A group of Israeli scholars and political activists who are living in the United States formed this week – in the wake of Israel’s deadlocked national elections – “a political movement” that is designed to recast relations between their homeland and the American Jewish community.
The Israel Opposition Network grew out of informal discussions some of the Network’s founders had conducted over the last few years with American Jews. It aims to alert Jews here about a critical change in Israel’s political climate, says Yael Berda, a Ph.D. student in sociology at Princeton University.
A human rights attorney and founder of a major community organizing student movement in Israel who in 2011 led what was known as “the Stroller Protests,” parents demonstrating in favor of expanded childcare for families with young children, Berda says the Network is the voice of “a young and capable democratic opposition to the current Israeli leadership.”
She says she and her fellow Network founders are concerned that the next Israeli government, which will probably include the newly formed, centrist Yesh Atid party, will continue incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative policies. And, she says, they are concerned that some American Jews are insufficiently aware of a recent shift in Israeli politics from a traditional concentration on security issues, to a growing attention paid to a wide variety of social welfare issues: “The fault lines have changed.”
This change was reflected in the recent Israeli election campaign – many parties focused more on social issues than on the Middle East peace process.
The Network, whose facebook page describes it as “critical of Israel’s official policies regarding the “[Israeli-Palestinian] conflict and socio-economic & cultural policies,” fears that the next government coalition, which will likely include Yair Lapid, founder of Yesh Atid, will allow Netanyahu to continue policies that “alienate” Palestinians and devote too little attention to the needs of the country’s middle-class, Berda says.
She says the Networks’s goal is to inform American Jews of its concern that Lapid’s inclusion in the coalition will legitimize largely “right-wing” policies. American Jewry, “our partners,” whose economic strength and political clout in this country can play a role in influencing the conduct of the Israeli government, Berda says.
Berda says she and other Network activists – among them, Nitzan Lebovic, chair of Holocaust studies at Lehigh University, and Itamar Mann, who is studying at Yale University – will reach out with their message “at the community level” to bring their message to American Jews.