Communal leaders and activists tour Israel to repair societal division

The forum’s activities are taking place for 40 days over the course of the Jewish month of Elul and up until Yom Kippur.

Members of the Forum for Compromise visit the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. (photo credit: FORUM FOR COMPROMISE)
Members of the Forum for Compromise visit the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.
(photo credit: FORUM FOR COMPROMISE)
It is no exaggeration to say that Israel is currently experiencing one of the most tempestuous and troubling times of its existence, with a public health crisis, political divisions, and societal schisms all creating a negative feedback cycle that is exacerbating the national plight.
The cycle of three bitter elections against the background of severe societal division on political and religious lines has heightened the difficulties for the government that was eventually cobbled together to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The severe effects of this public health crisis have themselves aggravated those societal tensions, with both religious and secular leaders even calling to ignore government regulations to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
In light of this tumult, prominent liberal religious-Zionist leader Rabbi Benny Lau, together with former Supreme Court justice Elyakim Rubenstein and Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel, decided to initiate the “Forum for Compromise” of approximately 30 activists and societal leaders to tour the country and engage in dialogue with all the disparate segments of Israeli society.
The goal, the activists state, is to better understand the perspectives and aspirations of these different groups, in order to enable Israel’s diverse societal sectors to repair some of the schisms that have opened up in the country.
The forum’s activities are taking place for 40 days over the course of the month of Elul and up until Yom Kippur.
The group has so far visited Hebron, Nazareth, and Bnei Brak, and will be going to Beit Shemesh and Sderot in the coming weeks.
Sara Rosenfeld, a social worker and social activist who lives in the settlement of Kochav Hashachar and whose 26-year old son Malachi was killed by a Palestinian terrorist in 2015, is one of the members of the forum.
“Over the last year and during the elections, we reached the height of our inability to accept people who are different from ourselves and think differently,” Rosenfeld told The Jerusalem Post.
Since the country is “diverse and heterogeneous,” she continued, a better way of speaking to each other and finding a way to accept others needs to be found, she said. “We need to find [societal] compromise.”
She opined that the recent series of three elections were one of the proximate causes of the severe tensions witnessed in Israel of late, but said the political leadership, as well as the harsh tone of debate on social media, all contributed to communal antagonism.
The “Forum for Compromise” tour of the country, by meeting with different groups of people, could on a micro level demonstrate that societal understanding if not agreement was possible, and that the results of small meetings such as those they are conducting could ripple out further and help initiate the change in attitude that needs to happen, Rosenfeld said.
Fadi Maklada, a Druze activist who served in the IDF’s prestigious 8200 intelligence unit and another member of the Forum for Compromise, said similarly that he did not believe there could be agreement on all the complex and sensitive issues facing the nation.
But, he did think that a basic consensus is possible around two fundamental aspects of the State of Israel; its Jewish and democratic character around which the country can agree despite differences on a myriad of other issues.
Maklada said that during the visit to Hebron which had been hosted by the hard-right and hardline religious conservative National Union politician Orit Struck, he had been able to gain an understanding of why she held her views, and that meeting her had removed his cynicism about Struck and the community she represents, despite his disagreements with her positions.
Like Rosenfeld, Maklada said the country’s political leadership and their “lack of responsibility” was a prime reason for societal division.
“Politicians todays are exploiting the complexity of society and instead of uniting people, it benefits them people to divide society and emphasize fear and hatred of others,” said Maklada, and said the only way to stop societal division was to let the political leadership know that the people are not interested in it.
“If we all stand up and object to the stigmatization of Arabs, of settlers, of other groups, if they realize they won’t get any profit from hatred and division and that we as society oppose this then they will understand that if they continue with these tactics they could lose their position.”