Haredi Labor candidate Dina Dayan

The interesting Labor candidate you’ve never heard of.

Dina Dayan (photo credit: ARIEL BSOR)
Dina Dayan
(photo credit: ARIEL BSOR)
Dina Dayan is a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) woman in her forties. Her head scarf covers all her hair, and the sleeves of her modest dress fall to below her elbows.
She’s eating a salad and drinking coffee out of a glass while she reads her book in a trendy Tel Aviv café.
This is the newest and perhaps most surprising candidate for Labor Party leader.
“I made sure the café doesn’t serve shrimp or pork, and that it’s closed on Shabbat. So I feel pretty comfortable here,” says Dayan serenely and with a smile that gives no hint of the fire burning inside her. She has a busy day ahead of her, after which she will drive back home to Mitzpe Ramon.
Who are you, I ask her. Where did you come from? “I didn’t come from anywhere – I’ve always been here,” she says simply. “It’s just that up until now nobody has paid any attention to me. I was born in Jerusalem, and when I was young my family moved to Mitzpe Ramon. My parents are poor, traditional Moroccan Jews.”
You’re a bit of a strange bird, aren’t you? Especially since you’re haredi and also a member of Labor. You have a number of seemingly opposing elements to your identity.
“I don’t live in a dichotomous world. I grew up in a pluralistic environment that was very inclusive, and that’s how people treat me to this day. In my mind, there are no contradictions in the different parts of my life. I’m a haredi, Sephardi, left-wing feminist.”
Did you grow up poor?
“Yes. We lived in the housing cooperatives in Mitzpe, and we suffered from what is today known as food insecurity. On the other hand, I grew up in an open, tolerant community where people looked out for each other. Everyone in our town was Sephardi, except for the local doctor, who was Ashkenazi.”
What are you hoping to achieve?
“I want the Left to let me lead them. I’m the true Left. Currently, the Left is being held hostage by rich, white people, and that’s an absurd situation.”
Well, if we put our cards on the table, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll win.
“I know, but this is a marathon, and I’ve only just begun the race. I’m not planning on slinking away from the public sphere after the election.”
You weren’t even invited to participate in Walla’s televised debate for candidates.
“That was only to my benefit. It was a group of men that are all the same who stood around and talked about nothing. It just made my exclusion even more conspicuous, and piqued more interest in me.”
While Labor's top candidates prepared for the debate, a video clip of Dayan prepared by Tsuriel Sharon quickly went viral. In two-and-a-half minutes, Dayan portrays herself as someone who lives in the periphery, and who symbolizes all the fears of the “ruling elite of the party.” She says she and “all the other invisibles” have come up against a concrete wall, not a glass ceiling.
The video clip reminded me a lot of Roey Hassan’s “Bemedinat Ashkenaz” [“In the Land of Ashkenaz” – a poem, published in Haaretz, that caused a political-literary storm in the country around identity issues].
“I identify very strongly with Roey Hassan. You have to understand – the periphery is full of people of color: Haredi, Sephardi, Ethiopian and Arab. In other words: black. Even the Russians who live there are from the Russian periphery. All the other Russians moved to Canada years ago.”
What kind of feedback have you received from the video?
“On the one hand, there are people who are yelling, ‘Who moved my cheese?’ and my Facebook feed has been inundated with racial epithets. On the other hand, I’ve also received a tremendous amount of support.
So many people wrote me that my clip was so inspiring and that they’ve been waiting so long to hear the voice I represent. Reading this really energized me.
Twitter has been pretty quiet, but Facebook – ‘the voice of the people’ – has lit up like a wildfire.”
I heard that even Israeli rapper The Shadow [Yoav Eliassi] commented on your video.
“Yeah, that’s right. He called me the sane Left. I must say, though, that I find him revolting,” she said, referring to his blatant racist behavior.
Why was it so important for you to include a picture of convicted IDF soldier Elor Azaria’s parents in your video?
“I wanted to point out the phenomenon of how people have become so extremely Sephardi, and hate Arabs. Elor was a product of this hatred, of a government that abandoned its citizens in the periphery.
His act was a result of distress, ignorance and neglect, which leads to political radicalization. And instead of making an effort to understand this problem, the Left prefers to lock itself up in an ivory tower.”
Dayan was bitten by the political bug when she was just a little girl listening to her grandmother tell stories about what it was like to make aliya from Morocco in the early years of the state and the tremendous discrimination she experienced. “My grandmother was a very political person,” Dayan recalls. “She felt intense hatred toward the kibbutzim for the deprivation we felt in the periphery. I learned all about Sephardi consciousness from her.”
When Dayan finished her IDF service, she moved to Tel Aviv for a short while, but then returned to Mitzpe Ramon and married Ira Dayan, a childhood friend.
Over time, the two of them became observant.
“Halacha in the Sephardi-haredi community is more relaxed and we’re very open people,” says Dayan. One of her daughters moved to Tel Aviv, and one of her sisters who lives nearby is in a relationship with another woman, and Dayan treats her like she would any sisterin- law.
What’s it like marrying into a famous family?
“Ira’s father and [late military leader and politician] Moshe Dayan were cousins. Ira moved to Mitzpe Ra-mon as part of a Nahal group, and we clicked straight away. He did have to overcome a psychological barrier, though,” Dayan says with a smirk on her face. “He also engaged in quite a few heated discussions with his family about identity and the acceptance of others, but thankfully we’ve all learned to accept each other.”
Dayan worked for a number of years in the local authority, and for the last three years she has served as the CEO of the NGO Nettiot, which helps newly observant people in Israel. More recently, she’s formed a political movement in the South called the “Periphery Movement,” together with Avi Dabush, Esther Akiva, Ya’aleh Ra’anan and Elyashiv Reichner. “This is a movement that strives to find a common denominator among the weaker members of society,” Dayan explains enthusiastically.
Do you also represent the Beduin community?
“Isma’il Al’ouka from Arara and Majd Abu Bilal from Rahat are social activists and members of Nettiot. The Beduin are our brothers. We grew up with them. I have a childhood friend, Salman, with whom I’m still in close contact. He used to come to school on a camel.
When we were in fourth and fifth grade, he and I used to write appeals to the Supreme Court so his father could get his land back.”
Is the Negev land issue still a bone of contention?
“You’ve got to understand – all of the land under dispute in the Negev adds up to only 5% of the region.
I don’t understand why the government doesn’t let the Beduin plan their cities themselves so that they can combine their modern ways with the traditional Beduin nomadic way of living. There are plenty of Beduin urban planners.”
It sounds like the South is waking up.
“The south is burning. I’m sure this movement is going to produce at least 20 members of Knesset. I’m just the first one. Michael Biton, the mayor of Yeroham, who supports our movement, is the type of leader who is fit to lead the country.”
Were you affected by single mother Vicki Knafo’s struggle in 2003 when she marched to Jerusalem to protest the policies of Benjamin Netanyahu, the finance minister at the time?
“Yes, she was a huge inspiration for me. In the end, she didn’t get very far, but her struggle is a symbol. The Labor Party completely ignored her, but I am committed to continuing on the path she set.”
Who did you vote for in past elections?
“When [Menachem] Begin took power [in 1977], that was a day of huge celebration. In Mitzpe Ramon, we felt like the messiah had come. Later on, unlike all my relatives who vote Likud, I voted Labor and Meretz.
When I was 26, I started becoming more observant.
My grandmother died and I felt an intense need to go back to my roots. That year, I voted Shas. But then I realized that didn’t sit well with me, and for the last eight years I’ve been voting Labor.”
What caused you to stop voting for Shas?
“I was angry at Shas. They hadn’t really improved life in the periphery at all. I checked how much money the government pays my son Yehoshua’s school, and I found out that the Education Ministry only receives NIS 5,000 for him, whereas the son of my friend in Ramat Hanegev is allocated NIS 21,000. In short, Shas is not the solution for the periphery.”
In fact, all activity in the periphery has come to a halt, right?
“Today, everything is paid for through NGOs and private contributions. We’ve turned into beggars.
One day during Operation Protective Edge [in 2014], while I was volunteering in a community in the Gaza border area, an IDF soldier who’d been called up for reserve duty approached me and told me that his regiment was going into Gaza and asked me if I could help him by bringing his grandmother food for Shabbat.
There are still such discrepancies between schools in central Israel and schools here. My son excels in math and science, but his high school doesn’t even offer the option of learning computers as a major.”
When I ask Dayan why she chose Labor and didn’t instead prefer to join independent MK Orly Levy-Abecassis, with whom she seems to have a lot in common, Dayan responded, “Labor is one of Israel’s largest and strongest parties. This is the only way to wield real power. The periphery needs to accept the fact that the Left is the only party that is truly capable of making a real change. Netanyahu is killing us.
His world view claims that if we make the strong even stronger, the wealth will trickle down to the rest of the people. Even [Finance Minister Moshe] Kahlon thinks the same thing. But it’s been 40 years and I haven’t seen any wealth trickling down anywhere. We’re talking about 1.4 million poor people who live in Israel, and 180,000 old people who need to make the daily choice: Do I buy food or medicine?”
And you think that Labor’s socioeconomic policy is different?
“In past years, the Labor Party used to run a welfare state. In those days, at least we had a safety net to fall on. Sadly, Labor has changed immensely. Avi Gabbay and [Zionist Union MK] Erel Margalit’s economic policies are certainly not anything close to being socialist.”
So, you think you can convince people from the Sephardi community to vote for Labor?
“Yes. But only if Labor finds a way to reconnect with the people. But that’s not so simple. And it certainly won’t happen unless it makes room for someone like me.”
It would have seemed natural for you to become close with Amir Peretz, the party’s preeminent Sephardi member. Instead, you filed an appeal in court against him.
“Peretz is part of the junta, a well-oiled machine that is making it hard for new people to join. Enough already with this old way of thinking. It’s time for him to move on and make room for newcomers. Instead, I received a threat from his headquarters to rescind my appeal.”
The following is an official response from Peretz’s headquarters: “Her claim that threats were made are nonsensical. All her appeals were rejected outright by the Labor Party’s investigation unit.”
“There are a few MKs who are pretty intransigent,” she says. “But a large percentage is made up of people who are pretty open. These people, unfortunately, don’t usually vote in the primaries. I’m calling on all these people to go out and vote, so that we can start again with a clean slate. I believe we can overcome the hurdles. If people vote for me in the first round, this will cause an earthquake.”
Which Labor candidates do you value above the rest?
“All of the candidates are quality, suitable people. I think Margalit’s heart is in the right place. He’s not as shallow as others, though I wasn’t so impressed by the trick he played on Gabbay. I don’t feel very close to Omer Bar Lev. Amiram Levin is clean, but the effort he had to make to become a major-general is less than what it would take me to get a university degree. Bougie [Isaac Herzog] is just more of the same.”
What about Gabbay?
“I don’t understand why he got caught up in the Likud voting saga. Especially since this is exactly what the Labor Party needs to do – pick up voters who used to vote Right. Gabbay is one of a hundred children who succeeded in escaping poverty, but he never returned home to help everyone else. He’ll never lead a revolution.”
Are the women in Labor supportive?
“Shelly Yacimovich claims that she’s a feminist, but she wouldn’t even let me open my mouth. She’d rather put a muzzle on me and never let me take the stage.
In an interview with Guri Alfi she said there were no women running for the Labor leadership. Is that being a feminist?”
You’ve only touched on social aspects, and haven’t made any comments about the main issue facing Israel today: the Palestinian conflict.
“Politicians only use the Palestinian conflict as a way to polarize the community. It’s all a boondoggle. I mean, seriously if you were to put Bibi [Netanyanu], Bougie and Yair Lapid in the same room together, they’d all vote for the exact same two-state solution, with similar details.
Most of the country would follow them.”
But not Bayit Yehudi.
“The national-religious have caused Israel and Judaism to become more extreme. Because of my concern for the stranger living in our midst, they call me a leftist traitor. They are a minority that dictates how the rest of us should live. It makes my blood boil.”
Translated by Hannah Hochner. Originally published in Ma’ariv.