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Envisioning Shared Society

The following is a transcript of Episode 122 of the Identity/Crisis Podcast. Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation, please excuse any errors.

Yehuda: Hi everyone. Welcome to Identity Crisis, a show about news and ideas from the Shalom Hartman Institute. I’m Yehuda Kurtzer, and we’re recording on Tuesday, January 3rd, 2023. 

So first, a comment on identity for a show about identity. It’s a gift in this day and age, I think, to have a reasonably secure sense of your own identity, who you are, what you care about, to feel tethered at this time when our culture of individualism and personal choices can sometimes make us feel unmoored.

It’s also a gift to sometimes encounter people who you not only learn from, but who, in their person and their commitments and their identities, challenge you to rethink your own identity, your sense of who you are and when that happens, and I think it’s rare, it’s both a useful dose of humility that we tamp down our assumptions of who we think we are and what we believe, but it’s also a catalyst for us to always be thinking, rethinking, and growing, not to stay stagnant in whatever identities we think we have. 

So most of you, our listeners, know by now about my attachments to Israel and a little bit of what it feels like for me to be here. I was walking around Jerusalem with my niece last week and I told her that Jerusalem is probably the city in which I feel most comfortable, the place where I feel most at home.

That may sound strange. I’ve lived here a relatively small amount of my life, but I had a lot of formative life experiences here. It’s where I first met Stephanie and fell in love. It’s where I learned how to teach. It’s where I first formed some of my own politics and beliefs and convictions. Over time, my attachments here have only grown. Jerusalem is now the place I travel to, to come to an office that at least for the short time that I’m here, has my name on it. Some of my closest friends in the world live here and I’m even known by some as an expert on the Jerusalem food scene. 

And when I’m not here, I, like many Jews in Jewish history, face the direction of this city in prayer, and I feel a little bit like a piece of my heart gets left behind. When you grow up as a committed Jew in America, it becomes pretty easy to become attached to Israel even if you don’t live here.

There’s a whole industry on the tourism side and on the ideological side, committed to reiterating that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people and like a lot of diaspora Jews, I love and cherish the strange at-homeness that has been cultivated for me and for my Jewishness in this place, which is 7,000 miles away from my real home.

Still in the last few years and especially in relationship with today’s guests, I’ve started to understand and to internalize how one person’s sense of at-homeness can invisibilize the actual at-homeness of other people, those that actually live here. We American Jews, I think do this a lot. We talk a lot about an Israel that adheres to, or sometimes falls short of the paradigms of what we want Israel to be, often more than we talk about what Israel actually is. 

But this is perhaps most complicated when it comes to Israel’s Palestinian Arab citizens and its inhabitants. So I don’t think that at-homeness needs to be a zero-sum game. I don’t think it should be the case for Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens who could, in theory, build an equitable society.

And maybe it’s even possible for us to figure out a way for those of us Jews who don’t live here to make a claim to this place that won’t come across to many of its Palestinian citizens and inhabitants as contesting or coming at a cost to their own at-homeness. I think that’s in theory possible, but until then, I think that that’s where we are and it gives me a lot of pause.

On paper, it works really well for me to believe that Israel can be both the Jewish state and a state for all of its citizens. In theory, that also helps me identify with it, both Jewishly and as a person who really, really believes in democracy. In practice, it’s hard and maybe getting harder to execute, and it feels like those values are getting pulled further and further apart.

I felt, in fact, in my conversations with my colleague, Rana Fahoum, who joins me today, um, that we don’t quite know what to do with each other. Rana, who’s Palestinian, a citizen of the state of Israel, born in Nazareth, now living in Jerusalem, a longtime leader in the field of education here in Israel, and now director of a new Shared Society Center at the Hartman, and me, an American Jew who leads the North American division of an Israeli organization, deeply connected to Israel also, but from afar.

Both of us, you’ll forgive the metaphor, share the same significant other, Israeli Jews. Both of us in complex and ambivalent relationships with that significant other. And now it’s like the two of us have met up at a party. It almost feels like a conversation about Israeli democracy between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs feels straightforward, even if it’s fraught. So does a conversation between American Jews and Israeli Jews, but what do American Jews and Israeli Palestinians have to say to each other?

Rana, thanks for coming on the podcast today. As you know, I’ve been waiting to have this conversation with you here for quite some time. Maybe you could start by telling our listeners who may be surprised that someone with your identity and your background is here at the Hartman Institute in Baka, in West Jerusalem, um, a Zionist institution.

Maybe tell us a little bit about what you’re here to do, uh, and what are you working on so far? 

Rana: Um, so hello to you and to all listeners. It’s a pleasure to be here. I’ve been waiting for this podcast too, Yehuda. So this is one of the questions that I get asked frequently. What is an opinionated Palestinian, as you put it recently, you know, our private conversation, does in a organization that defines itself as Zionist and mainly deals with liberal Zionism and liberal Judaism? 

And I wanna start answering that question in two different ways and then we’ll talk a little bit about the Shared Society Center. First of all, I do think that it’s all about people. I was introduced to the Hartman Institute by a person that I care about and I trust. And then I met the executive committee, starting with the president here, Donniel Hartman, and then you and Rachel and all of the other people at the executive committee at Hartman. 

And immediately I felt that we have something in common. With all the differences that we have, we still kind of speak the same language and we share values. And I believe it’s all about trust. When you learn to trust the people that you work with, you believe that you can do something and bring an impact to the world through that kind of work. 

Now, I’ve been working with Zionists all my life. I’ve been working at the Ministry of Education. The Arab minority, the Palestinian minority in Israel knows really well to work with  Zionists. We have a great hard time when the word Zionist is put in each time, two or three times in one sentence. And we prefer working on organizations that do not straightforwardly, although they are Zionist, but they don’t have that in the definition.

And the reason for that is understandable. Zionism, as it is in Israel, and I understand that there is a little bit of difference between the way we view Zionism as Palestinians, and the way Israelis, uh, Israeli Jews understand Zionism and the way American Jews understand Zionism.

But it’s a competing narrative to ours. So it’s very natural to feel that you don’t wanna be in an institution that defines itself as such. From this other side, that was the challenging part of it. That was the intriguing part of it, is that you’re not doing the obvious. On the contrary, you’re trying to figure out a solution to a very complex problem, slash problems, in a setting, which was very challenging to me and wasn’t the obvious setting to do that. 

And I believe that if we want to come and work on shared society, and that’s what the center is trying to do, we have to be engaged in different conversations with different populations. As long as we believe that we share the same destiny eventually, and we wanna work toward a better future for everybody involved or feels that they have a stake. 

Yehuda: So ultimately, like I understand what you’re basically saying. Palestinians are always gonna have to work with Israelis and Israeli institutions, even just to advance their own self-interest.

But you’re going one step further. You believe that it’s actually genuinely possible for Palestinians, citizens of Israel, that not only are we working together around like to achieve your own self-interest, like Palestinian citizens of Israel have to work with the Zionist Ministry of the Interior to get what they need for their lives.

But you’ve made a bigger claim, which is that we actually can pursue the possibility of a same shared destiny. So what’s that dream?

Rana: Um. We learned from the past years that working only on mutual interests works only for the short term because eventually if we don’t talk about our identity and we don’t figure out how to come to peace with our history and with the competing narratives, with the big issues like occupation, like civil rights and national rights for Palestinians who are citizens of Israel, eventually, even if we have common interests and we work together and sometimes we attain some of these common interests, at the end, at times of crisis, people tend to go back to their tribes. And people tend to fall back into the places where we don’t wanna go. 

And in order for us to be able not only to work on these short-term interests, we have to be engaged in a different kind of conversation. And to be engaged in that kind of conversation. And you said that in your introduction, you have to be very confident of who you are and the fact that I’m talking to people who have a completely different narrative and a competing story does not influence me or influence my stance, but I wanna meet with them on a basis of shared values in order to be able to move forward for the good future of our children. 

Now, how does that look like? It’s interesting, it has to be something which is holistic. We have to talk about the occupation, about ending the occupation, because as a national minority in the state of Israel, we will always be related, and you as an American Jew with the beautiful introduction that you made about Jerusalem, would understand that most, we will always be related to our Palestinian brothers and sisters who are in the West Bank and Gaza. 

And as long as they are suffering, there would be something missing, even if we get our civic rights completely, and even if we get even acknowledged as a national minority in Israel, which is again far from, the reality now, and it’s also the state of Israel will always look at us suspiciously, and maybe rightfully so because they see us as part of the enemy.

I think the Palestinian citizens in the state of Israel throughout the 75 years of the state of Israel proved beyond doubt that they are loyal to the laws of the country. They never walked away from their citizenship during all this period, but still, the issue of occupation is in the middle of that relationship, complex relationship with our significant other.

Yehuda: So what I heard in what you said earlier that in order for shared society to work, you have to simultaneously be willing to work with the people who hold radically different identities and historical claims than the ones that you have, and maybe paradoxically, you have to be the kinds of people who can have the resilience of holding onto your own identity.

I assume that that’s a critique where sometimes shared society, like any kind of cross-identity group, people kind of start becoming the same. They start to lose the pieces of their identity. And then what have you achieved? You’ve come across some difference.

But there’s something almost paradoxical baked into what you said around ending occupation, for instance. The more explicit the political claims become of those who want to enter into shared society work, the more obstacles you start to invite from the very people you’re trying to talk to. So how does that actually, what does that actually look like in the work? Because in theory I could talk to people with totally different political views, but if I’m actually trying to make change, the more explicit I am about the change, the more resistance that you’re gonna get on the other end.

So how do you, how do you imagine how that’s supposed to play out?

Rana: Yeah. So the model that we work at the center at Hartman is a model where, engages people first and foremost, in a conversation about, as we said, values and not about stance. Eventually, we will get to talk about stance. But first of all, the first circle is, as you said, you have to be very confident of who you are and what the values that you have and what you stand for in life.

The second circle would be starting learning about the other, and one of our biggest enemies is actually ignorance. There is a very strange relationship between Palestinian citizens of Israel and the Jewish citizens of Israel, where the Jews don’t know anything almost about the Palestinians. And those who know are really in the margins. 

Some of them know that they know and others don’t know that they don’t know. And with the Palestinians we live in the illusion that we know Israelis very well. But when it comes to the real foundations of faith, even the real Zionism, that when different Israelis relate to, how is that different from Jabotinsky’s Zionism or Herzl’s? We don’t know that. 

So one of the main things is that we have to work on that component of knowledge, because in order to change attitudes, behaviors, you have to change attitudes. And in order to, to change attitudes, you need to learn more about the other. And then the last circle would be that for those people to come in together and talk. And first of all, we wanna be engaged in a conversation about values and then talk about stance, and that makes the conversation look differently.

This process also helps build trust. One of the things that we also wanna work on is that we have to understand that none of us will probably get the whole dream, the full dream. We have to compromise at some places and we have to decide for ourselves first, what is the price that I’m ready to pay in order to get X and that, and that also sounds paradoxical.

But that’s the greatness of the work that we’re trying to do with other institutions where we wanna be working on the real tough issues and to figure of a way to talk about these things. One thing is it’s very important to talk to those who are different from you, but it’s also very important to strengthen, especially in times like these and especially in that political atmosphere that we have now in Israel, is that it’s very also important to strengthen your camp, so to speak, the people who actually have the same values and ideas, strengthen them and then start talking to those who are different than you. 

And it will always be the case that there are those in the margins that will never agree. And that’s okay. We don’t have to have a hundred percent of two populations, we just need to have a significant majority.

Yehuda: So it’s interesting that you’re embarking on this work right now. I mean, you came to Hartman before the recent election results, but one would imagine that given how polarizing these political results were, how significant the rise of Jewish religious nationalism, ultra-nationalism, the political right in this country, that one of the things that that would symbolize, and it’s been the case all over the world, is that when you see the rise on one extreme, you’re gonna see the rise on the other.

What you’re, it’s striking to engage in this work right now when one would imagine the obvious political alternative is to build the alternative. So I guess I’m just curious about your own, not about your politics, but about what it means to double down on this work right now in this political climate as opposed to, I mean, maybe this is a way of fighting the political reality, but it feels like a gesture towards something different than just pushing back against the rise of the political right in Israel. 

Rana: I’m not sure I agree. On the contrary, I see it as one action that completes the other. One of the issues that we’re facing with is that we have to claim back the public sphere, in the sense that the public discourse is becoming more and more violent, more and more racist.

And the big question is, and if we wanna build the alternative and to think, how do we win the next round of the elections, and that’s the just symptom because the elections are the, just a symptom of things that are happening in the community, in the society. 

And one of the ways is to come and say, hello people, you know, we’re going to places that we shouldn’t be going to, and we wanna claim back the public sphere. And the public discourse is actually to engage in people talking about each other, working together in order to find some kind of common ground that they can work on. 

And many times you start with basic understandings, it doesn’t have to be that we fully agree on everything. We can partially agree on some issues which are basic and important to our everyday, and issues that actually are endangering the democracy in Israel. And that’s, that’s the mesimah, that’s what we have to do now. That’s the, the job that we have to do now, because jeopardizing the democracy in Israel, obviously we as Palestinians will pay the highest price, but everybody will pay that price. Not only the Palestinians. 

So first we have to look for places where we can find people that have these basic understandings and common ground to build something. And it’s like building a building. So you build the first floor and you build the second and you build the third. And that’s building the alternative. That’s the grassroot, building the alternative. 

Of course, another way of doing that is building political capital, but they don’t go one against the other. On the contrary, they both go into the same point of actually finding an alternative and an alternative even, a social alternative between the people who are sharing the land.

Yehuda: So one of the things that’s tricky about this right now is that there’s been shared society work going on for decades. You know, buried in my biography is that when I was a college student, we never talked about this, when I was a college student, I used to come here during the summers and I interned for the ECF, which was the, which was the, we worked on people to people projects. 

That was in the, kind of the heyday of Oslo. Oslo was like a shooting star. Started up very high and then quickly plummeted. And there was a lot of work and that was actually kind of theoretically cross-border work between Israel and the West Bank on building relationships between Israelis and Palestinians in certain professional sectors, economic cooperation. And besides, even, not just in the West Bank, but inside the Green Line, there has been a whole history of shared society work. 

What do you think hasn’t worked so far and what do you think are the foundations of that work that you think we’re building on when trying to do something a little bit different today?

Rana: When it comes to shared society work, we had two big milestones in the sense of that, I think we upgraded the kind of work that we do. In 2000 after unfortunate events where 13 Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed by the security forces in Israel, we shifted, actually. Up to that point we were talking about coexistence, and then we suddenly realized that the power relations that are there does not allow you to talk about coexistence. Because you have to exist before you coexist. 

Then we shifted, and it’s not only something that has to do with language. We shifted from coexistence to building a shared society or what we call in Hebrew shared living. And the idea was, is that in order actually for us to build something which is sustainable, we need to have to share the power. Otherwise it will forever be not equal and not sustainable in that sense. 

And now we understand also after 20 years, and especially after last May, is that we need to talk about two main issues, which the first is power sharing and the second is acknowledgement.

Eventually, we all want to be acknowledged and for our history and narrative and our story to be acknowledged by the other. Even the strong side of the equation, which are the Jews in the state of Israel, still need acknowledgement of the Palestinians in the right of the land.

So when you, whenever you engage in a conversation with an Israeli Jew, he immediately demands me for, as a Palestinian, to come and say, but you have to understand that this is a Jewish state. Like, what if I don’t? What if I don’t admit that? What would happen? You’re the strong party here. You control everything. Why is that so important? 

And this is the kind of work that we’re trying to do now in the sense that before talking about power sharing, which is very legitimate, we have to talk about acknowledging, we have to acknowledge the other story. You don’t have to agree with it. You don’t have to adopt it yourself, but you have to acknowledge that the other person has a fair claim of 1, 2, 3, and they can decide on their claim and you can even allow yourself to come and say that this is a just claim. And then let’s build a relationship where power sharing is also very important. 

You know, we refer to 1948 as the Nakba, which is like the catastrophe of the Palestinian people. And one of the characteristics about the Nakba is that it is a continuous catastrophe. In two senses. First of all, up till today we haven’t managed, neither to end the occupation nor to be acknowledged as a national minority within the state of Israel. 

But the other thing is that the Palestinian people generally, and especially the Palestinians who are citizens of the state of Israel, never had the chance to mourn what they lost. And if you cannot mourn what you lost, you cannot move forward. In order for you to be able to move forward, you know, you have to mourn. 

And because of this continuous engagement in the civil struggle that we have and in the national struggle that we have, we never managed to mourn what we lost. Now we call for a Palestinian state, but we know very well that we will not be part of that Palestinian state. We will forever be a national minority in the state of Israel. 

Now this is big. Just the acknowledgement that this is happening is a process that, you know, it can be mind blowing. And as long as we, as Palestinians, manage to mourn and to give the acknowledgement, and through doing that, you need to understand that you also have to acknowledge the other’s need for that acknowledgement again. 

Yehuda: Right, but there’s something very subtle here because what you said earlier is, I can’t tolerate a pre-condition that when Israeli Jews say to me, in order to start a conversation, don’t you believe that this is a Jewish state?

You’re like, well, I don’t accept that presupposition, but by definition, in order to be able to engage across difference, they need something from you and you need something from them. So where I guess I agree with you conceptually, is you can’t enter into any serious negotiation, especially together with people you wanna live with long term, you can’t engage in a negotiation by stipulating the core commitment that’s gonna jeopardize your whole identity cause then you’re not in a negotiation. You’ve given up everything right before the conversation started. 

On the other hand, you do want to see Israelis really wrestle with the fact that they may feel that 1948 was Yom Haatzmaut, but to you it is Nakba and that that’s not gonna go away for you. So I don’t know where the line quite is between accepting that these are the terms of someone else’s identity that is probably not gonna change versus stipulating a position that can’t be negotiated about. 

Do you see, that’s what feels stuck for me.

Rana: Mm-hmm. And actually that’s what makes the conversation not go forward.

I think that part of it is being courageous and exactly articulating what we need from each other in the sense that, if somebody tells me, you have to understand that it’s a Jewish state and by saying, why do you need that? It’s not because I don’t give the right for the Jews to be in their homeland. I just want a place there. 

So in a sense, and this is something that many times we as Palestinians find hard time to say. And many times the Israelis do not actually accept that because they want for Israel to be only the homeland only for the Jewish people. And as an indigenous national group, we come and say, and we’ve come as an indigenous national group a very long way. A very long way. Which is not given enough credit, I have to tell you. 

Because if you were to talk to my great-grandfather, and if you were to ask him in the 20s of the first century, and even to my grandfather in 1948, is there a place for the Jews in Palestine? Most probably he would tell you no. And he would tell you that this is a colonialist project that you know, we need to fight. 

I come and say, of course there is a place for Jews in this land. And of course you have the right to be in your homeland and now you’re the majority in Israel. And we ask for a Palestinian state, what would be the majority, where Palestinians are, and most probably in both countries, we will have minorities. But you need to acknowledge also that this is my homeland. 

I’m not here as a visitor, I’m not a guest. I’ve been rooted here for hundreds and hundreds of years. If it’s only your homeland, what does that make me? It will forever make me a second rate citizen in the state of Israel. But I am in my homeland and I accept Israel as the country that is ruling this land, but it is my homeland too. 

Yehuda: So let’s talk a little bit more about Palestinian-ness. Right, because you even said earlier, you know, there’s a kind of invisibilizing or people don’t fully embrace or not sufficiently curious about the Palestinian-ness. I even asked you before we started about the terminology about do you wanna be referred to as an Israeli Arab? And you said, Nope, Palestinian. 

And in general, my feeling is people get to self-identify the way they wanna identify. But then you also said in this conversation as just now, your dream would be a Palestinian state adjacent to a state of Israel in which you would be a Palestinian minority. So what’s at stake in holding onto the claim of your Palestinian-ness? 

And I’ll play out the question. If you go even to the right, center-right, among Israeli Jews, there’s only a far extreme right which wants to get rid of Palestinians. The center-right would be perfectly happy to have a Palestinian minority so long as it was very clear, as you said before, that it’s a Jewish state and they get to be a minority population. They get queasy around the claiming of a Palestinian national identity.

So, I’m sympathetic to the claim. This is a national identity, whether or not it’s the sovereign identity within the state of Israel. But what does it mean to you? I know it’s an absurd question cause it’s asking you about your core identity, but what is the, ultimately that claim about, what do you get to hold onto by talking about Palestinian-ness that is really important for Zionists to hear whether they’re Israeli or in the diaspora?

Rana: The very simple, straightforward question is that is who I am. My name is Rana, and exactly as my name is Rana, and this is the name that my parents picked for me, whether I like it or not, uh, I’m a Palestinian. And historically speaking in Palestine, okay, there was no difference actually between those who lived in, uh, Jenin or Ramallah or Bethlehem, and those who lived in Nazareth. We belong to the same nation. We speak the same language. We share the same religious culture, although we are Christians and Muslims, but there is this religious culture that we all use. We have the same history. We were divided somehow in 48 and 67, I would say pretty randomly, and we are part of that nation.

There is no such thing an Israeli Arab. This is a term that the state of Israel and Israelis brought into the table because it’s very hard to talk about our Palestinian-hood, because again, it’s associated with the enemy and they don’t wanna associate us, and they want us to drift apart from that identity because that identity is threatening.

But let’s imagine that world where everything is beautiful and there is peace. That identity wouldn’t be threatening anymore, but it is who I am. That’s part of who I am. And of course, Yehuda, and I’m not trying to, this is also a political statement. A political statement where it comes and says, I’m part of that nation and I need you to acknowledge that I’m part from that nation, and I need you to acknowledge the compromise that to you might sound not as a compromise, but it is to me. 

And the fact that I’m saying I’m a Palestinian citizen of Israel is also a political statement. Because I’m taking upon me that citizenship. And I said that before, even in the worst time, we as a population never walked out from our citizenship from the state of Israel. So it’s simply who we are. Calling us Arabs is excellent. That’s also my identity. But the Syrians are Arabs and the Lebanese and Arabs and the Saudis are Arabs. We are all part of the Arab nation, but we are Palestinian. We belong to the land. That’s our relation to the land also, and that’s what makes the connection. I’m living in a state which does not share the same nationality as I do, and I’m accepting that on myself, but it doesn’t mean that I have to deny who I am. 

Yehuda: So let’s go back to where I started a little bit, which is, you’ve gotten an opportunity in the last, how long you been at Hartman, nine, six months, nine months? Seven, something like that. 

Rana: Yeah, seven, seven months.

Yehuda: to be an insider to a different group’s conversation. I’m curious a little bit what that feels like. I don’t think I’ve ever, I’m like, you know, I’ve been working with the Jews for a long time. I certainly have never been like that level of kind of unique individual within another group’s internal conversation.

But one of the things that I take pride in in this institution is that by virtue of the fact that we are of a particular group, there’s actually quite a bit of difference of opinion within the institute. I’m curious what it’s been like to be sometimes inside of those conversations, um, very acutely and sometimes like a fly on the wall of the conversation inside the Jewish community.

You’ve seen, you’ve been inside an American Jewish conversation when you were at the Hartman board meetings in America, and certainly inside a Zionist conversation here. Tell us a little bit about what that’s about like.

Rana: Well, I have to say that that’s fascinating and I feel very privileged. I don’t think that many non-Jews get the chance to actually be part and not for, you know, a glimpse, but actually to be part and to hear all the conversation and all of its sides, both here in Israel and also, and especially, in North America.

And I really do feel privileged. It’s been a teaching process, which is genuinely mind-blowing. And one of the questions that I actually asked my colleagues is, is the conversation different that I’m now in the room? And I was very happy actually to learn that, it could be that in the people’s minds, they’re aware of me, but the conversations themselves are not different.

Which goes back to the first point that we talked about. When you trust people and you believe that these are people who you share the same values with, then yeah, that the conversation shouldn’t be changed. And they should take into consideration the fact that there is non-Jew, but it doesn’t change the essence of the conversations that they had.

I learned a lot, especially about the American Jewry a lot. And one of the things is that I never thought, we as Palestinian always view the American Jewry as the great force that supports the state of Israel, and influences the American policies in doing that. And now I understand this is a huge force, but it also keeps Israel on edge and asks the right question when it comes to liberalism and democracy. 

And I think this is a huge asset. It’s a huge asset to the state of Israel. That’s, I think, obvious, but it’s a huge asset to us Palestinians because we want to have allies or people who actually are demanding not of Israel that it is, but what Israel ought to be and asking the right questions about liberalism and democracy, and to me that is like, wow.

Yehuda: Well, there are sectors, obviously, of the Palestinian population who would like to see the American Jewish community raise the temperature much higher. They would wanna see, in fact, they would wanna see the American Jewish community really turn against the state of Israel, use whatever political power and financial capital that’s available to us to put financial and political and economic pressure.

It’s not really how Hartman Institute comes at things. So it means that, ironically, to get to what you’re talking about, right, we as an American Jewish community actually need to bolster liberal Zionist support for the state of Israel in order to be able to partner with Palestinians and Israelis to advance the causes of liberal liberal democracy.

I’m sure that that keeps you up at night a little bit, right? Because you’re then participating in something, I’m not putting this on you, I’m just, as my own words, you’re not, in fact participating in the advancement to some degree of the Zionist project. That’s really tricky. 

Rana: That’s a tough question. You should have warned me that you were gonna ask this question.

Uh, I don’t view it as such. And that’s the change in the, in my line of thinking. And the question is, what do you mean by Zionism? If Zionism means that you support the state of Israel, the existence of the state of Israel, okay then I have no problem with that.

If Zionism means that you support Israel no matter what and how illiberal and anti-democratic it might get, then we have a problem there. But, again, when you have a Zionist voice, and now I’m looking at it as a fly on the wall, as you said. Now I’m the fly on the wall because I cannot encourage or discourage Zionism. That’s not my, 

Yehuda: It’s not your line of work. 

Rana: It’s not my line of work, and it’s not my role in the world. But as a fly on the wall, if I see that your Zionism, by definition is a Zionism of liberal values, talks about liberal Judaism, talks about strengthening the democracy in Israel. Then I root for you. I think that’s the kind of work that needs to be done. 

By the way, as us Palestinians always say, our historical role in the state of Israel is that we always challenge the limits of the democracy of the Jewish state. We always ask for more. And then in a sense, by challenging it, we make it better. And when it becomes better, it becomes better for everybody. 

Yehuda: Let’s say we’re successful Rana, right? Let’s say we’re successful over the next, I don’t wanna be ridiculous. And I work for an educational institution. Let’s say we both give our lives to this work and 20 or 30 years from now, the story looks different. Liberal democracy, capacity for identities to be seen fully and wholly, in the sense that both Zionists and Palestinians feel actualization of their political needs and they feel their national rights are respected.

I wonder what’s gonna happen to memory and history. Is there gonna be a version of the future when we have to let go a little bit of the past. I would never make that demand of anybody, certainly not as a Jewish person. But you do know that sometimes, like, in order to actually forge something different, it can’t continue to be the injustices of the past.

And I, as we talked about before, I feel sometimes like the Israeli Palestinian conversation, sometimes one side wants to talk about policy and the other one wants to talk about memory and vice versa. And then you never can get on the same page at the same time. 

How are we gonna hold on to this vision of a future when there’s so much daily trauma that’s rooted not just in the past, but even in the ongoing fear and lived experience of Israelis and Palestinians faced to one another?

Rana: You know, some researchers would claim that actually our narrative changes with time. The way you tell the story of the Nakba in the fifties is different from the way you tell it in the seventies, and it’s different from the way you tell it in 2000. And different definitely from the way it’s told 2022. 

And I think it’s the same for all our traumas. And that’s the normal course of our lives, that our narratives change with time. And that’s a blessing. And I guess that if we allow ourselves again to mourn what we lost and to reconcile with our past and to find solutions for the injustices that were made in the past, that narrative might be still be held in the way it is, but there are other parts of it that, or the continuation of the story will also be told. 

So you might be actually starting from a traumatic experience that goes for 70, 75 years and then you start telling a different story. And by continuing that story, it would influence the beginning of your story, and that’s the nature of the things and the way they go.

But for that to happen again, we need to mourn. Both parties. We need to reconcile with our past. We need to find a way to redefine our identity that fits, by the way, the modern world, even in places where you don’t have conflicts or disputes, our identities change all the time, and we manage to hold multiple identities or multiple layers of our identities.

And then eventually, if you’re optimistic, if you believe in people and you want to move on, to have to look for a better future for your children or grandchildren, at that age in 20, 30 years, we’ll be at that age. 

Yehuda: Mm-hmm. Inshallah.

Rana: Yeah. Inshallah, amen. Then yeah, you can reframe it, but that is a conversation that it’s way too early for us to discuss now. But in 20, 30 years, I think people would be able to do that.

Yehuda: I like the idea that 70, how many years again? 

Rana: 75 years. 

Yehuda: 75, yes. Right. Since Yom Haatzmaut. Since Nakba, it’s still a little too early. I like that. I guess good news and bad news. Rana, what

Rana: No, because there is no, because we haven’t managed, 

Yehuda: Because there’s no resolution. Yeah. 

Rana: Yeah. Because we haven’t managed to solve the issues. Not internally in Israel and not when it comes to ending the occupation.

Yehuda: Yeah. But if there’s something also that the question of history and memory and trauma is so implicated here because these two stories are so interwoven with each other. It’s not actually, the Jewish people’s story is somewhere else. And then it clashes with this story. It’s actually the last a hundred years has been the interweaving of memory and trauma in ways that are gonna require a lot of disentangling.

Rana, what, what ultimately gives you hope? Like I, I can’t imagine you get up every day, come to work. There’s a lot of work to do. There’s a lot of problems to solve. But you can’t do this work, no one, none of us could do this work if you didn’t actually believe it was possible. So what is it that motivates you to keep at it?

Rana: So I always quote Professor Fox who said about educators, you cannot work in education if you are not optimistic and you cannot work in education if you’re cynical. So, and we’re educators and we’re optimistic by nature. 

Another thing is that even in very hard times, you understand how important your role is. As we always say, you mourn for two and a half seconds, and then you get up and you start doing the work, because that makes your work even more important and you understand how important that work is. I believe in people. And I believe in us, and I want a better future for my children.

I don’t want my children to be pushed away from their homeland. I want my three children to have homes in Jerusalem and I want them to live a decent life. And in order to do that, I need partners. And all of this gives us hope.

Yehuda: Well, thank you all for listening to our show this week, and special thanks to my guest, Rana Fahoum.

Identity Crisis is produced by Davids Zvi Kalman. It was recorded in Jerusalem by Yoav Friedman, and edited by Gareth Hobbs and Corey Choy at Silver Sound NYC. Our production manager is M. Louis Gordon. The show is produced with assistance from Maital Friedman, Miri Miller, and Shalhevet Schwartz, with music provided by Socalled.

The transcripts of our show are now available on our website, typically about a week after an episode airs. To find them and to learn more about the Shalom Hartman Institute, you can visit us online at We’re always looking for ideas of what we should cover in future episodes. If you have a topic you want to hear about or comments on this one, you can write to us at [email protected].

We’re always looking for ideas of what we should cover in future episodes, if you have a topic you want to hear about or if you have comments on this one, you can write to us at [email protected].

You can rate and review our show on iTunes to help more people find the show. You can subscribe to Identity Crisis Everywhere podcasts are available. We’ll see you next week and thanks for listening.

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