Merav Michaeli – New Labor MK – “My inaugural speech. I mean every word”.

mmerav michaeli    This is just one of the new members of the Israeli Knesset who speaks from the heart and represents the important “winds of change”  Mr. Speaker, Distinguished Colleagues,On Wednesday morning, July 3rd 1944, a Zionist Jew in a suit stood in Adolf Eichmann’s Budapest office. “Your nerves seem tattered,” said Eichmann to the man [who stood before him]. “Maybe I’ll send you on vacation in Auschwitz.” The Zionist Jew who stood before him was unfazed . As a gesture demonstrating he was no inferior in front this interlocutor, he removed a box from his pocket and lit a cigarette.

That man was Dr. Israel Kastner. The reason why he was in the room was to negotiate with Eichmann and other Nazi officers, thereby saving tens of thousands of Jews from extermination. Later, he came to Israel and ran for the Knesset [with “Mapai”] . Rezso Kastner was myI am privileged to be part of consecutive generations dedicated to this project that is the State of Israel and to the way it provides a home for those people who were a diaspora, with the understanding that there is no other place for us.

This is also the place from which my critique emerges. On the one hand, I’m part of a founding dynasty; on the other, I’m a woman. A privileged woman, a woman who is “the granddaughter of”’, but still a woman. A woman who is still part of a minority in a masculine and military society – as we could hear clearly in other speeches here, where the ‘machismo of the Sabra’ is still a supreme value. That’s the place from which where my critique emerges, and this is a sensitivity with which I come to this Parliament.

I certainly do not come as a victim. If there is anything I have learned from the story of my grandfather, it is not to be a victim. Even when he was cast into the role of the ultimate victim – Jew versus exterminator-in-chief – he managed to take his fate and that of his community into his own hands.

We, feminist women, don’t come as victims. We come as equals, to take our fate in our hands and to shape the reality we live in. But not only the reality of our lives, as women. There’s no such thing as ‘women’ separate from men, or from work, from society, economy, security, army and war. Yes, despite your determined efforts to exclude us from decisions — on war, on peace, on how we define “security” and how to achieve it – yet, we are still part of this conversation. Because we pay the price in the home front, when you decide to open a war front. We pay the price when children are killed and wounded because there is no peace. We pay the price when you invest one fifth of our national budget on a security budget that does not deliver security.

The problem of exclusion of women in Israel does not start or end in military ceremonies and seats on busses . Women are excluded here, in this house, where we’re still barely one quarter of the members. Women are excluded in the cabinet, in key economic positions, inacademia , in the army.

I arrive here after long years of feminist activism, as a feminist who does not aim to work only on behalf of women. I’m not here to beg on behalf of the minority I represent. I’m here because I believe that feminism and feminist thinking can change the entire way we think about society and state. As a feminist who focuses not only on how we, as a society, can save under-privileged women, but as a feminist who asks how we, as women, can save our society.

Because the exclusion of women is just a symptom for the exclusion of other sectors. In exactly the same way Israel excludes Mizrahis, Ethiopians, Arabs, Russians, the disabled, the elderly, foreigners and non-Jews. They’re excluded from access to resources, from access to justice, from access to active citizenship. The weakened are excluded from the basic human right to housing and to a dignified existence.

The speeches and debates in this house over the past month have focused on “an equal sharing of the burden’. Astonishingly, this demand isn’t coming from weakened minorities. It isn’t coming from those excluded from the centers of power, from money and from justice. We’re not seeing the poor demand that tycoons share their burden and resources; women aren’t standing here and demanding equal pay. No. The powerful stand here, those that control Israeli society, demanding an ‘equal sharing of the burden’ from the minority. An upside down world.

No one is demanding sharing the burden of the demeaning income and conditions of contract workers; no one is demanding the burden of racism faced by Ethiopians be shared; no one is volunteering to participate in the burden of unemployment carried by college-educated Arab women. Only the most privelaged in society are demanding equal participation in the burden of “serving”, which itself guarantees them those key positions in Israeli society.

The thing is that no one in Israeli society today admits to his position of power. No one is willing to take the responsibility that comes with this position. What we should be seeing in Israeli society these days is that owners of large corporations take their own initiative to raise minimum wages and take responsibility for the job security of their workers. We should be seeing a government that prides itself on a robust and growing economy taking responsibility for the workers it abandoned to the mercy of contractors. We should be seeing rich heirs donating a large portion of their inheritance to public foundations devoted to helping residents of disadvantaged communities access higher education. Rich municipalities sharing resources with their poor neighbors, of their own initiative. It’s not enough to talk about social justice and equality. When one is privileged, taking responsibility for equality means sharing some of what you have with those who have less.

But in today’s Israel, none of this is happening. In Israel everyone is fighting over who’s more deprived, who suffers more, who’s the most wretched and who’s the bigger victim. And as this competition over victimhood intensifies, so too does the incitement against competing victims. . Members of this house have also sinned by participating in this race of victimhood and incitement.
Israel as state also does not take responsibility for its strong and privileged position vis-à-vis our neighbors-cum-enemies, the Palestinians. As the strong and rich state, the one that exists. Instead of grasping this advantage and offering real peace, based on trust and cooperation, Israel hunkers down in a defensive-aggressive posture. Instead of extending a hand to our neighbors — who have lived for so long in r extremely difficult conditions, due to their own fault and ours — and helping them build a future that will benefit all of us, Israel the strong continues to fight the Palestinians for the title of victim.

It’s understandable, of course, why we’re in this position of victimhood. Few are the peoples with a national trauma like the Holocaust in their pasts. But our renewal is already here, and for quite a while now. We must internalize that revival. We cannot remain just the victims of the Holocaust.

Because the discourse of victimhood cannot be a constructive one. Nothing can grow from it. I came here in order to change that discourse into one of empowerment, of mutual aid, of acceptance of the other. An authentic and deep acceptance. A discourse that replaces shrillness with cooperation and the nurturing of a safe place. . A safe space is a place where I have a secure job, earn a living wage, can walk the streets secure that I won’t be spat at, beaten, harassed and excluded. Not because I’m a woman, or dark-skinned. Not because I’m Jewish or non-Jewish, Israeli or non-Israeli.

My grandfather saved tens of thousands of Jews in the Holocaust, and he was murdered here, in the State of Israel, before becoming a Member of Knesset, because he saved them through negotiations with their Nazi exterminators. He was murdered despite saving Jews, because he did so in a way that some thought wrong, not Jewish enough, not Zionist enough. I come from a founding dynasty, but also from one not entirely in the mainstream, not consensual. A dynasty of doing things differently.

The position of wanting Tikkun Olam is often one of weakness. Identification with the distress of others makes one vulnerable. Concern for the rights of “the other”, those not on “your side” or exactly like you, can make you seem eccentric, unreliable, suspected of bleeding-heart tendencies, a self-hater. In Israel, any criticism of the state and its doings, is often received as nothing less than an act of treason.

But the truth is that this criticism comes from a commitment to this place, an identification with it. It comes from a desire to make this place the best place for us to live in. The safest place. The most empowering. The most pleasant. The most worthy. That’s what I’m here for.

Moreover, the ability to embrace the differences in the other is the ability to embrace our own differences and live in peace with ourselves. Only when we stop repressing those parts of society that we have labeled not-us, not part of us, will we become a whole and healthy society. Only when we allow all parts of our society to be fully present, to fully participate, will we really become a prosperous society, a strong society. That’s where we should be headed. That’s what we need to work on. That’s what I’m here for.

— at The Knesset – Israel’s Legislature.

2 Responses to “Merav Michaeli – New Labor MK – “My inaugural speech. I mean every word”.”

  1. David T said:

    Mar 08, 13 at 1:38 pm

    What a wonderful and hopeful speech.

  2. David T said:

    Mar 08, 13 at 1:38 pm

    What a wonderful and hopeful speech.