Sunday, October 30, 2016

Meet Avi Buskila, The New (Mizrahi) Head of Peace Now

I highly, highly recommend you read this fascinating interview with Avi Buskila, the new head of Peace Now in Israel. Buskila is a gay Mizrahi Jew (his parents immigrated from Morocco), he grew up on Israel's periphery, and he has combat experience as an IDF soldier -- including stopping a terrorist attack by a fellow IDF servicemember on innocent Palestinians. Some highlights:

On the left and Mizrahim
Buskila talks about the kind of posts he encounters in left-wing groups on social media. For example one person wrote: "We've gathered the savages and brought them to Israel, and now they are destroying us," meaning Jews of Mizrahi descent. "After all, right-wingers equal Mizrahim, equal religious," he says. 
But Buskila says has no intention of being the "left’s pet Mizrahi."
"I won’t apologize for serving in the IDF longer than Naftali Bennett or for living in the periphery longer than Miri Regev," he says defiantly. 
"The portrayal of the left as old and Ashkenazi is accurate. There are a lot of people in the (peace) camp who would rather see us fail than give up their control. They refuse to recognize that it’s time they retire and leave. But I have news for them—they are going to lose control and if they don't, we'll take it from them, both in the political parties and in organizations. The left, in many ways, failed to speak to the people. For years, it just told everyone why they are wrong."
"The left doesn’t respect the painful narrative of fear. I don’t doubt my mother's fears. She spent most of her life in shelters under the threat of rocket fire. Speaking their language means I'm not preaching, and I'm not constantly explaining to someone why he's wrong. It's not about coming from Tel Aviv to tell a Netivot resident that his fears and the discrimination he feels are nonexistent bullshit. I accept what they're telling me."
On coordinating with international actors
"Everyone can do what they think is right. I respect and support these organizations. At the end of the day, Breaking the Silence and B'Tselem are my partners, and we all have the same vision. What distinguishes between us is our style of work. I don’t feel their international work harms Peace Now. However, I do strongly oppose BDS. It hurts us and undermines a possible agreement. We need to speak up in the international arena but to choose carefully whom we speak with. I have not lost hope for the State of Israel."
On the Israeli right's standard-bearers
"There's a small settler group that delegitimizes the entire country. Naftali Bennett speaks of annexation and other such nonsense, but he is terrified. He doesn’t have the courage to go through with it. Why isn’t this right-wing government annexing the territories? Bennett is dangerous because his party produces the most extreme statements that threaten Israeli democracy.
"For example, Uri Ariel, a man who symbolizes all that is bad in my eyes—the scared Diaspora Jew who walks around with a grenade in his pocket fearing for his life. He doesn’t care about anything but Greater Israel and is willing to pay for it with rivers of blood. The man uses the Torah to produce racism, homophobia, and a lot of money. He is not alone; he sits with (Bezalel) Smotrich, who is insane, and Ayelet Shaked, who manages to say the most terrible things with such a sweet tone. She seems not to understand that a more Jewish state means that I do not have the right to live here because I am gay, that the entire country will be closed down for Shabbat, and our children will learn to read from Torah scrolls in the first grade.  
"Ask Bennett for me: how many Mizrahim are in his Bayit Yehudi party? There aren’t a lot because it’s a party that represents a settler elite, which is Ashkenazi and Anglo-Saxon. They think that he people should worship them. And within this elite there is another elite: the Hebron settlers who are Ashkenazi and receive even more money than other settlers. They don’t think of other Israeli citizens, not even my mother or their friends in Kiryat Shmona. They think only of themselves. NIS 300 million went to settlements in recent months. How much money went to the residents of Kiryat Shmona? Did Bibi visit Kiryat Shmona or even look down at it from a plane? The city is on the verge of collapse. When it was under attack during the Second Lebanon War, it was relatively protected. Today it interests no one."
But seriously -- read the whole thing.

1 comment:

Binyamin Arazi said...

While I agree with a lot of what he has to say, there were some parts that I honestly found offensive. In particular, it feels like he is minimizing, if not outright denying, the power dynamics/historic relations between Arabs and Mizrahim (notably the oppression and subjugation we endured in "Arab lands", culminating in our exodus) which is what caused most of us to become right wing in the first place. Indeed, the way he speaks about us implies that none of this stuff ever happened (the outrageous belief that "everything was fine" until "evil Zionist Khazars from Europe invaded Palestine" is extremely common on the left), or that if it did, we just need to "get over it". The way he frames us as colonizers is also worrying, seemingly ignoring the fact that Jews (and Samaritans) are the land's aboriginal people, whereas Arabs arrived via (you guessed it) colonial invasion and conquest, just like Europeans vis a vis North America, Australia, etc. And to be honest, I can't see any of this convincing too many people. Not in our community at least.

Calling Ashkenazim "Anglo-Saxon" also seems bizarre, not to mention inaccurate.