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Mira Sucharov

Mira Sucharov 's Dilemma of a Diaspora Jew at an Israeli peace rally with Editor's Response

By Rhonda Spivak , July 9, 2011

In an article published in Ha'aretz in June, Mira Sucharov  wrote about her experience and dilemna participating in a Peace-Now demonstration in Tel-Aviv, and discussed the issue of whether Diaspora Jews, involved in Jewish life, ought to be protesting againt a government that is not their own. [ For a complete read of the article, go to ]

In describing her dilemna,Sucharov, who is a Canadian political scientist who speaks Hebrew and was raised on a steady diet of   summers at a Zionist summer camp, wrote that  while at the  demonstration she was given a Peace Now flag and chanted, "“Bibi, recognize Palestine. Two states for two peoples!."

She describes  finding herself in the " front row of thousands of marchers" saying that the experience was "exhilarating and meaningful, until it sank in that I was protesting a government that is not my own."

Later that evening Sucharov  hopes that there weren't any photos taken by the media of her in the protest , as  "What would my Israeli family think if they found that their Canadian relative was protesting their government? I have a deep affection for Israel, have dedicated my career to the subject, speak only Hebrew to my kids, and listen to vintage 1970s Shlomo Artzi albums. But I certainly don’t bear the costs of Israeli policies in blood and treasure as all Israeli citizens necessarily do."

The question Sucharov grapples with  is whether Diaspora Jews  have a certain "moral right"  as Jews to  be  part of the Israeli "national conversation," and asks whether  the Jewish right of return gives Diaspora Jews a status that enables them to participate in rallies in Israel.

As Sucharov begins asking this question-- it is not surprising that Israelis give her different answers. In  assessing a protest, one of her colleagues  felt that the Israeli government has a right to know how many of its own citizens are at the rally.  Other Israelis tell Sucharov that she is  a "stakeholder" in the  Jewish state and  peace activist tells her that  she would like to "deep and meaningful Diaspora involvement with Israel" even if that means being critical of Israel at times.

Sucharov correctly notes that there are many in Israel and abroad who would like Diaspora Jews to be cheer leaders  supporting  Israel’s political stances, defending  Israel on university campuses, contibuting financially sending their kids on trips, study and volunteer programmes etc in Israel. But for others, Diaspora Jews can and ought to apply a critical lens, since constructive criticism from a friend should always be worth listening to.

Sucharov says  there has to be some "quasi-citizenship category" for Diaspora Jews, which enables " legitimate discourse when it comes to Israel."

Sucharov concludes the article by saying  that for her  marching in the demonstration seemed natural , as "natural as scarfing down a Golani falafel in Afula on Friday afternoon...and taking my kids to buy strawberries, peaches, and a handmade kippa in the besieged shuk of Sderot."

I too, like Sucharov, have attended different rallies in Israel over the years.The organizers of a rally  in Israel will of course never object to a Diaspora Jew who supports them joining them--but it may not be something that they wish to see happen when a Diaspora Jew wants to participate in an opposing rally.

But putting this aside, my own view on this is that nothing really critical hinges on the issue of whether Diaspora Jews ought to participate in rallies in Israel either for or against the government. That's because this participation happens both in rallies organized not only by the left-wing in Israel but also by the right wing. Ultimately, the effect a rally has will be measured by the numbers it draws, which won't radically be changed by inclusion or exclusion of the presence of Diaspora Jews.

For example, the particular rally Sucharov went to attracted about 5000 people--and if anything showed  how few Israelis actually believe that the Palestinians are ready to forgoe the right of return and their illusions of a  a one state solution  and come back  to the negotiating table to negotiate a two state solution.  The rally Sucharov attended would have been  significant if it had attracted much larger numbers--more in the realm of 100,000 peopel or more, some 20 times the size that it was. This to me is the critical mass needed in Israel for a rally to have really far reaching effects on the issue of the conflict with the Palestinians. [ Note that the founding rally of Peace Now itself as a movement occured in 1982  after the First Lebanon War where 400,000 people came to the streets to protest the war.]

When you re talking about a rally in Israel that only draws 5000 people, whether or not there are 100 Diaspora Jews like Sucharov or 1000 doesn't really make much of a  difference---it is so far from the  critical mass required to be a game changer.

The notion that a rally relating potentially to war or peace would draw thousands of Diaspora Jews onto the streets of Israel  and not thousands of Israelis is  extremely unkilkely. As such,  whether a few Diaspora Jews are marching in a rally one way or another is not likely to  be politically significant. And remember that for every Mira Sucharov there is at a left wing rally,there will be a right wing Diaspora Jew at an opposite right wing ally --so more or less the two will cancel eachother out anyway. [ I don't have statistics but I would guess if anything, particiation fo Diaspora Jews who are actually in Israel during the time of rallies may ultimately strenghen the right of centre rallies not the left]. But the main point here is that even if Mira took her felafel and her kids to a left-wing rally every day she was in Israel --it would not likely make any difference in the grand scheme of things--aside from the fact that her kids might begin to get a little bored, and her felafel would get stale. Ultimately, Israeli democracy and free speech is strong enough that Sucharov should feel free to  demonstrate anywhere she wants to, as often as she wants to when she's in Israel. 

Having said that the most important aspect ofo the left-wing rally Sucharov attended , in my view, was the absence of Kadima supporters in the rally, which would have been needed to garner tens of thousands of people, not the rather small sum it attracted. The only way to effect change in Israeli politics now would be to pressure Netanyahu to form a unity government with  Livni's Kadima, and drop his  right wing coalition. And that is not likely to happen anytime soon  unless Kadima voters get out on the streets protesting. That's why I think Sucharov would have more of an effect if she marched into Livini's office with her kids and felafel and told  the Kadima leader to get out onto the streets and start showing that middle Israelis want a unity government with Kadima. If Kadima members aren't willing to get out on the streets, I can only think  its because they aren't so sure they want Israel to agree to negotiate with a Palestinian government where an unreformed  Hamas is a full partner, bent on Israel's destrction. Nor do they think the the Palestinians will be likely to compromise on the right of return. Under these circumstances, they likely aren't so comfortable with dividing Jerusalem.

What's interesting is that Livni was at a recent Gay Pride Parade in Israel, but Kadima wasn't part of the organizers of the rally that Sucharov was at, and was nowhere to be found. Some have said she does not have the backbone to put forth a strong opposition to Netahyahu's government.   

If and when the day comes that 100,000 plus Kadima voters are out on the streets along with the left wing protesting Netanyahu's co-alition with right wing parties, calling on him to form a unity government with Livni  then that will be a demonstration  not to miss. It's the one Barack Obama has no doubt been hoping to see, but has not yet materialized.

Finally,  I think that these days, in order to get a sense of whats happening politically in the North American Diaspora,  Israelis will examine  more and more the numbers of Diaspora Jews who turn out to J-Street events and AIPAC [American Israel Public affairs Committee], than they will countning how many Diaspora Jews are participating in demonstrations in Israel.



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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.