Zehava Galon was a Member of Knesset for 16 years, including six years as Chair of the Meretz party.
Galon is known for her commitment to human rights, women’s rights, and ending the occupation.
She is the recipient of numerous awards, including The Movement for Quality Government in Israel award, the Ometz Prize for her struggle for social justice, the LGBT Community Award for her fight for equal rights for the community, the Medal of the Fight Against Human Trafficking, the Mahatma Gandhi Prize, the B’Tselem organization’s President Carter Award for Human Rights, and the American Council of Jewish Women’s Promising Women’s Award.
Since leaving the Knesset, Galon has continued her public activities, writes a weekly column in the Haaretz newspaper, and is a regular guest on current affairs shows.
I have been taking part in public/political struggles in Israel all my adult life, and I know we cannot afford to despair. Despair is so convenient: it allows us to give up, lean back and moan with friends. It changes nothing, because when you despair you cede the battlefield to the rival. The rival does not despair. It brims with energy.
A huge consciousness-engineering apparatus has been trying to drill it into us that the struggle is lost, that there is no sense to it, that the “public” is against us. Somehow, the public is never us in this discourse. This is an ahistorical view: It argues that there is no change and no possibility of change, that what was is what will be. But all you have to do is look around and see how it is totally unfounded.
They want us to forget who we are and what our tradition is. We are democrats, we are the ones who forced society to advance against its will. If children no longer work in mines, if it goes without saying that every adult has the right to vote, if there is an eight-hour workday, if there is agreement – albeit reluctantly – to a minimum wage, if women are no longer the property of their husband or father, if sexual harassment is forbidden, if consumers of prostitution are criminalized, if for-profit companies can no longer poison the environment as they please — if all this has happened, it has happened thanks to resolute liberal women and men who did not give up at much worse times than the ones we are living in today.
This is why, of all times, it was during the terrible year we have just been through that I decided to establish Zulat. We are a research institute, but one whose goal is not only to present reality, but also to change it. I believe that in the current situation, change cannot only come from the Knesset – and I say this as someone who was a Member of Knesset for 16 years. The changes introduced to Basic Law: The Government have emasculated the Knesset and further shattered the status of the opposition, which was one of the weakest in the democratic world to being with. Therefore, we have no choice but to act out of civil society to influence the political system from the outside, to force it to recognize reality, and then to change it.
It should be noted that the conservative side of the map has long been doing this. It has set up research institutes and think tanks that work to expound its vision among MKs, ministers, and government officials. For too long we neglected this aspect, which has resulted in only one voice being heard.
We in Zulat intend once again to stand proudly for what we believe in, including for the fact that language shapes reality. We reject the existing order, and we will do our best to disrupt it. To this end, we will first need to remind Israelis that despair is not an agenda or a divine decree. We deserve more, and we can achieve more.
As shown by our survey within the “Zulat Human Rights Index” project, 86% of respondents do not believe the government is doing enough to protect their human rights. Naturally, given the past year’s pandemic, the public primarily cares about the right to make a living and the right to health services – two rights where the public has long outpaced the government.
The people want rights, and we will remind them that the basis for these rights exists. The Declaration of Independence guarantees them, and we’ll bring it back to life. The public debate on the findings of the “Human Rights Index” will in the future form the basis for the legislation of a series of basic laws that guarantee human rights, and eventually atone for the error committed by the first Knesset by anchoring human rights in an egalitarian and pluralistic constitution that secures national and civil equality so that basic rights are no longer putty in the hands of a random coalition.
We will talk about how all rights are interconnected and intertwined. The limited liberal/civil rights that exist now are no longer enough! We know that it is difficult to effect freedoms if universal, private, collective, and basic social rights are not protected. Social rights are essential to our vision.
Our goal in Zulat is an arduous one: To convince influencers in Israel, many of whom are addicted to despair and to reporting about it, that a different future is possible. We will conceptualize for them the situation as it is by means of updates on the breaches in our rights, such as our reports on the state of the elderly during the corona crisis or on the need to outfit policemen with bodycams, and we will shed light on the change that people want. We will call a spade a spade, and we will bring down the walls.
Hard? Yes. Impossible, no. I was born in a country that no longer exists, the Soviet Union, which may have been the worst dictatorship in human history and surely one of the most murderous ones. In 1985 US Intelligence assessed that it would still be around in the following decades, but it collapsed in 1989 and officially pronounced dead in 1991. No one saw it coming, and yet today the USSR is a distant memory.
If that huge change was possible, so is the one before us. You and I will change the world, as the Israeli song says, and then it won’t be so bad. We can, and must, give the next generation a better world. It’s in our hands. Do not despair. To paraphrase Napoleon, reject despair and it will shift to your rivals.
Dr. Rawia Aburabia
Dr. Rawia Aburabia is a post-doctoral fellow at the Faculty of Law and the Women and Gender Studies program at Tel Aviv University. She completed her MA in international law at the American University in Washington DC, and holds a PhD from Hebrew University. Aburabia has vast experience in international law and human rights, appearing before bodies such as the UN, and serving on the Board of Directors of Amnesty International. She has published numerous articles in professional journals and is the author of the book “Ongoing Legal Exclusion: Palestinian Bedouin Women in Polygamous Marriages in Israel.” Globes newspaper named her one of the 40 most promising young Israelis.
With over two decades of experience in the field of digital content, Ron has participated in numerous political and social campaigns. He helped run the digital activity of senior public officials, and worked in various NGOs. Ron is a fundamentally optimistic man, who believes that Israel can be changed and so can people. Lives in Tel Aviv.