In a rare bond of cooperation forged by the Israeli arm of the OneVoice movement, young and senior leaders of each of the mainstream parties agreed to jointly implement a campaign to uphold nonviolent civic discourse within Israeli society and condemn incitement and violence. The product of months of work – with delicate one-on-one meetings with each of the partners and multiple break-through meetings among delegates from Likud, Labor, Shinui, Yahad, the National Religious Party (Mafdal) and Shas – culminated with an off-site three day seminar where 40 young leaders crossed ideological, partisan and personal barriers to transcend their differences and focus on the unifying need to discourage extremism.
The heads of the “Young Leaders” movements of Israel’s six major parties from left to right were the engines behind this undertaking. They include Yoel Hasson, President of Likud’s Young Generation, Eran Harmoni, Labor’s Young Generation Leader, Aviel Aharon, Chairman of Shinui’s Young Generation, Uri Zaki of Yahad’s Youth, Shuky Zohar, the Secretary of NRP’s Young Generation and Elyashiv Rabin, the Secretary of Shas Young Leaders. Each of the leaders recruited key figures within their movement to participate in the seminar. Israeli Leadership Development Director Dr. Muli Peleg and his wife and conflict resolution colleague, Tzofnat Peleg, guided the discussion, organized by OV Program Director Gil Shemi, with support from OneVoice Activist Dima Yarmanko.
This activity was conceived against the backdrop of this summer’s upcoming Gaza disengagement. While the vast majority of Israelis (including most settlers) are dedicated to upholding democracy and respecting their government, Israelis fear that a small minority of radical extremists may seek to derail the will of the majority through violence and incitement.
“The goal of this effort is to establish a platform of public discourse, whereby different parties, ideologies and philosophies try to understand and acquaint each other without bickering and blaming each other,” remarked Yoel Hasson, who is also an aide to Prime Minister Sharon. “We are committed to finding common ground among Israelis – to unify us particularly on how we are to resolve our deepest disagreements – through respect and under the rule of law.”
Participants laid the foundations for a long term process aimed at nothing less than transforming Israel’s political culture into one characterized by mature civic discourse and devoid of incitement to violence or dehumanization of those who disagree with one’s views. Plans include a joint declaration at a press conference, a grassroots campaign with a unifying slogan, and recruitment drives by each of the parties from North to South. The goal is to establish a civic contract that all Israelis will be encouraged to sign, advocating civility, respect and moderation above radicalism, dehumanization and violence.
Unlike the Grassroots Negotiations work that OneVoice shepherds in its joint Palestinian-Israeli track, this Civic Discourse & Anti-Incitement track of OneVoice focuses internally on Israeli society, just like the Democratization and Non-Violence track focuses internally on Palestinian society. Dr. Peleg said: “Besides the important work with do with our Palestinian colleagues, we need to concentrate also internally – on the Israeli side – because without working on unity and solidarity against extremism among us we will be crippled to deal with the other side.”
Elyashiv Rabin, Secretary of Shas Youth, stated to his colleagues: “I came into this meeting skeptical, curious but skeptical. I leave hear today a believer. I believe in the possibility of Secular and Religious Israelis to coexist as one society. I trust that our Rabbis would approve of this initiative. I have smashed some of my preconceived notions this weekend. I hope you have too.”