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An open letter from a social justice protester
By GILAD PERRY
08/02/2011
I am turning to you because your voice must also be heard. The character of this unique state – the state for all of the Jewish people – will be determined by your influence.
 
Shalom! I am writing this letter to every Jew in the world and all those who care about the State of Israel and its future, in order to bring to your attention that we currently find ourselves at a historical moment, in which personal and spiritual support is needed more than ever before.

I have been an educator and guide for at-risk youth for 13 years, I am 33 years old and a father to a newborn baby girl, I live in a small Kibbutz in the Galilee, and I am a member of education movement Dror Israel. Like most other Israelis from my generation, I love this country and I love the Jewish nation. I do miluim (military reserve duty), I run educational projects for disadvantaged youth and continue to do all that I can to make my life and the society around me better, more secure and more meaningful.

I define myself as a genuine Zionist.

The State of Israel is a miracle, a social and national phenomenon unlike anything the world has ever seen. The Jewish people, who throughout the generations obligated themselves to a strict moral code of social solidarity, have established an exceptional state based on the essential Jewish values that aided our survival through 2,000 years of exile – “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” and tikkun olam (repairing the world).

I am writing to you because something has changed in Israel. I am not speaking about the conflict. I am speaking of the rift that has broken down the solidarity within the country and compromised our ability to survive as a small state in the Middle East. I am speaking of the fact that out of all OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) member countries, Israel has the most crowded hospitals, the most crowded classrooms and the highest level of poverty. Violence is on the rise, and the periphery is collapsing. This is not the state that Herzl envisioned. It is not Jewish, not Zionist, not democratic.

Recently the cost of living has become so high that the middle class – the people who uphold this country – has been almost entirely eroded. The situation is so severe that it is difficult to supply the most basic of necessities, like housing, health services, education, food and jobs. For the sake of comparison, an Israeli earning an average wage must work for 132 months to purchase an average apartment, whereas an average American would have to work for only 60 months. A container of cottage cheese in Israel costs 1.6 times the amount it costs in England, and baby formula costs 2.5 times what it costs in the US. The situation is similar with other food products, gas, education and more.

This is despite the fact that the average Israeli works more hours than the average citizens of almost every other OECD country. The average Israeli retires at an older age and receives lower wages than most of these countries (three times less than the average Australian and half the wage of the average American).

All of this is taking place even though Israel’s economic growth is among the highest in the world. This can be explained by the following statistic: Israel ranks fourth among Western countries in terms of inequality in wealth distribution (GINI Index) – the economic growth is not trickling down.

Over the last two weeks, I am excited to say that massive numbers of people, young and old, from every point on the political spectrum, unexpectedly, decided to go out into the streets to demand that our country be returned to us.

Hundreds of thousands are joining this non-violent struggle to voice their distress. This is not a struggle of Left or Right. It is not a struggle against this government or any other. In fact, each of the last several governments has taken us in the same direction. This is an Israeli struggle; a Jewish struggle. The struggle is made up of my partners in the Dror Israel Movement, the students, the Histadrut Labor Federation, the doctors, the teachers, the social workers and many additional organizations, but it is primarily a spontaneous struggle of middle-class working people.

At the head of this effort are the young people who have created and are living in tent cities in the streets. The Israeli people have never seen such a wide consensus toward a just path (87 percent fully support the struggle and its goals).

I am turning to you because your voice must also be heard. The character of this unique state – the state of all of the Jewish people – will be determined by your influence.

The process taking place here – including the sale of Jewish national lands to private citizens – is also dangerous for Diaspora Jews. We are in need of wholehearted support from every Jew around the world in order to obtain our simple demands: housing, health, education, food and work for every citizen. Essentially this is a call for Jewish solidarity – Shevet ahim gam yahad (brothers sitting together in unity).

The struggle of Israel’s citizens is primarily a general struggle that demands a change in the character of society, but there are also specific demands that this effort wishes to achieve. All of these demands are based on the rights of all citizens outlined in the country’s Declaration of Independence, as well as the spirit of Theodor Herzl’s vision.

These are the things that I want to be established as the culture of the only Jewish state in the world, for my daughter who will grow up in this country, and for her entire generation. I fear that if we do not pull things together today, our tomorrow will be sad and bitter.

I would like to finish this letter with a quote from Ze’ev Jabotinsky about his vision for Israeli society: “I imagine what we refer to as ‘elementary needs’ as the things that today one must fight for and beg salary for and scream out for. This includes five things: food, home, clothes, the ability to give his children education and the ability to get medical treatment when he is ill.”

If you are interested, there are a number of ways to support the cause:

1. Deepen your understanding of the topics.

2. Distribute information about what is taking place in Israel and about its citizens’ call for change.

3. Every bit of public support for the struggle – YouTube videos, blog posts, social networking, etc. – greatly helps our cause.

4. Join the Facebook group “I support the social protest in Israel 2011.”

5. Organizations or individuals interested in supporting us in other ways or making suggestions are welcome to write to me at gilad@drorisrael.org.il.

In the hope for a better future for us and for our children, Lu yehi (may it be).

The writer is a Zionist educator and the overseas coordinator of the Dror Israel movement.
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