”

This cultural celebration of Judaism is put in to practice by Calderon on facebook every morning, where she posts a daily mishna, which is then analyzed by hundreds of people from around the world. Calderon has also initiated a cross-party Beit Midrash in the Knesset, which takes place very Tuesday morning. It sometimes raises some very challenging discussions, like this one with the outspoken Likud MK Moshe Feiglin, whose views on the status of the Temple Mount are the complete opposite of those held by Calderon, despite her self-described ‘warm relationship’ with him.

  1. Solving the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Calderon desires a two state solution to the conflict for two reasons. The first was due to her belief that in order for Israel to remain both a Jewish and Democratic state, it must have a Jewish majority. This will not be possible if Israel holds on to the territory in captured in 1967 indefinitely.

minaret2The second reason was because of what the occupation does to the Palestinians, who have been living on the land for many generations. She specifically empathised with the Palestinians’ right to live as free people, in a land where they feel respected as equal citizens. This human desire and right could never be extinguished. To strengthen her point, she emphasised the corrosive impact of the occupation on Israeli soldiers, and also spoke of the humiliation West Bank Palestinians face at checkpoints and Israeli Palestinians face when forced to undress and be searched in a way that Jewish Israelis are not when they fly in or out of Ben-Gurion Airport.

Calderon was of the firm belief that there is enough land for both of us to share and that when we find a permanent solution that we can both live with, that will always be preferable to war.

  1. Jerusalem

Calderon was in favour of sharing Jerusalem based on her belief that it doesn’t belong exclusively to Israelis or Palestinians, because it belongs to God. She said “On the day when the holy places in Jerusalem are able to be accessed freely by the respective faiths that hold them to be sacred, Jerusalem will be in much better shape in the eyes of God than if we keep saying this is ours, and can’t be shared. We need to move away from paradigms of ownership, in the same way that we can love our partner or a child, without owning them.”

  1. Relationship to other members in her Coalition

In a tone that reminded me often of Birgitte Nyborg from the Danish political drama Borgen, Calderon continually responded to questions about why she had voted for certain bills that were against her values by explaining that politics is the art of the possible, rather than the ideal. Ideologies are pure and elegant; coalitions are often messy and challenging. But without coalitions, nothing would get done. For example, in order for Israel to enter into negations with the Palestinians, a clear demand of Yesh Atid, she had to reluctantly support continued building in West Bank Settlements, a demand of Habayit Hayehudi. Calderon repeatedly explained that politics is impossible without compromise, a value she rejected in her youth, and now embraces as a mature adult.

She also spoke of a potential friction that could occur between Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayedhdi when each party introduces different bills about Israel’s Jewish character.

With gratitude for her life experience before entering the Knesset, she was very pleased to be entering politics as a 51 year old, having absorbed many life lessons about the futility of stubbornness.

  1. Religious Pluralism

In regards to the status of Shabbat in Israel, Calderon was in favour of busses running, so that people could travel and spend time with family. Unlike the more hardline secularists that call for all business to be open on Shabbat, Calderon’s vision for Shabbat definitely held that it would remain a day of rest, but that places where cultural Jews may want to experience Shabbat, like museums or art galleries should be open on the day. She was also in favour of Women having the right to pray as they choose by the Kotel, a statement that surprisingly drew a round of applause at Caulfield Shule.

  1. Israel Education in Zionist Schools

Echoing this fantastic article by David Hazony, Calderon said that the first step to diaspora zionists having a meaningful relationship with the Jewish State must be through learning to read and speak Hebrew because only experiencing Israel’s culture through translations is like having a shower with your clothes on – you’re simply not having the authentic experience. By engaging with Israeli culture, literature and art directly rather than through translation, diaspora Jews will be able to engage with a living Israel that is complex and dynamic, and will understand the subtle ways that Judaism has entrenched itself in every aspect of Israel life, rather than always looking at Israel through the lens of the conflict.

For example, in order to understand Israeli graffiti subverting Herzl’s famous saying “If you will it, it is no dream” to “If you don’t want it, doesn’t matter” one must understand both Hebrew and know Zionist history. Furthermore, to create such graffiti, or new music to ancient words like Shem Tov Levi has done with the Zohar, one must be well versed in all the texts of the Jewish bookshelf. By engaging in this act of creation, Zionism ceases to be a spectator sport for diaspora Jews.

However, for most diaspora Jews, the names and phrases that come up all too often in a discussion about Israel are Netanyahu, Arabs, War, Terrorism, UN, Nuclear Iran, Media Bias and Hasbara.

Notwithstanding the importance of these issues to Israel’s future,

Calderon longs for the day when the first association our students have with Israel will be Jewish Renewal, Kobi Oz, Haviva Pedya, Piyut, Alma Zohar, Etgar Keret, Etti Ankri, Berry Sakharof, Ariel Horowitz, and all of the latest films, music, and theatre.

So do I. Such a vision for Israel education inspires me, because it fires the imagination about what Israel is, and could be, by removing the country as a symbol in a mythic struggle of good and evil, and placing it at the centre of a very real human story about a 65 year old start-up that is still a dream waiting to be fully realised.

Ittay Flescher is a Jewish Educator in Melbourne where he teaches short courses at the Jewish Museum of Australia about Israeli Society through Film, Television and Music. Ittay only speaks to his children in Hebrew, and is looking forward to the day that they do so as well.

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  • Joe in Australia says:

    The second reason was because of what the occupation does to the Palestinians, who have been living on the land for many generations.

    UNRWA defines “Palestine refugees” as “people whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948 …” because most residents, Jews or Arabs, had not been living there for “many generations”. And nor should it make a difference: people’s needs and their rights are inherent and individual; they don’t accrue to their lineage over time.

    This sort of blood and soil rhetoric is always to be deplored. In fact the State of Israel was established specifically because Jews in the Old World were never granted the rights of people who have been “living on the land for many generations”. It’s remarkable that this argument would be advanced by a Jew: if Jews are to be treated as hereditary strangers in Israel as well then there really is no hope for them.

  • R B says:

    I can’t believe that I agree with Ittay… but it happened this time.

    And, really, time has come that Zionism ceases to be a spectator sport for Jewish Diaspora. As an ex-Israeli, I feel embarrassed to see how obsolete, romantic and pathetic is the image of Israel among most Australian Jews, and how far it is from the reality of Israel in 2013.

    However, one thing in missing here – it takes two to tango. In order to build good, strong relations between Jews in Israel and in the diaspora, Israelis should stop referring to the latter as old uncles with generous wallets, have better and up-to-date knowledge of today’s Jewish diaspora and its current problems, and develop connections with it.
    Unfortunately, this does not happen in Israel. What we see there is either the classic, unrealistic Zionist demand to abolish the Jewish diaspora by a massive Aliyyah, indifference, or calls for de-Judaization of Israel and disengagement with the Jewish diaspora.

  • M McL says:

    OREN: …… unlike Great Britain that has a national church, we (Israel) don’t have an official religion.


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