From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject After Losing Hope for Change, Top Left-wing Activists and Scholars Leave Israel Behind
Date May 29, 2020 5:23 AM
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[ They founded anti-occupation movements and fought for the soul
of Israeli society, but ultimately decided to emigrate. The new exiles
tell Haaretz how they were harassed and silenced, until they had
almost no choice but to leave.] [[link removed]]

LEAVE ISRAEL BEHIND   [[link removed]]


Shany Littman
May 23, 2020
[[link removed]]

[[link removed]]
[[link removed]]
* [[link removed]]

_ They founded anti-occupation movements and fought for the soul of
Israeli society, but ultimately decided to emigrate. The new exiles
tell Haaretz how they were harassed and silenced, until they had
almost no choice but to leave. _

Illustration // Haaretz,


Last December, when no one knew that the coronavirus was lurking
around the corner, Eitan Bronstein Aparicio, 60, and his partner,
Eléonore Merza, 40, left Israel for good. They are both well-known in
circles of left-wing activists. He founded the organization Zochrot
some 20 years ago, she is a political anthropologist, and they
co-authored a book on the Nakba (Arabic for “catastrophe,” as
Palestinians refer to the events surrounding the founding of Israel).
Ideologically, politically and professionally, French-born Merza, the
daughter of a Jewish mother and a Circassian father
[[link removed]],
simply could not bear the situation any longer. Although she was about
to be granted permanent residency status in Israel, she found a job in
Brussels and the couple moved there, with no plans to return.

In a phone conversation with Haaretz from the coronavirus lockdown in
Belgium, Bronstein Aparicio says he still finds it difficult to
believe that he left. “I look on it as a type of exile, a departure
from the center of Israel,” he explains.

Born in Argentina, Bronstein Aparicio emigrated to Israel with his
parents when he was 5, growing up in Kibbutz Bahan in central Israel.
“My name was changed from Claudio to Eitan – I carry the Zionist
revolution with me,” he laughs. He describes himself as a “regular
Israeli” who did military service, like everyone else. A personal
process that he terms the “decolonization of my Zionist identity”
led him to establish Zochrot (“Remembering,” in Hebrew) in 2001,
an NGO that aims to raise awareness of the Nakba
[[link removed]] and
of the Palestinians’ right of return among the Jewish public. He has
five children: Three of them live in Israel, one in Brazil, and the
youngest, a boy who’s almost 4, lives with the couple in Brussels.

“There is one point on which I am completely in accord with the move
– namely, the need to rescue my son from the nationalist,
militaristic education system in Israel. I am glad I got him out of
that,” he says, adding, “People with a similar political profile
to mine have the feeling that we have been defeated and that we will
no longer be able to exert a meaningful influence in Israel. In a
profound sense, we do not see a horizon of repair, of true peace or a
life of quality. A great many people understood this and looked for
another place to live. There is something quite insane in Israel, so
to look at it from a distance is at least a little saner.”

Indeed, many of those who belonged to what’s termed the radical left
in Israel have left the country in the past decade. Among them were
those who devoted their life to activism, founded political movements
and headed some of the country’s most important left-wing
organizations: Not only Zochrot, but B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence,
Coalition of Women for Peace, 21st Year, Matzpen and others. The
individuals include senior academics – some of whom were forced out
of their jobs because of their political beliefs and activities –
and also cultural figures or members of the liberal professions, who
felt they could no longer express their views in Israel without fear.
Many came from the heart of the Zionist left and then moved farther
left, or looked on as the state abandoned principles that were
important to them, to a point where they felt they no longer had a
place in the Israeli public discourse.


Eitan Bronstein Aparicio and his partner, Eléonore Merza, in the
Golan Heights.
Credit: Gil Eliahu  //  Haaretz
They are scattered around the world, trying to build new lives with
fewer internal and external conflicts, very often out of concern for
their children’s future. Most of them shy away from terming
themselves political exiles, but make it plain that opposition to the
Israeli government is what drove them to leave, or at least not to
return. Some declined to be interviewed, from a feeling of unease at
leaving and because they do not want their private act to become a
model for others. Those who spoke to Haaretz would be the first to
admit to enjoying privileges that allowed them to move to a different
country, as none of them faces an uncertain economic future or the
prospect of engaging in menial labor. Still, a clear note of pain runs
through all the conversations.

Among the well-known names no longer living in Israel are the curator
and art theoretician Ariella Azoulay and her partner, philosopher Adi
Ophir, who was among the founders of the 21st Year, an anti-occupation
organization, and refused to serve in the territories; Anat Biletzki,
a former chairwoman of B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center
for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories; Dana Golan, former
executive director of the anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence;
planner and architect Haim Yacobi, who founded Bimkom – Planners for
Planning Rights; literary scholar Hannan Hever, a cofounder of the
21st Year who was active in Yesh Gvul; Ilan Pappe, a one-time
candidate from the Arab-Jewish party Hadash and a member of the group
of “new historians,” who left the country over a decade ago and
lives in London; and Yonatan Shapira, a former pilot in the Israeli
air force who initiated the 2003 letter of the pilots who refused to
participate in attacks in the occupied territories, and took part in
protest flotillas to the Gaza Strip.

* Burying the Nakba: How Israel Systematic
[[link removed]]

Others include political scientist Neve Gordon, who was director of
Physicians for Human Rights and was active in the Ta’ayush Arab
Jewish Partnership, a nonviolent, anti-occupation and civil equality
movement ; Yael Lerer, who helped found Balad, the Arab-nationalist
political party, and was founder of (the now-defunct) Andalus
Publishing, which translated Arabic literature into Hebrew; Gila
Svirsky, a founder of Coalition of Women for Peace; Jonathan
Ben-Artzi, a nephew of Sara Netanyahu, who was jailed for a total of
nearly two years for refusing to serve in the Israeli army; Haim
Bereshit, a BDS activist, who headed the Media and Cinema School in
Sapir College in Sderot and established the city’s cinematheque;
Marcelo Svirsky, a founder of the Kol Aher BaGalil Arab-Jewish
coexistence group and cofounder of the Jewish-Arab school in Galilee;
and Ilana Bronstein, Niv Gal, Muhammad Jabali, Saar Sakali and Rozeen
Bisharat, who sought to create a joint Palestinian-Jewish leisure and
culture venue in the Anna Loulou Bar in Jaffa
[[link removed]] (which
closed in January 2019). 

'I remember vividly the period of the Oslo Accords, the euphoria.
There was a feeling that maybe there would be peace, but that feeling
hasn't existed for a long time. It's a state of constant despair that
keeps growing.'
-Eitan Bronstein Aparicio


The new “leavers” join those who left for political reasons many
years ago, among them: Yigal Arens, a Matzpen activist and son of the
late Moshe Arens, a longtime defense minister; Matzpen activists Moshe
Machover, Akiva Orr and Shimon Tzabar, who left in the 1960s; as well
as the filmmakers Eyal Sivan, Simone Bitton and Udi Aloni, who left in
the 1980s and ‘90s.

The word that recurs time and again in when one speaks with these
individuals is “despair.” Percolating despair, continuing for

“I remember vividly the period of the Oslo Accords, the euphoria –
which I shared,” Bronstein Aparicio says. “I remember years when
there was a feeling that maybe [the conflict] would be resolved and
maybe there would be peace, but that feeling hasn’t existed for a
long time. It’s a state of constant despair that keeps growing.”

Thus, after long years of activism, all the interviewees testified
that they had lost hope for political change in Israel. Many of them
are convinced that if change does occur, it will not come from within
Israel. “I think it could come mainly from outside,” Bronstein
Aparicio explains. “I have hopes for BDS, which is the only
significant thing now happening in the field. From that point of view,
political exile like this can have a meaningful role.”


Neve Gordon
[[link removed]],
54, launched his political activity when he was 15, attending
demonstrations held by Peace Now. He was wounded seriously during his
military service as a combat soldier in the Paratroops. At the time of
the first intifada (which began in December 1987), he served as the
first executive director of Physicians for Human Rights Israel.
Subsequently he was active in Ta’ayush, which pursues avenues of
Jewish and Palestinian cooperation, and was a founder of the
Jewish-Arab school in Be’er Sheva. During the second intifada he was
part of the movement of refusal to serve in the Israel Defense Forces.


Political scientist Neve Gordon.
Credit: Haim Bresheeth  //  Haaretz
Although his political activity has been extensive, Gordon may be best
known to the general Israeli public primarily for an opinion piece he
published in The Los Angeles Times in 2009
[[link removed]],
when he was head of the department of politics and government at
Ben-Gurion University in Be’er Sheva. In the essay, Gordon stated
his support for the boycott movement and termed Israel an apartheid
state. An international furor erupted, and the university’s
president at the time, Rivka Carmi, declared that “academics who
feel that way about their country are invited to look for different
professional and personal accommodation.”

In the years that followed, Gordon’s department at BGU became a
target of systematic campaigns by right-wing organizations, notably Im
Tirtzu, which demanded its closure because of the political views of a
number of its faculty members. In 2012, Education Minister Gideon
Sa’ar (Likud) called for Gordon’s dismissal. At the end of that
year, the Council for Higher Education recommended that the university
consider shutting down the Gordon’s department if certain reforms
weren’t undertaken, but its decision was ultimately revoked a few
months later after a few changes were introduced.

In those tumultuous years, the professor says, he received a number of
threats on his life. Three and a half years ago, he and his partner,
Catherine Rottenberg, who was head of the university’s gender
studies program, together with their two sons, moved to London after
both received European Union research fellowships. Gordon is now a
professor of international law and human rights at Queen Mary
University of London.

It wasn’t the threats on his life that prompted him to leave, Gordon
says, nor the struggle against the higher education establishment. In
the end, what tipped the scales was concern for the future of their
children. “I don’t see a political horizon, and I have two sons,
with all that’s entailed in raising sons in Israel.”

_And you also landed an excellent job in London._

“True, but my job in Israel was better by a long shot. I really
liked the Ben-Gurion department, I liked the students and also the
faculty. I felt I had a community, and it was very hard to give that
up. Even when we got to London, we didn’t plan to stay. If we’d
been a young couple without children, I’m not sure we would have
stayed.” Gordon adds, “It’s not the easiest thing, to get up and
leave at the age of 50-something. There’s a feeling of personal
failure and the failure of a [political] camp.”

_Was there a particular moment when the impossibility of remaining in
Israel became clear?_

“There was no one moment. Over the years we experienced growing
extremism. It reached the point where we felt uncomfortable taking our
children to demonstrations, because of the violence. The day-to-day
racism is creating a place where I don’t feel I belong.”

The final blow, says Gordon, came when he began to feel it was no
longer possible to speak out freely against the racist situation he
witnessed. “The dialogue within Israel, which used to be open and
which I took pride in, changed. Things that people like me espouse –
support for the boycott movement, or terming Israel an apartheid state
– became illegitimate,” he says. “And then you are already not
only outside the consensus, but outside the true public discussion.
You become a curiosity. And then you say, ‘What do I need this

A 2004 demonstration by members of the Ta'ayush anti-occupation
movement. The word that recurs constantly when talking to activists
who opted to leave Israel is "despair."
Credit: Olivier Fitoussi  //  Haaretz
_Did the country change, or did you change?_

“To be fair, the change is undoubtedly both in me and in the
country. I also underwent a certain process. What I understood was
that the solution cannot be contained in Zionism.”

Haim Yacobi, Gordon’s colleague at BGU, and subsequently head of its
politics and government department, also left Israel. One of the
founders of Bimkom, which deals with issues of equality in spatial
planning and housing in Israel, Yacobi, an architect by training who
is today 55 years old, moved to England three years ago with his
partner and their three children, when he received a professorship at
University College London. Like Gordon, he says that he did not leave
because of political harassment: “If you look at the political
situation in Israel squarely, on top of the colonial project in the
West Bank and Israel’s becoming an apartheid state, then the
question that arises is what I want for myself and for my children.”

He adds, “For people like me – whose work is critical and
political, and who were also involved as activists – the politics of
hope or of despair is of very weighty significance,” he says. “To
emigrate at my age and status is to say: I am in despair, I see no
hope. That stems from my political analysis, based on how I view as a
just state and society. It’s not a decision that’s made overnight.
We didn’t leave Israel because of the price of cottage cheese. We
were exactly at the stage in which good bourgeois folks start to see
the fruits of their labors, and I feel that I was very successful in
what I did in Israel. It’s very frightening to emigrate at a late
age and to reinvent yourself.” 

The final blow, says Gordon, came when he began to feel it was no
longer possible to speak out freely against the racist situation he

Yacobi notes that many of his colleagues in Israel, even among the
radical left, viewed his leaving as a betrayal. That reaction came as
a surprise, but didn’t make him change his mind. “The motivation
to establish Bimkom was my belief that change was possible. I am less
naive now,” he says, adding that the political violence in Israel
led him to realize that getting out was the only option for him.

Although Yacobi says he felt wanted in Israeli academia, he agrees
that academic freedom in the country has been downgraded. “I think
that very problematic forces, politically, have entered and have
effectively become the police of the academic world,” he says.


Indeed, one of the disturbing things that emerged from the
conversations with academics now living and working abroad is the
decisive contribution of Israeli institutions of higher education in
forcing out scholars who espouse a radical-left political outlook. The
process was not always a blatant one, and even when it was, some of
the interviewees adamantly refused to talk about what they underwent,
for fear their former universities would react by trying to damage
their professional reputations.

A clear-cut case, which was reported widely, was the refusal of
Bar-Ilan University, in early 2011, to grant tenure and promotion to
Ariella Azoulay, who had been teaching at the institution for 11
years. Dr. Azoulay, 58, a scholar of visual culture, curator,
documentary filmmaker and one of Israel’s most influential
interdisciplinary thinkers, was hired by Bar-Ilan five years after the
assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, when the university had an image
problem. This was an act with a pluralistic aroma: to employ a
lecturer with well-known leftist views at a university with a
religious, right-wing orientation where the prime minister’s
assassin had been a student. A decade later, deep into the Netanyahu
era, when right-wing organizations were compiling blacklists of
scholars who criticized Israel, Azoulay’s radical approach
apparently sat less well with the university’s directors.


Curator and art theoretician Ariella Azoulay.
Credit: tomislav medak  //  Haaretz
To the broad protest by senior academics who expressed concern that
Azoulay was a victim of political persecution, Bar-Ilan University
responded that its considerations had been strictly professional.
Still, her achievements were enough for her to get a job offer from
Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island – an Ivy League
university with a reputation as one of the world’s finest
institutions of higher learning.

A year and a half after she was denied tenure, Azoulay left the
country together with her partner, Adi Ophir, a philosophy scholar
[[link removed]] and
lecturer at Tel Aviv University, and a leading figure in the Israeli
left. Prof. Ophir was 61 at the time; Azoulay was 51. The offer she
received from Brown included a teaching position for him as well. For
the past seven years, the two have been living in Providence,
teaching, conducting research and writing books that enjoy impressive
international success.

Ophir is leery of the term “political exiles.” “Decisions of
this kind are a combination of many things,” he says in a Zoom
conversation from Rhode Island. “The trauma of [Azoulay’s]
ejection from Bar-Ilan was an important part of it. Before that we had
never looked for job opportunities abroad. Only when it became clear
that they were going to throw her out for political reasons. And also
the way the dismissal was received by academic colleagues – there
was a respectable letter of support, but that was all. Other
universities did not volunteer to hire her.

“But still, if she hadn’t received that incredible job offer [at
Brown], it’s possible that we would not have had the determination
or the strength to undertake such a dramatic move. The more
significant political fact is that since we got here we haven’t
considered returning. The moment a full life became possible in a
different place, the political and moral compromises that life in
Israel entails became intolerable.”

_Is what happened to Azoulay typical of what’s going on in Israeli
universities and colleges today?_

Ophir: “A rift opened at the start of the second intifada [in 2000].
We saw ourselves become increasingly anathematized. I was never
persecuted at Tel Aviv University, but there’s this constant feeling
of something growing all around, a kind of encrustation and it
signifies: These are the boundaries, you can’t cross them, those
ideas can’t be voiced now, you can’t deal with those things.
Because for anyone who does deal with them, it’s not clear whether
his doctorate will be approved, or whether his article will be
accepted, or whether his students will receive scholarships. In my
case, at least, everything was very minor, but there was a growing
feeling that we were simply no longer wanted in this place.”

From afar, he continues, “I started to see things I didn’t see
from there. In Israel, I had many reservations about BDS. I thought
about it from the viewpoint of my activity in academia, and I kept
trying to tread between the raindrops, as it were: to recognize the
legitimacy of the boycott movement without accepting its sweeping
formulation. But I came to understand that what I was trying to do was
protect myself and my space in the academic world.”

Ophir wasn’t always in that zone of consciousness. He grew up in a
right-wing Revisionist home before becoming a devoted member of the
socialist Zionist youth movement Hamahanot Ha’olim. In 1987, he
cofounded the 21st Year together with Hannan Hever, who became a
professor of Hebrew literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
and is now living in the United States. Theirs was a protest movement
that called for refusal to serve in the territories and for the
boycott of products made in the settlements.

“Hannan and I spoke at the time about the refusal to serve in the
army in terms of self-fulfillment,” he relates. “We thought that
personal commitment to the State of Israel was to be expressed in a
refusal to serve in the territories. I was totally a Zionist. It took
me more time to understand what it means to be a Zionist.”

Ophir does not deny that the country he lives in, the United States,
is responsible for horrific wrongs. “In that sense, the United
States is a terrible place, and since Trump’s election it has become
a lot more terrible,” he says. “But when you oppose the regime in
the United States, you are not alone. You are part of a large mass,
active and creative. I can talk about it with students with absolute
freedom. In my last years in Israel I felt that when I talked politics
at the university, I was looked at like a UFO.”



Philosopher Adi Ophir.

_Do you also feel less alone in regard to your views about Israel?_

“For the majority of my colleagues, Israel is a lost case. And most
of the time, I am with them. A political exile is someone whose life
remained in the place he left, and whose life in the new place is
stamped in that context. I don’t feel that way. I feel a great deal
of pain together with a deep sense of pointlessness. Occasionally I
still do something on campus, small things. That is my ‘reserve
duty.’ But the center of my attention and interest is no longer
there. The whole world is going from bad to worse, possibly toward its
end. The Zionist colonial project is a tiny blip within it.”

He continues, “It was a long process of separation. My mother died
after many years of dementia. The parting from her lasted 15 years.
The parting from Israel somewhat resembles that. Israel is something
that is becoming alien and remote. In large measure I replaced my
interest in political Israel with a growing interest in Jewish thought
and history. I found myself a small patch that replaces the house in
Tel Aviv. I’m enjoying being a Diaspora Jew.”

A political exile is someone whose life remained in the place he left,
and whose life in the new place is stamped in that context. I don't
feel that way.'
- Adi Ophir

_Were there people who felt you were abandoning ship?_


Yes – a good many, I think. Some said so openly. I thought they
should be leaving, too. But that’s easy to say: Not everyone gets a
golden parachute for relocating. Obviously there is an egoistical
element in what we did.”

_Are there things you miss about Israel?_

“Hummus?” Ophir laughs. “Just kidding. I miss my children and my
grandchildren. Very much. Sometimes I miss Tel Aviv. Sometimes I miss
traveling around the country – going to the desert in winter. But
there is hardly a place that I would walk across today and not feel
that I was walking on someone else’s land.”

Ariella Azoulay declined to be interviewed, but sent a written
statement: “I don’t trust the press and I don’t want to be
represented by it; I support the boycott and have no interest in being
interviewed for a Zionist newspaper. What I have to say about the fact
that I was born to be an ‘Israeli’ as a form of control by the
state over the body and mind of its subjects and citizens, and about
my refusal to identify myself in the ‘Israeli’ category, I wrote
in the introduction to my new book and I have nothing to add to that.

“And in addition, emigration out of a feeling of the impossibility
of living in the place where you were born, because you serve to keep
out those who were expelled from it, is painful, and I have no
interest in sharing that pain with a Zionist audience that denies the
pain and the loss that the State of Israel inflicted and is continuing
to inflict, above all on its Palestinian inhabitants, and in a
different way on its Jewish citizens.” (Azoulay’s most recent book
is “Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism,” published last


Hagar Kotef, 43, found herself in an even more disturbing situation
with regard to an Israeli university. Dr. Kotef, who was active in
Machsom Watch and other left-wing movements, completed her doctoral
studies in philosophy at Tel Aviv University and at the University of
California, Berkeley. In 2012, she had an opportunity to come back to
Israel as part of a plan to integrate returning academics. She was
offered a teaching job in a prestigious program at one of the
country’s universities.


Hagar Kotef.
Credit: Michal Ruzanksy  //  Haaretz

On the evening before her contract was approved, a right-wing NGO
launched a campaign against her employment by the university. As a
result, the rector refused to sign the contract, and the university
put forward new conditions for the appointment, notably a demand that
she sign a commitment relating to her political activity: Kotef was
required to undertake not to attend demonstrations, not to sign
petitions and not to speak publicly – or in the classroom – about
any subject not related to her academic research.

It was the summer of 2014. When Operation Protective Edge broke out,
in the Gaza Strip, Kotef signed an internet petition calling for
Israel to negotiate with Hamas. Minutes later, she received a phone
call from the university informing her that her employment was
terminated. Kotef took the case to the Labor Court and was reinstated.
“I started to work, but my job contract never arrived.”

Kotef and her partner, a physicist and brain scientist, started to
look for jobs in England. “It was clear that staying there [at the
university] wasn’t an option, and also that I wouldn’t find a job
anywhere else in Israel,” she says.

Kotef later found employment as a senior lecturer in politics and
political theory in the University of London’s School of Oriental
and African Studies. After teaching a semester there, she and her
family left Israel permanently: “The combination of what happened in
the university, the war, the violence in the streets, the fear to
speak out, the racism and the hatred simply broke me.”


A 2014 protest in Tel Aviv against the war in Gaza. The signs say "A
demonstration of hope" and "Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies."
Credit: Tomer Appelbaum  //  Haaretz
Even today, six years later, Kotef is still clearly shaken by the
memories of that period. “Exile is too highly charged a concept: I
don’t categorize myself as a political exile, because all in all we
left for a good job and a good place. But at the same time, we did not
leave by choice and it wasn’t a relocation.” Kotef admits frankly
that she did not find a way to continue her political activity in

“I’m not capable of being an activist [regarding Israel or other
issues] here,” she adds. “A few years ago, my partner scolded me
for going to a demonstration: ‘We’ve already been expelled from
one country because of you, we don’t want to be expelled from

_Do you feel guilty about leaving?_

Kotef: “No. I lost hope that it’s possible to change things from
within, so I don’t feel I could be doing something if I were [in
Israel]. If anything, I feel guilty toward my family, toward my
parents, who were separated from their granddaughters, and toward my
daughters, whom I moved to this place. Sometimes I look and say it’s
lucky we’re not in Israel; and sometimes there is a feeling of loss.
London is a cosmopolitan city, but there is still a hatred of
minorities here, which Brexit exposed intensely, and we will always be
strangers here.

“But I prefer to live and raise children in a place where my
foreignness sometimes generates antagonism, rather than in a place
where I am part of the side that is racist toward the other. There are
moments when I ask myself what we have done, but I don’t feel that
it was really our choice.”

Dangerous place

“I did not have a golden parachute of work in academia like some
others had,” says Yael Lerer, 53, a translator and editor who
spearheaded attempts to draw Israelis and Palestinians closer together
from a civic and cultural point of view. Lerer, who moved to Paris in
2008, was a central activist in the Equality Alliance, an Arab-Jewish
political movement out of which emerged Balad (acronym for National
Democratic Alliance), later serving as the party’s spokesperson,
parliamentary assistant to MK Azmi Bishara and as Balad’s first
election campaign manager. She founded Andalus Publishing in 2001.


Yael Lerer
Credit: Shlomi Elkabetz  //  Haaretz

Although Lerer has lived in Paris for more than a decade, she says she
feels she never left Israel. “I come and go. I haven’t sliced
myself off from Israel. It’s just that my day-to-day life has become
more pleasant. My French friends complain about racism in that
country, but we are talking a whole different scale from

I prefer to live and raise children in a place where my foreignness
sometimes generates antagonism, rather than in a place where I am part
of the side that is racist toward the other.'
- Hagar Kotef

The political persecution she experienced in Israel sometimes also
makes it difficult for her to find work in France; to make ends meet
she has to supplement her earnings from translation and editing by
working in real estate (“which I really hate”). “There are
projects that interest me but that they don’t let me do, because
when I’m googled in France the first thing that appears is that I am
one of those Israelis who forged an alliance with the terrorists,”
she says. “There was incitement to murder me and I was slandered. I
was offered a job in television, but someone vetoed it, because they
didn’t want to get in trouble with the Jewish community. Research
institutes that approached me also backed off at the last minute for
the same reason. So I can work mainly in things where I am not
up-front [about who I am].”

In 2013, Lerer returned to Israel for a time and was a Knesset
candidate on behalf of Balad, in the 12th (and unrealistic) place on
its list. While taking part in a panel discussion ahead of the
election at Netanya Academic College, she was the target of a violent
attack by rightists. The other panel participants did not come to her
defense, she says.

“It was almost a lynching,” she recalls. “It’s a lucky thing
there were security guards. I’d always thought that even if I
received hate messages and threats of murder, it would only be on the
web, but that in real life no one would do anything really bad to me.
Suddenly I understood that I could no longer count on that. I
understood that Israel had become a dangerous place for me.”


Saar Sakali and Rozeen Bisharat.
Credit: Haaretz

Rozeen Bisharat and Saar Székely, who are life partners, despaired of
Israel at a younger age than the other interviewees, but even so, they
felt they had to leave fast. “The best point to emigrate is in your
early twenties,” says Székely. “But I was already 33 and Rozeen
was 32, and we had the feeling that in another minute it would be too

Székely, who is Jewish, and Bisharat, who is Palestinian, were among
the owners of the Anna Loulou Bar in Jaffa, and were political
activists in different ways. Bisharat was involved in the student
organization of Hadash, and during the social justice protests of the
summer of 2011, erected “Tent 48” on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel
Aviv, in an effort to simultaneously raise awareness of the Nakba.
Székely was an activist via political performance art. They left
Israel two-and-a-half years ago.

What prompted their departure, they say, was the question of whether
it was possible to effect change. “When you try to exert influence
or to change public opinion, it depends on whether you believe that
it’s still possible to change things,” Székely says. “It’s a
question of optimism – and that’s what we ran out of in the period
before this.”

Hope waned for Bisharat after the protest movement ended and was
severely battered in the Gaza war of 2014.

“For years I thought it was possible to generate change in Israeli
society, to bring people content they hadn’t been exposed to,” she
says. “But having a different opinion started to be considered
treason. Automatically, if you don’t agree with the state’s way,
you are a traitor. And I, as a Palestinian, was told: ‘You don’t
like it? Go to Gaza.’ There’s no one to hold a discussion with.
Not even in Tel Aviv. Part of my leaving was a desire to liberate
myself from my role as ‘a Palestinian in Tel Aviv.’ In Berlin I am
from the Middle East, or part of the Arab world. I am not a gimmick
the way I was in Tel Aviv, but one of hundreds of thousands of other
foreigners. Berlin gives me access to the Arab world, I can meet
Syrians, Egyptians and Lebanese, I can be Middle Eastern. Tel Aviv
today is far more white and European than Berlin. My real cultural
exile was in Israel.”

_[Shany Littman. Shany is the Culture Writer for Haaretz, served as
Deputy Editor of The Marker's Weekend Edition, and worked as a
documentary-film researcher. She studied Philosophy, History, and

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