There’s a broken record I’m tired of hearing play on the streets of Tel Aviv. Israelis of conscience cry out, “No one listens to us, not in our own country and not abroad. Since our opponents on the right seem invincible and since no one cares what we do anyway, let’s do nothing.” In turn, international journalists and progressives reply, “We have seen no action on the Israeli left, so let’s all agree not to look for it.” Who got us into this loop? Listless Israeli leftists or the dismissive international crowd?
Given the rapid clip at which Trump and Netanyahu have ramped up their collusion, there is no time to waste pondering chicken-versus-egg questions like this. There are new Israeli activists who know this. At their center is a growing grassroots political movement called Standing Together, which is a partnership between Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel (and of which I am a member). Without waiting for an invitation from some higher progressive authority, Alon-Lee Green, who is now 31, founded the movement two years ago with the help of friends. So far, it has managed to shape government policies on multiple occasions and also earn the respect of progressive leaders like Bernie Sanders and Keith Ellison. At a meeting with Standing Together in June, Jon Lansman, of Britain’s Momentum movement, called the group “a fantastic inspiration.”
Aside from the critical decision to make this a partnership among Israeli citizens of all ethnic backgrounds, there are other strengths to the movement’s model. For one, Standing Together insists on connecting struggles for economic equality with those for racial equality. This means that its members have shown up to support fair working contracts and disability benefits as well as an end to the occupation and discrimination against Palestinians within Israeli society. In the past, when people have tried to isolate one side of this equation, their story has come out incoherent and people have been excluded.
Second, Standing Together is a movement, rather than a non-governmental organization, or NGO. Anyone who saw the footage of Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier who shot an already immobile Palestinian knife-attacker in the head, knows that it was the Israeli NGO B’tselem (or In God’s Image, in English) who filmed and publicized this crime. The Israelis who took this footage have faced accusations of treason, violent threats on social media, and public shaming. Such brave acts of conscience must not be underestimated. But, as Green explained in an interview, “NGOs are for professional activists. You cannot just walk out onto the street and join B’tselem.”