Who's planning Israel's 60th? An Arab mayor and a haredi publisher, neither a Zionist

August 23, 2007 22:26
2 minute read.


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In an attempt to include some of the most alienated factions within Israeli society, two self-proclaimed non-Zionists - a haredi media consultant and an Arab mayor - have been appointed to Israel's 60th anniversary planning committee. Sami Issa, mayor of Kafr Kassam, and Dudi Zilbershlag, publisher of the haredi weekly Bakehila and chairman of the philanthropic organization Meir Panim, come from cultures that see the creation of the State of Israel as a mistake, even a tragedy. Nevertheless, both will participate in planning the festivities celebrating the 60th anniversary of the realization of the Zionist dream slated for April 2008. "Taking part in the planning committee does not make me Zionist," said Zilbershlag, who has been called a "traitor" on haredi chat rooms, such as Hydepark's "Bechadrei Charedim" [Haredi inner-rooms], for purportedly betraying ultra-Orthodoxy's historic opposition to secular Zionism. Although not all haredi Jews opposed the creation of the Jewish state (members of the haredi Agudat Yisrael signed the Declaration of Independence), the vast majority do not identify with the goals of secular Zionism. Most do not serve in the army and refrain from integrating into mainstream Israeli society. "I see my role as bringing a little bit of Yiddishkeit to the festivities," said Zilbershlag, somewhat of a maverick among haredi public figures. "Besides, some positive things came out of the State of Israel. For instance, more Jews than ever before in history can now devote themselves to Torah studies." Zilbershlag, who said that he served three months in the IDF after he was married with children, said that he would not take a stand on the issue of whether or not to hire performers for the celebratory events who did not carry out significant army service. Ruhama Avraham-Balili, chair of the anniversary planning committee, announced last week that barring legal obstacles, she would not use artists who had not served in the IDF. Avraham's announcement is part of a national "shame campaign" aimed at stigmatizing draft dodging in the wake of a record rise in 18-year olds skirting IDF induction. Meanwhile, Issa, who like other Arab Israelis is automatically exempt from IDF service, said that his ties to the State of Israel are "full of conflicts." "I live in this state and I believe in co-existence, but I would be lying if I told you that I identify with the joy Israeli Jews feel on Independence Day," he said. "For many of us the creation of the Jewish state is known as the nakba [catastrophe]; for all of us it marked a negative turning point in history." Still, Issa said that as an Israeli citizen and a mayor of a town in Israel he felt obligated to take part in planning the 60th anniversary festivities. "There is a lot of pain associated with the creation of Israel - land that was stolen, people who were expelled. And to this day Arab Israelis suffer from discrimination. For instance, because I am a mayor of an Arab town I receive less from the state. "But I was born here. This is my home. And I am in favor of encouraging the integration of Arabs." Avraham's spokesman, Ilan Marciano, said that a conscious attempt was made to appoint a diverse planning committee that would reflect "the mosaic of Israeli society." "We have members from the Right and from the Left, religious and secular, Jewish and not Jewish, because that is Israeli society," said Marciano.

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