Recently Haaretz ran a piece on film director Sigal Avin’s short films on sexual harassment. I was cheering until I reached this quote: “It was important to ensure that the films…were not political.” Say what? Avin is likely too young to have heard that “the personal is political”, but beyond that, her statement is unfortunately, and exasperatingly, representative of a disturbing phenomenon: the Israeli rush to be “apolitical”, my exasperation at which is twofold:
First of all, when an organization (or in Avin’s case, individual endeavor) claims to be apolitical, it’s misusing the word: What Israeli non-profits and movements mean when they rush to declare themselves apolitical is that they’re non-partisan or non-sectarian…as if anyone would mistake a non-profit that provides support services to the disabled, or at-risk youth, or battered women, for a political party. I can understand why an organization called Catholic Charities or Jewish Family Services feels an obligation to state explicitly that they’re non-sectarian, but environmental action groups? Organizations that feed the hungry? Groups that advocate for road safety? Really? They’re afraid of being identified as political?
Then there’s the other side: organizations that are political, but claim they’re not: I’ll begin with the Masortì [Conservative] movement, in whose youth movement my kids were active. The Masorti movement has a wing called Al haMishmár that monitors church-and-state legislation in the Knesset. What could be more political? Another example: Women Wage Peace. What could be more political than a peace agreement? In order to reach one, we need to engage politically, not dodge politics.
It’s even curiouser why Israelis feel this need to rush to declare “We’re not political!”, as Israelis are some of the most outspoken folks you’ll meet: Unlike Americans, Israelis will unabashedly argue with an officer who’s ticketing them for speeding, or a clerk at City Hall issuing (or withholding) permits to close in a balcony, just to name a few stereotypical examples. And of course our parliament is infamous for its members’ uncivilized and downright disrespectful exchanges. Why, then, are Israelis so loath to be political?