JERUSALEM -- To anyone who follows internal Israeli politics, it should come as no surprise that Israeli society perceives itself as more divided and fragmented than perhaps ever in the history of the country.
Nearly two-in-three Israelis today believe their society is “divided,” or “very divided.” A large majority – about 75 percent – believe that political leadership is the largest contributor to the nation’s divisiveness.
Those were the major findings of a recent poll of 500 Israeli adults, which also found relatively low levels of confidence, hovering at around 7 percent, among the Israeli public in the nation’s level of social cohesion.
We at the Anti-Defamation League commissioned this poll ahead of our inaugural summit on social cohesion, Israel 2048, taking place on Oct. 24 in Tel Aviv. ADL is using the milestone of its 40th year of having an on-the-ground presence in Israel as a springboard to help Israelis imagine what Israel should look like at its centennial year.
The one-day ADL conference aims to help Israelis envision the society they want to see 30 years from now, while also identifying the key areas of social tension that may stand in the way of realizing that vision.
There’s no doubt that there’s a growing rift between the various segments of Israeli society across religious, economic, political and social lines. And, issues such as the conversion bill and the decision of the government of Israel to suspend the implementation of the Western Wall egalitarian prayer space, have amplified tensions between Israel and American Jewry.
ADL’s first-ever Israel 2048 conference will attempt to take a step back and look at these issues and others through a larger lens. We’ve tried to bring together as many disparate voices as possible. The conference will engage representatives from all segments of Israeli society, including settlers, Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews, Arabs, Russians, Ethiopians, and others.
Prominent speakers will include former minister of defense, Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon (Likud); Knesset Member Amir Peretz (Zionist Union); Daniel Shapiro, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel; Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center; and Aluf Benn, Editor-in-Chief of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
The goal of our conference is to enable Israeli civil society and government to take a step back and reflect on the change they want to make. We also hope to identify key areas where ADL can serve as the connective tissue between Israeli civil society in order to support their efforts through ADL programming and training.
A series of panel discussions will delve into particular issues, including the Israeli educational system, the role of religion in the Israeli public square, the role of diaspora Jewry and its relationship with Israel, and the competing narratives in Israeli society.
Why should this initiative come from ADL, which is a proud American Jewish organization? We believe this initiative is a natural one for us because of the combination of deep involvement and support for Israel that we have manifested for decades under different American administrations and Israeli governments and because of the vast experience and expertise that ADL brings to the table regarding issues of social cohesion, pluralism, respect for differences and the importance of unity.
ADL’s Israel Office has been a voice against hate and incitement in Israel since we opened our doors in Jerusalem in 1977. We have provided anti-bias educational trainings and resources, bringing together diverse Israeli communities – Druze, Ethiopian, Christian, Russian, Bedouin, Charedi, secular, new-immigrant and others.
And we want to do more to help Israel envision a more cohesive society in the future.
While we plan to be more engaged in addressing issues in Israel surrounding the challenge of social cohesion, we will continue ADL’s long tradition of being a strong advocate for the state of Israel and for strong U.S.-Israel relations.
A cohesive society will not be built in one day. As Americans well know, the political, social, racial and economic divisions within our society feel even more amplified in 2017 than they did even 10 years ago.
But an event that brings together wide swaths of Israeli society – from a young Haredi blogger making waves on the internet to former Ministers of Defense Moshe Ya’alon and Amir Peretz– is a good and important start.
As Israeli President Reuven Rivlin noted in 2015: “A child from Beit El, a child from Rahat, a child from Herzliya and a child from Beitar Illit — not only do they not meet each other, but they are educated toward a totally different outlook regarding the basic values and desired character of the State of Israel.”
In a nation of just over 8,000 square miles, it shouldn’t be so hard to create a bridge between the issues and barriers that divide society in this way. If all goes well, we hope to make this an annual summit that will convene in a different geographical location and a different community, focusing on the challenges and solutions from the local to the national.
Jonathan Greenblatt is CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.