We need to get involved

I told myself, “Stop complaining. Do something!” And I am. I’m an adviser to Isaac Herzog in his campaign for leadership of the Labor Party.

By GARY COHEN
July 5, 2011 23:14
4 minute read.
Gary Cohen

Gary Cohen 58. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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I moved back to Israel from the UK three years ago with my three children. I did so because of my love of this country and my conviction that this is by far the best place to bring up my children. In general, I am happy with my decision and feel that we do indeed have a better life here than in the UK. However, over the past three years, I have become increasingly concerned and frustrated.

I am concerned about the erosion of democratic values in our country. I am frustrated by the ongoing assaults on our freedom of expression. I am angered by the acute concentration of wealth in the country, by the huge gap between rich and poor, and by the shameful levels of poverty (one in four children now lives beneath the poverty line). I am incensed at what I see as the sacrifice of national interests for the sake of personal interests and political survival, and I am dumbfounded by the seemingly complete lack of vision or leadership in the current administration. In short, the country is headed in the wrong direction, which puts my children’s future at risk and brings into question the wisdom of my decision to bring them here. So what to do? I have always been politically aware and had an interest in current affairs. I suppose that’s why I make documentary films. However, I have always avoided politics and political activism like the plague, employing the familiar and perhaps logical arguments that politics is corrupt, politics is no place for an idealist, politicians would eat me alive, what can one man do? It’s a waste of time.

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Then I stopped myself and took a long, hard look.

The simple fact is that politics in this country is indeed corrupt. How corrupt as compared to mature Western democracies, I don’t know; let’s just say that the quality of human capital involved in politics in this country could do with improvement. But – and it’s a big but – if all I do is complain while leaving politics to the “jackals” who currently reside in the Knesset, then, well, as they say, a people tends to get the government it deserves. One thing clear to me is that we as a people need to deserve much, much better.

So I said to myself, “Stop complaining. Do something!” And I am. I’m an adviser to Isaac Herzog in his campaign for leadership of the Labor Party. I want Herzog to win so he can reform and rebuild the Labor party and establish a viable alternative to the current administration. Now agree or disagree with me, whatever your political stance, the strength of a democracy is measured not by the strength of those in power, but by the strength of its opposition – one thing that for me is all too conspicuous by its absence in recent years.

We in the English-speaking community understand what democracy is and how it is supposed to work.

We come from mature and stable democracies. We come from civil societies where the basic freedoms are a matter of course. We moved to this country out of ideology and believe (most of us) in the Jewish democratic values set out in its Declaration of Independence.



We are involved in every element of Israeli society, from hi-tech to education, finance to the arts.

We run charities and volunteer to help immigrants, disenfranchised youth, battered women and drug addicts, among a host of deserving causes. As a group, we have no particular special interest, we just want to see the country flourish, to succeed across the board, to ensure that the country to which we chose to bring our children provides them with a promising future.

But what we don’t do is get involved with politics.

In the past, there have been several efforts to get the English-speaking community to do this, with little success. I see the English-speaking community as perhaps the greatest untapped resource for politics in this country, with a great deal to contribute. The cynicism and apathy with which we approach politics must be overcome. Many of us have the skills – including language – to make a difference. As long as we leave the world of politics to the corrupt, the self-interested and the mediocre, we will continue to get far less than we deserve, but we deserve no better unless we are willing to act. If we want things to change, we have to change them. Perhaps for starters we need to change our attitude.

Regardless of whether you agree with my personal mission to return Labor to a prominent position in politics, or perhaps precisely because you strongly disagree, get involved. Join a political party, become an activist, start a pressure group. If you want to, be a member of Knesset, maybe even a minister or a local councilor. It’s taking part that counts, and in this particular matter, it counts for a great deal. To my mind, this is the best way the English-speaking community can truly make a difference, influence events and help this country earn the kind of political system and government that at the moment we can only hope to deserve.

The writer is a Scottish-born, award-winning documentary film maker and writer. After many years abroad, he returned to live in Israel in 2008 and continues to develop documentary projects as well as working as a marketing and TV consultant.

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