Before the war, during the demonstrations against the judicial reform, something happened to me. I understood that I have no choice but to choose a side. As a feminist lesbian woman, I understand that that’s bad for me. The right in Israel doesn’t speak my liberal language, doesn’t offer me freedom, and uses my Mizrahi identify as another tool in its political game. All of this seems far away now, but exactly one month ago I tried to fine-tune my political stance for myself. I understood that what threatens me most in the government’s attempts at a judicial coup was the revoking of freedom. That was the terrifying part of this reform, and it was what sent hundreds of thousands of people out to the street week after week, It’s also my deepest connection to the leftist camp.
A desire for freedom is the basis of the leftist, liberal, feminist and black liberation movements. It’s true for every social and civil movement that challenges a hierarchy-based social structure, that ever acted for peace and not through war. The aspiration for freedom at every human’s core – the desire to live free of absolute domination by another: Freedom of thought, speech, movement. And that is the reason why a “Political Homelessness” person such as myself found her place and became “a leftist Moroccan”. I chose a side.
Up until then, white leftists were my political enemy. The feeling of “Political Homelessness”, which I used as a title of my previous columns, felt that one’s own movement, the leftist movement, is substantially opposed to you and what you suggest. Numerous columns were written in an effort to reflect and discuss the hypocrisy within the movement, the discrimination and the inability of white leftists to accept us – the Mizrahi story and what it offers to the left.
What many leftists feel, after more than a month of war following the shocking massacre in the South, from the global progressive left – that rejects Israeli sorrow and pain, and our true suffering – is a mirror image of the exact feelings I experienced from the Israeli left. The insistence by the white left to adhere to theories and disassociate itself from emotion, to adopt the progressive conversation, which is disconnected from the Israeli reality, to participate in the “colonialism” discussion and in general to speak above people’s heads – all of this is happening now in global left-wing movements and is directed at us, the Israelis.
The Israeli left feels betrayed by global leftists, who disdain the images from the South, ignore our fear of the Palestinian threat which has become a reality. The global left prefers to wrap itself in the Palestinian flag, to recognize only the Gazans’ pain, while completely disregarding the Israeli pain. It chooses the Palestinian side while throwing Israel under the progressive bus.
The disregard for the emotion, grief and pain we feel as an Israeli collective on every side of the political map, or in other words: Assigning the dichotomy of the victim (Palestinians), the aggressor (Israelis) and the rescuers (Progressives), particularly characterize today’s global left. They play a zero-sum game which presents us, the Israelis, as the aggressor even after we became victims of a horrific massacre, and the Palestinians, who produced the murderers who massacred innocent civilians, as victims of Israel. And they, the Progressives, are here to save the innocent victims, through total disregard of their cruel actions. This is the conversation that is taking place above our heads and causing us, Israeli leftists, to stand dumbstruck. Mute. Facing reality, if you’d like.
The cold shoulder the Israeli left is experiencing today connects to the cold shoulder which I received from members of the Israeli left in normal times. It is a rejection of your deepest feelings, the core of your political beliefs. Feeling rejected of course creates distance and alienation.
My familiarity with this dynamic caused me to think about what my fellow Israeli leftists are going through now, the alienation they feel in this difficult situation. So I decided to phone Lior Oliphant.
Lior is a member of the Israeli Council for Culture and Art, and a leftist activist. She worked at “Betzelem” in the past and is one of the founders of “Politically Koret” (“The Political Feminist Reader”). Lior and I are at opposite ends of the spectrum. When she was on the council of “Politically”, we argued all the time.
To me, Lior represents the white left, a feminist on the one hand, who reaches out to Mizrahi feminists like myself, but who on the other hand has no shared experience with me. But now I wanted to speak especially to her, feeling that this experience was being shared by the entire country. And that the conversation will be intellectual and not emotional.
“I was in Ramat-Gan on October 7th”, Lior said. “On the third floor of a building without a reinforced room or a shelter, with a partner who had broken her leg two days ago, and with a 7-month old baby. All I could think about is where it would be safest for Alma, Tamar and me.”
Feel safe in your environment. A privilege that was severely shaken for all of us on October 7th. Countless scenes run through our heads, such as where will we hide small children, how do we acquire a weapon. We imagine what we would do if someone were shooting at us, if there’s a siren, if I get shot or if I need to choose from among my children if I can’t save them all.
In the political dialog, personal safety is considered a value of the right, a militaristic value. Certainly not a feminist one. On the other hand, the desire for personal safety is one of the most meaningful aspirations powering the feminist movement from the day it was born. Women who discovered that a real threat to their security could be in their own homes, joined together and learned that it wasn’t just a few isolated cases, but a social phenomenon. They called it “patriarchy” – the control of women by men.
In fact, personal safety is a basic value for every man and woman. It is directly linked to the principle of freedom. The freedom to walk the streets safely, with the knowledge that I will not be murdered because I’m a Jew, a woman, a lesbian or any other targeted group, is what makes us free.
Feminists generally seek to attain security through dialog, non-violent struggle, policy changes, long-term processes. For years men have viewed security as something that is achievable only through war, power and conquest.
“Both of my brothers are in the Reserves”, she tells me. “One in the North and one in the South. The last time I was in this situation, in a war with a brother in the Army, was when I worked in “Betzelem”. That was a very strange situation to be in. My opinions haven’t changed in the past few weeks, but the fact that my brothers are there makes it very complex. Thinking about how and what they’re saying. I think a lot before I write something, which is why I’m writing less”.
I approached Lior because I wanted to understand the silence in the liberal, left dialog. A silence that Mirzhi leftists know well, that they are forced to adopt in different political spaces – in the “Mizrahi” home, the right-wing street or the left-wing space. Because in each of these spaces they are the “other”.
The public space is suffering from a large vacuum regarding the liberal conversation and silence from the few voices that still exist. Nationalism is the only option.
Do you feel like you’re able to speak out?
“I’m very limited in what I say today, as opposed to the past. In the last war I had the time to go to Google to pull out information and say what’s happening in Gaza and the West Bank. Today I have a 7-month old child, I don’t have the time. I also don’t want to. I don’t go to websites, I’ve limited myself to half an hour a day.”
In the age in which propaganda in Social Media is an inseparable part of the war effort, the endless roaming between thousands of stories, videos, posts, testimonials, experiences, opinions and stances that force you to decide who you identify with and what you share has caused many of us to feel paralyzed, to consider the viewpoint of every post, is it from “them” or from “us”? When every wrong word or share could make others suspect you of treason.
“For years now, my Facebook page has been aimed at people who think like me. But now I’m starting to see that people who shared my opinions are suddenly writing something else altogether. Not because they’ve changed their minds, it’s just that suddenly they’re using militant language. A lot of love for the Army, which is difficult for me. My words are coming from an anti-violence and anti-militarism world view, followed by everything else. And now, all of a sudden, my Facebook friends are sharing posts full of militarism.”
Fear is a fascist emotion – it’s the human defense mechanism. You’re scared, and the need to protect yourself, your children and your family brings out the violence in you, which eventually becomes state policy. Fascism. In a country in which fear is everywhere, Fascism rules and freedom remains hidden in a drawer. The leftwing dialog isn’t legitimate. Every humanitarian discussion loses legitimacy.
“This makes me very sad. I have no doubt that the posts which I’m sharing today are significantly less blunt than those I’ve shared in the past, both because I’m not writing them myself and because I don’t want to.”
Silence can be a result of the traumatic and violent situation in which we find ourselves. It’s a typical reaction to trauma – a Freeze response as part of the Fight or Flight mechanism. Muteness, violence, as opposed to entering a mode of war. The Freeze response destroys our words.
“What I’m trying to do now is to gather as many voices as possible in favor of empathy and inclusion; that is, positive emotions. I’m not talking about the dead in Gaza, I’m not saying we need to lay down our weapons and do something profound politically. I’m not saying that we need to put half of our government in jail … I’m also not writing that I hate them. Every time I see them on television, I want to write how much I hate them and how fascist they are. And I don’t do that. I think this happened to me after Alma was born – I don’t want those feelings anymore. Besides, I think there are enough violent emotions in Israeli space.”
I was born and lived most of my life in Sderot. When missiles were being fired at us, I remember going into Facebook, and seeing that the feminist dialog simply ignored our war situation. It was a frustrating feeling of being abandoned. They talked about body hair or equal pay, while my physical safety was under threat. For many years, the feminist and Israeli leftist dialog skipped over the residents of the South. They were considered “collateral damage” within the Israeli-Palestinian dialog, and the real suffering of people who felt a basic insecurity in their living space was ignored.
Now, when the entire country feels the threat of Hamas, it’s impossible to overlook it. This is where the sobering up takes place. All of a sudden it touches emotion, and the academic dialog doesn’t provide any answers. But there’s no other language we can use.
“For a long time, including in Politically Koret, we’ve been trying to find the language,” says Lior. “I think that feminism hasn’t yet found the language to discuss grief.”
Creating a new language that deals with politics and security is a challenge that we at Politically Koret have been struggling with over the past year, through creating a creative space for feminist dialog for Jewish and Palestinian women journalists working together, that deals directly with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“It’s been seven months now that I haven’t been able to find the words. A language that’s different from what we use in our daily lives. I don’t have the language. The language that exists today isn’t good for me. Ynet, Ha’aretz, Al-Jazeera, Facebook and Instagram – I don’t even know what to say. We were butchered on October 7, I have no words to describe what happened there. It was a total breakdown, I have no words. I’m lucky that I wasn’t there. I have no words for what we’re doing in Gaza, this cruelty, it seems to me unnecessary. The number of posts I’ve written and deleted since this government came to power, is the most I’ve ever done. I feel very, very small – totally without influence. I don’t have a language and I can’t use the existing language – so I have no influence. Now everyone’s listening to exclamation points, and I don’t even have a period. I’m very sorry that I’m not writing, I know that if I write, something will happen. But I feel very, very small.”
I completely identify with this feeling of smallness, like I have no influence. I started writing “Politically Homeless” several years ago, stemming from a feeling of foreignness and alienation in the space where I should have felt belonging. The spaces where I felt I wasn’t being heard. That my identity, of a Moroccan woman from Sderot with a different cultural baggage than most of the people in that space, brings an additional layer to the conversation, a layer that confronts the intellectual claims but within huge walls of silence.
And now, at the height of confusion and lack of language, I feel in Politically that I have more expertise and tools – because I’ve been here before. In the distress and the difficulty – in the silence and the need to find a language that will cause someone to listen. A language that has developed over the years – that speaks to my family in Sderot on the one hand, and to the bastions of white liberalism on the other.
“I think that the fact that I’ve become less of an activist over the years is because the leftwing dialog is very, very violent and blunt, and very strident. People are very strident in general”, Lior sums up her experience. “Especially now that nothing is certain, I need a new language.”
This is the time when any liberal, left-wing position that prefers the tools of peace to those of war, will be answered with silence, calls of treason, and ostracization. There’s a reason all the leftist voices are muted. This national tragedy has hurt us all. Even people who had dared to speak during national emergencies have put their heads down. A weak sharing of stories in English can tell you who’s still with us, believing that another way is possible. Women who are scouring the dialog before making their positions known. You try to understand if she’s with you or if she’s also now against you. Out of the abyss and the blackness, while groping in the dark, there’s a feeling that here we’ll be able to find those who are willing to have a different conversation, create a new language out of the pain and out of their humanity, without giving up either of them. This is the time to create a different language, that doesn’t reject any dialog that isn’t politically correct, and that contains both pain and a great deal of hope.