A Day about Racism, in Israel

Hebrew version

The following is a brief report about a daylong event I led for a small group of activists. Almost all of them work in Jewish-Arab peace education and co-existence programs. I have been working in that field for many years and am always looking for ways to “plant” the ideas and practice of RC into the work.

I offered to lead a day for people active in the field of education. It would focus on racism and liberation from racism. I knew how hard it could be to recruit people for such a day, so I suggested that the organization I work for pay something to the participants. I made it clear that all of them would be people I knew personally who would find it useful to participate in such a day. In my head my idea was to invite people who, in my judgment, would be a good match for RC—or who at least might be interested in our ideas and be able to listen to them without getting too restimulated by the practice.

All of the people I invited had heard about RC during the previous few months. They were also people I liked and with whom I wanted to strengthen my connection.

Ten of us got together in a small place in the north of Israel. We were three Palestinians (Israeli Arabs) and seven Jews (three Mizrahim and four Ashkenazim). Three of the Jews, including me, were RC leaders. Two of the others were RCers still in a fundamentals class.

I started the day by sharing the RC understanding of human beings, and how our goodness is indisputable—no matter how bad we act, or feel about ourselves. We did a short mini-session on how good we all are, which helped people to think about it and to connect with each other.

After that I talked about the effects of discharge, how central and essential it is, and what happens to humans when it is blocked. I also spoke about how attention, connection, and closeness are important in our use of discharge. Then we did short sessions in small groups. Following that, Merchi Shoukroon (one of the Jewish RC leaders) did a demonstration with an Arab-Palestinian woman with whom she had a long and close connection. It was a powerful demonstration.

After a break, I spoke directly about racism and the ways it hurts us all, both oppressed and oppressors. I spoke about the importance of discharge in that context and different ways to work as oppressed and oppressors. Then we split into two groups—an Ashkenazi group and a Mizrahi-Palestinian group. Merchi led the second group. She knew how to help them make connections and feel comfortable with each other, and almost all of them discharged well. In the Ashkenazi group, everybody worked with a lot of courage and integrity on their oppressor distress. For me it was evidence that we had managed to create a safe atmosphere.

As I prepared for the day, I wasn’t sure how soon or how much I should emphasize discharge. I wanted to speak about it, but I didn’t know how openly I could do that without the participants getting restimulated. After a little discharge and thinking, I realized that I had no choice. If I wanted things to quickly start moving, I needed to speak about discharge directly. I think that my doing that, and saying how central discharge is to our attempts to change society, helped people have access to their distress and to look at it.

We can take different tactics with different groups and organizations. In this case, it looked like I made the right decision. Being open about discharge allowed the participants to make the connection between what had happened to them and the social situation—something that is confusing and unclear to many people.

I also wanted to counter the message from society that to lead a change in society one needs to give up on and sacrifice oneself. I reminded each participant that he or she was an important and valuable person.

Another challenge was how to not skip over or minimize the Mizrahi issue. Almost all the social change organizations in Israel lack an understanding of the racism aimed at Mizrahim. In many ways, we can look at Mizrahi racism toward Arabs as internalized oppression, even though Mizrahi Jews in Israel do, in fact, act as agents of oppression toward Arabs. All of us have work to do on this issue—listening, learning, and discharging. This time I decided that the line between oppressors and oppressed would be between the white Ashkenazi Jews and the Jews of the Global Majority along with the Palestinians.

I gave examples of the racism directed at Palestinians and at Jews of the Global Majority and did my best to not make it seem like one was less severe or significant than the other. At the same time, I didn’t deny the different roles of the two groups or blur the fact that they have had different experiences in terms of institutional violence and access to resources.

When we split into support groups, the Ashkenazim worked together on their oppressor distress and the Mizrahim and Palestinians worked together on their oppression. This allowed for a connection between the Mizrahim and the Arabs.

It was an exciting and interesting day for me and I think for the others as well. It proved to me how important and relevant our ideas are. I am continuing to think, discharge, and look for more opportunities to go out into the world with our theory and practice.

Ofer Lior

Tuval, Israel

Translated from Hebrew by Ofer Lior, with assistance from Joelle Hochman

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of Jews

(Present Time 190, January 2018)


Last modified: 2019-05-21 23:54:56+00