Hillel Ben Sasson on Progressive Leadership and Jewish Identity in Israel and the Diaspora

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Grace Gleason and Hillel Ben Sasson in Jerusalem on June 1, 2017.
In the past several months, the US has seen a wave of progressive victories in local elections from New York to Jackson, Mississippi. At a time when many people are for the first time pouring their energy into building local electoral power in the US, Dr. Hillel Ben Sasson is devoting himself to a similar model of building a progressive political base from the ground up in Israel through the Academy for Liberal Israel, a leadership institute he founded in 2016. Ben Sasson has also dedicated much of his recent academic research to the relationship between Israel, the Diaspora and Jewish identity, and currently serves as a visiting professor in Israel Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. In his June 1, 2017 interview with AJPA in Jerusalem, Ben Sasson spoke about the misconceptions and identity politics that impact the ability of progressive Israeli and Diaspora Jews to effectively collaborate in their activism.

To frame this problem of a lack of progressive alliances between the two groups, Ben Sasson expressed frustration about the power that many American Jews wield in Israel without being connected to efforts on the ground. He emphasized how American Jews “construct an image of Israel” that we can fit into our own identity, neglecting to interact with Israelis, politics, or truths that don’t match our image. He personally believes that there is a tendency of both rightwing and leftwing American Jews to see Israel not as a polity but as a place to express our personal values. “You think this is your moral Disneyland,” he said.

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Anat Saragusti on Women Wage Peace

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Grace Gleason and Anat Saragusti
On September 25, one the first days of the new year, the Israeli women’s grassroots activist movement Women Wage Peace (Nashim Osot Shalom) embarked on an impressive “Journey to Peace,” a multi-day march through the land of Israel-Palestine, which will culminate next week during the holiday of Sukkot. This is not the first ambitious undertaking of Women Wage Peace (WWP), who have an impressive history of disruptive, bold, radically optimistic, and resilient activism. “We,” write the activist collective in their press release about the Journey, “who fasted for 50 days in front of the Prime Minister’s residence, who marched 200 kilometers from Rosh Hanikra in our March of Hope, who rode by train from Nahariya to Sderot, who stood at 140 intersections throughout the country – we are beginning a journey that will echo in Israel and around the world: Peace is possible.”

In June of this year, I had the opportunity to interview, with AJPA Director Aliza Becker, one of the leaders of this movement: renowned journalist, activist, and human rights advocate Anat Saragusti. We met with Saragusti at the central public library in Tel Aviv. She spoke about the dreams, challenges, ideology, and strategy of this singularly powerful activist movement. As the group embarks on their latest venture, and as we stand in the wake of our Jewish season of reflection and commitment to change, we thought that there is no better time than now to share these reflections from one of WWP’s leaders.

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