Election campaigns are like spotlights focusing intense light on a limited number of issues, while rendering others invisible. Clearly, this election campaign will pivot around the Netanyahu corruption scandals, the Hamas and Hezbollah threats, the Palestinian stalemate, Israel’s economic future. Spotlighting those issues will leave other compelling issues in the shadows.
As proof, most politicians, most voters and most readers already failed the Aiia Maasarwe and Yehuda Biadga tests. How many people even know who these two people who died in their twenties are, let alone the issues their unfortunate deaths raise?
Their tragic deaths over the last two weeks highlight compelling issues every party should address – yet most candidates are already ignoring: the status of Arab-Israeli citizens, violence against women, and the ongoing challenges facing Ethiopian immigrants. Tackling these concerns are not keys to electoral success; they are, however, windows into our leaders’ values and Israel’s soul.
AIIA MAASARWE was a 21-year-old student from Baka al-Gharbiya studying at La Trobe University in Melbourne. A 20-year-old drifter raped and murdered her – in a sickening crime that began while she was FaceTiming with her sister in Israel. Outraged, many Australians enveloped the family in love.
Unfortunately, the Maasarwe family has not felt similarly embraced by Israeli Jews. No government representative met Aiia’s body at the airport or attended her funeral. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the family, but the family apparently considered the gesture belated and thus halfhearted.
Netanyahu and his ministers once again missed an opportunity to lead nobly, generously, elegantly, on two important but all too invisible issues: minimizing the alienation some Israeli-Arabs feel, while tackling the fears all women endure.
Maasarwe’s death was a fluke – a calamity that occurred because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But her death offers yet another warning that beyond all the left-wing political correcting and right-wing backlashing, liberals and conservatives should unite to demand zero tolerance for intolerance and 100% safety for all.
A rape-murder isn’t just a sick individual’s sin; it is a crime somewhat shaped by a culture that objectifies and over-sexualizes women, while simultaneously arousing and frustrating men. Obviously, politicians can’t do much immediately, and Israeli politicians have minimal influence on the murder of any Israeli 13,707 kilometers away. Moreover, Melbourne is a remarkably safe city with a murder rate of 3.1 per 100,000 inhabitants, which is higher than Israel’s 1.36 rate but lower than America’s 5.35 rate.
Still, because the debasement of women has a cultural dimension, it’s a shame our leaders didn’t seize this opportunity to push the educational point, to highlight the need for all individuals, and our society, to be more vigilant.
We also see the Joint List’s inexcusable failure. By perpetually bashing Israel, playing to extremists in Hamas, Israeli-Arab politicians betray their constituents, who need them launching helpful initiatives, not making futile anti-Israel gestures.
At Maasarwe’s funeral, young people from her town waved black banners in Arabic and English proclaiming “It’s time to say: Stop killing women” and “Women have the right to live in peace.” Her father, Saeed Maasarwe, said: “I appreciate the support of all these people, in the whole world and also in my town,” as Australian Ambassador Chris Cannan stood supportively by his side.
In the Israel I envision and fight for, Baka al-Gharbiya that day would have been filled with Israelis from all over the country, brandishing such signs in Arabic, English, and Hebrew. Meanwhile, Cannan would have been jostled lovingly by dozens of politicians straining to be included in the photo op, so Saeed Maasarwe would have said: “I appreciate the support of all these people, in the whole world and also in my town” – and “my country, too.”
The Yehuda Biadga problem is even murkier. Biadga was a troubled, 24-year-old in Bat Yam whose parents called the police because he was brandishing a knife. The officer responding shot and killed him, prompting accusations of racism and excessive force. An eyewitness came forward, insisting that the police officer responded appropriately, only when Biadga approached him quickly, menacingly, and ignored orders to stop.
Let’s trust the eyewitness and assume the police officer acted properly. Still, underlying the complaints this death stirred in the Ethiopian community is a crisis of faith these immigrants have experienced in relation to the police, politicians and our society. Without rushing to judgment, acknowledging that the police officer did not wake up that morning intending to kill a 24-year-old, our politicians should rush in to reassure, reach out, reconcile.
THE THREE invisible issues – Israeli Arabs’ status, violence against women, and Ethiopian alienation – all rest on a fundamental paradox beyond the political problem. The political responses we and members of those suffering communities demand will not really solve the problems, which run deeper.
The professorial politician Daniel Patrick Moynihan taught that “the central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” On these, as with most problems, we need politicians to lead toward the kind of cultural evolution that’s required; meanwhile, we need to heal, bond and grow together.
I, for one, desperately want a party and a prime minister willing to lead on these invisible issues, too. Israeli society is stable enough, solid enough, mature enough, to address quality of life issues, not just life and death ones.