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October 9, 2015 | 26th Tishrei 5776

At the gate

Galilee Diary #416, November 16, 2008

Marc J. Rosenstein


Asher did not dispossess the inhabitants of Acco or the inhabitants of Sidon, Ahlab, Achzib, Helbah, Aphik, and Rehob. So the Asherites dwelt in the midst of the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, for they did not dispossess them.
-Judges 1:31-32

The issue of integrated housing and mixed communities has become a hot topic in our part of the country in recent months:

· Acco, one of the five cities in Israel that has always had a mixed Jewish and Arab population, turns out to have a number of residents in both groups who don't like the mix – leading to rioting on and after Yom Kippur.

· A middle class Arab family applied for membership in Rakefet, a Jewish community in our county. They were turned down as "unsuitable." Their case is now before the supreme court, and there has been a flurry of activity in neighboring communities, trying to figure out how to revise their bylaws in such a way (defining themselves as religiously oriented communities) as to withstand a similar court challenge in the future.

· The recent city council election in Karmiel seemed to revolve around which party could make more outrageous statements about the need – and means – for keeping Arabs from moving into the city (which, of course, there is no legitimate way to do; it was all demagoguery).

It seems that this type of discussion almost always degenerates right away into two absolute positions: either you are a racist, wanting to keep the Arabs out, or you are a post-Zionist, having given up on the idea of a Jewish state. So there is no discourse, no debate, no reflection – there is only choosing sides, sharpening the rhetoric, signing petitions.

It occurred to us that maybe our role as an educational foundation should be to try to "complexify" things a bit, to get people to think before they yell, to try to create an example of thoughtful discourse. So last Saturday night we held a "Café Dilemma" evening. We invited two academics – a sociologist and a historian – to discuss the underlying issues, with the discussion moderated by our former (and founding) county executive, who spent many years dealing with the issues of Jewish and Arab claims regarding land ownership and zoning.

We set up for 30 – but 60 people showed up. It was a fascinating evening – and though there was no "bottom line," still, there was a clear message: it is possible to defend a community's right to try to maintain some kind of homogeneity without being a racist – and it is possible to favor total freedom of citizens of the state to live where they want without undermining the possibility of a Jewish state. If we can clear the air of hysteria and rigid ideologies, we find ourselves caught in a very interesting dilemma – the tension between the right of the individual to live where s/he wants vs. the right of the individual to live with whomever s/he wants. Of course, in a city, the dilemma is much weaker, as in cities, communities are not rigidly defined geographically – they can overlap and intermingle and still have distinct identities. It is in the unique situation of the rural communities, generally started from scratch by small groups of like-minded individuals with some kind of communal vision, that the tension is most strongly felt. In general, as such communities grow, the homogeneity, and thus this tension, fade. However, the communities exist within the context of Israel's larger problems (unclear status of non-Jews, lack of agreed borders, lack of shared national vision), so local tensions end up being actually a reflection of larger issues, and local discussions carry an unfairly heavy ideological burden – which makes it difficult for us to have a civil conversation. Hopefully, Saturday evening's example will make it a little easier.

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