Israel's public enemy No. 1 or the poster boy for Zionism? – Israel News



Not Erdogan and not Jeremy Corbyn. Even the leaders of Hamas or Iran do not. Browse the social media messages from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and you will soon discover the identity of the true enemy of the state of Israel.

His name is Mickey Gitzin and he is the national director of the New Israel Fund, an international organization dedicated to the promotion of liberal democracy in the Jewish state. As Netanyahu has followed, you would think he was the incarnate devil.

The funny thing is that Gitzin always saw himself as the poster boy for Zionism. The child of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, he was a Jewish authority shaliach (envoy) in the United States who served as an officer in the Israeli military intelligence service. Nowadays he is next to his position at the NIF in the city council of Tel Aviv.

"If I am considered a radical today, it means that something very fundamental has changed in this country," says the 37-year-old in an interview with Haaretz. "And why was I being attacked by Netanyahu, because I believe that Jews and Arabs should work together in partnership – that is something radical – I mean, where do we live?"

The Prime Minister's obsession with the NIF has almost become a joke among his critics. When something does not get its way, this organization systematically becomes the scapegoat for its shortcomings. When Netanyahu's plan to deport African asylum seekers to Rwanda fell, the NIF was blamed. When the leaders of the minority Druze community refused to comply with the controversial nation state law, it was the NIF he blamed. And the list goes on and on.

But never before was this personal. A little over a week ago, Netanyahu shared a post on his official Facebook page called Gitzin and attacked him for encouraging Israeli Jews to take part in the recent Arab-led protest against the state's national law. The original post was published by Im Tirtzu, an extreme right-wing organization known for its ugly campaigns against left-wing activists.


AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS

The shared post Netanyahu contained a photograph of Palestinian flags that had been raised during the protest in Tel Aviv, next to a tweet from Gitzin placed a few days before the event. "Only in this way will we win," said Mickey Gitzin, director of the NIF, "said it mockingly, and the post ended with the following statement:" The [New Israel] Fund. "

In picking up a fight with a private citizen, the opponents of Netanyahu had accused him of having crossed a border and engaged in incitement. Among those who proclaimed the Prime Minister was his old political rival, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who hastened to the defense of Gitzin.


Ohad Zwigenberg

"He goes after a reserve officer of the IDF, a man named Mickey Gitzin," wrote Barak on social media. "The prime minister addresses him and explicitly appeals to him when the only sin of this person is that he leads a fund that annually contributes millions to Israeli society, including the work of the ministries of his government. absurd."

Teen rebellion

Although his name is bombed on social media by two prime ministers – a serving and a pensioner – Gitzin comes from a modest beginning. He grew up in Azor, a working-class city outside Tel Aviv, the son of immigrants from Ukraine and Moldova who had moved to Israel in the 1970s. His mother works as a liaison for the Russian-speaking community for the National Insurance Institute and until his recent retirement, his father worked as a medical equipment engineer in a hospital in Tel Aviv. Both parents, Gitzin says, are politically right, although they do not necessarily vote for Netoedahu's Likud.


Alon Ron

Growing up, he says, he embraced their political views. "During the 1992 elections, when it was Yitzhak Rabin against Yitzhak Shamir, I handed out stickers for Shamir and I did it very hard when Rabin won," he recalls.

His political change of heart began as part of a normal teenage uprising. "My parents had the right wing and had thick Russian accents and I wanted to be different from them," he says. When he served in the military intelligence research department, he gained a new perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that pushed him further to the left. "I then began to understand that the situation was much more complicated than I was to believe," he recalls.

The years he spent as an envoy for the Jewish agency in South Bend, Indiana, were also crucial in shaping his worldview. It was there, in the heart of the American Midwest, that Gitzin was first exposed to other types of Jews and other streams of Judaism. "Where I grew up, you were orthodox or nothing," he says. "Suddenly I understood that at the same time you could go to the synagogue to be liberal, that women could pray from the bimah, and that there was this whole wonderful thing called tikkun olam (to restore the world) that I had never heard of before. "

The experience has left such an impression on him that Gitzin, when he returned to Israel, became the founder of Be Free Israel (also known as Yisrael Chofshit), a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting religious freedom and religious pluralism in Israel. The main focus of the organization during his term of office was to break the monopoly of the orthodox rabbinic authorities over marriage. As a representative of the left-wing Meretz party in the Tel Aviv City Council, Gitzin also contributed to promoting events in the city that celebrate Jewish pluralism.


Olivier FItoussi

That does not mean that he is always face to face with progressive Jewish leaders. In his opinion Diaspora Jews are wasting a little too much time and energy on prayer rights to the Western Wall, at the expense of more burning issues.

"Look, I respect everyone who is willing to fight for their faith," he says, "but is the Western Wall the most important symbol in the world for me? No, it is not, I do not actually make contact with it. I have many more critical issues that need to be addressed, such as the freedom to marry in Israel, such as rabbis who carry out racism day in and day out, not to mention the constant rabbinic attacks on the LGBT community. are more important to me. "

The growing awareness of IfNotNow, a group of anti-occupation activists in North America, proves to him that a new generation of young Diaspora Jews is starting to think bigger. "Their relationship with Israel goes much further than prayer," he notes.

Like most children of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Gitzin, who is openly homosexual, has not grown up in an orthodox house. But his partner does, and so they keep kosher. "It is true that his parents can eat at home," he explains. "And when they are here, Shabbat is Shabbat."


Tomer Appelbaum

Problem solvers

The declared mission of the New Israel Fund, with headquarters in New York, is "to promote liberal democracy, including freedom of expression and the rights of minorities, and to combat inequality, injustice and extremism that affect Israel." Since its foundation in 1979, it has provided more than $ 300 million in grants to more than 900 organizations. Apart from providing subsidies, the NIF also engages in policy influencing and empowerment. The Israeli office, which runs Gitzin, employs 85 people.

The main reason why the NIF attracts so much opposition in right-wing circles is that it finances organizations that are committed to ending the occupation and promoting the rights of the Palestinians. But those are not the only causes that it supports. "There is no group in Israeli society that does not pass through our door – and that goes for the ultra-orthodox and even settlers," Gitzin reveals. "There is an idea that we know how to solve problems, so everyone comes to us, but honestly, what other options do ultraorthodox women have if they want to find a way to solve the problem of sexual abuse in their community? "

However difficult it is to fathom today, the NIF is also working with Israeli governmental offices on various issues. "If they do something we believe in, such as investing in the Arab community or promoting affordable social housing, we like to work with them", says Gitzin. "The fact that the government can not deal with criticism from us on other matters – well, that is simply not normal, and it shows a complete lack of understanding of the role of civil society organizations, sometimes we work with the government and sometimes we work It all depends on the problem. "

Because of his constant attacks on the NIF, Netanyahu has achieved at least one major victory, according to Gitzin: he has managed to give the impression that the organization is much larger and much more powerful than it really is. "Our entire operation is $ 30 million a year," he says. As a city councilor, I can tell you that it is not even as big as a division in the Tel Aviv municipality. But Netanyahu prefers to use the fact that most Israelis do not know how to make a demon that does not exist. "

As part of their ongoing campaign against the NIF, netanyahu supporters often recruit George Soros, the Hungarian Jewish philanthropist whose name is an abomination in right-wing circles. "The New Israel Fund financed by Soros" – they like to call it. Except, as Gitzin points out, Soros has only financed one NIF project, and that was quite a few years ago.

"We would be happy if he gave us money," he says.

Where do we live?

Netanyahu was never a big fan of the NIF, but Gitzin feels that something fundamentally has changed in his attack strategy. "In the past, he had organizations like Im Tirtzu do his dirty work of marking enemies," he notes. "Now he does it himself."

Does Gitzin feel unsafe nowadays? He admits that he does so and notes that his partner and colleagues have urged him to hire a bodyguard. "That's crazy for me," he says. "I mean, where do we live?"

He tends to see what is happening in Israel in the context of global trends, where Netanyahu is often compared to Viktor Orban, the right-wing leader of Hungary. "Netanyahu, like Orban, needs an enemy at home so that he can gather the basis," says Gitzin. "And we have come to serve that purpose."

But there is also an advantage of all this attention from the prime minister. "Donations from Israelis have reached record levels in the last few months," says Gitzin. "Admittedly, these are small amounts, but they come from very many people – the elderly and students, for example, many who apologize that they can not afford us to give more than 36 shekels."

When asked where he is politically, he describes himself as & # 39; classic Zionist left & # 39 ;.

"I believe that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, but is obliged to treat all its citizens equally," he explains. "I also believe in a two-state solution and in religious pluralism."

Netanyahu was quick to seize the Palestinian flags that were photographed for political gain during the recent Arab-Jewish protest and claimed that they were "the best proof" of the need for the new nation state law. Does Gitzin regret afterwards about encouraging Jewish Israelis to take part?


AFP

"As I see it, what happened that night was a kind of miracle," he replies. "You had Arabs, who had been told that they were second-class citizens, who chose a democratic way to fight for their rights and to ask Jews to join them." That is unprecedented to say that I felt comfortable I do not have one flag – and that's the Israeli flag, but you also have to realize that every Palestinian flag raised there was the result of 10 years of incitement against this population. aware that we have paid a price in the short term, but in the long term the cooperation that has been forged there is 10 times more important. "

Unlike many Israelis on the left, Gitzin does not feel disillusioned on all these days. "Of course I am hopeful," he says. "We know that the world works in swings, we've seen years of liberalism, and now there's a backlash, but it's going to fall back, believe me."

Ironically, it is up to Israeli law that he goes in search of inspiration. "When they went through tough times," he says, "they had the choice to give up or double, whether it was during the Oslo Accords or the withdrawal in Gaza, and they chose to double. Now for the same choice, and I feel very strongly about doubling and fighting. "


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