The leftist Israeli magazine +972 wants to sound the alarm on a Jewish state it believes is destroying itself
Unlike the majority of Israeli newspapers, whose coverage of events in the West Bank is supplied largely by reporters based in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, a number of +972’s contributors are either frequent participants in joint Israeli-Palestinian demonstrations behind the Green Line or are close with the activists who coordinate such protests. In September, for example, a clash broke out between residents and demonstrators outside the settlement of Anatot, not far from Jerusalem. Ynet, the website of Israel’s leading newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, reported that three people were lightly injured after settlers and leftists hurled rocks at each other. Shortly thereafter, Mairav Zonszein, a +972 contributor with deep ties to grassroots civil-rights organizations, provided a far more detailed account, revealing that the number of injured was 23 and that the violence was far from a two-way street: Eyewitness accounts, photographs, and videos all supplied evidence that laid the responsibility for the violence squarely with the settlers. The rest of the Israeli media soon followed suit, correcting the story.
This small victory, and others like it, weren’t enough to keep Lisa Goldman from leaving. Late last year, after 14 years in Israel, she decided to return to her native Canada.
“It became unbearable for me,” she said of life in Israel. “My big watershed moment was Cast Lead [in 2008], and then, over the following months and years, I felt as if I saw everything in 3-D, and it was untenable. I didn’t just know one aspect of the occupation. I knew the spoiled Palestinian brass who grew up in Tunis who were partying hard in Ramallah, and those educated in England. I knew Hamas people and kids from Oberlin who came with their Macs to hang out and help the Palestinians. I knew the journalists, the settlers. I’ve seen every aspect of it. I’ve been working as a journalist since 2005, and I just kind of got PTSD.”
The main cause for her discontent, Goldman said, was a growing discrepancy between the reality she was seeing on the ground every day and her Israeli friends’ unwillingness to confront that reality. “I’d come home from a really horrific day, and I’d drive back to Tel Aviv, and what I’d do is go out for dinner in nice restaurants, but my fuses were popping,” she said. “It’s an incredible transition from the occupation to salubrious restaurants in Tel Aviv. To see an old woman retching up reams of white mucus because of tear gas, and then come home, quickly shower, and have dinner with friends who wouldn’t listen to my politics because I was too radical. I couldn’t take it anymore.”
When she left, Goldman told her colleagues at the magazine that she would still be writing for +972 but won’t be coming back to Israel.
They shared her pain, she said, and respected her decision. Soon, however, the inclement political climate in Israel made life more challenging for all of +972’s contributors, in Tel Aviv and Toronto alike: After the Knesset passed a law last year that made anyone calling on boycotting Israel (the settlements included) into the target of civil lawsuits, +972’s editorial board realized that the magazine, financed largely by readers’ contributions and a few small donations from nonprofit funds like the American-based Social Justice Fund and the German Heinrich Böll Stiftung, would not be able to sustain the sort of lawsuit that, under the new law, could easily be brought against it. “Since we are legally responsible for all content appearing on the website,” Dimi Reider wrote, “this obligates us to erase outright calls” for boycotting Israel or the settlements from the magazine’s comment thread, and disallow any writer to outwardly call for such boycotts.
While some, like Sheizaf, view stirring a global conservation that leads to international pressure on Israel to mend its ways as the remedy for such punitive laws, others, like Zonszein, are focused on the fight at home. After my wife and I co-wrote an essay last month expressing our dismay with Israeli politics, Zonszein replied in a piece of her own, a call to arms of sorts. “The ones who feel rooted here cannot afford to refuse to call Israel home until it embodies their ideals,” she wrote. “Rather they are already here (whether physically or emotionally) embodying those ideals every day in whatever way they see fit. They will not wait around for Israel to get better and cannot disassociate from it until it does. It is their reality, and that in and of itself makes Israel a very different place than the Israel that many are disillusioned with.”
But while +972’s contributors may differ on everything from ideology to strategy, the one thing they seem to share is a sense of urgency. “When Western liberal Jews tell me that they’re so disheartened by the news coming out of Israel but then they started reading +972 and now they feel as if there are still good people fighting the fight, that is the worst thing you can say to me,” Goldman said. “I’m not trying to make you feel better about Israel. I’m trying to wake you up to the fact that things are really bad. We’re near the end. That’s the message I want Western liberal Jews to hear. I want them to wake up and get really involved before the country turns into something they don’t want to be associated with. I don’t see +972 as tikkun olam. I see it as an alarm clock.”
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