“I feel committed to ensuring that Israel is a democracy. In its current form, I think its democratic status is eroding.”
The Interviewee – Mira Sucharov (Born 1972), Associate Professor of Political Science at Carleton University in Ottawa. Columnist, Haaretz, Jewish Daily Forward, Canadian Jewish News.
I was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Attended Jewish day school through grade 7. Attending Jewish camp for 11 years. I speak only Hebrew to my kids. Live in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
In your opinion, what importance, if any, does the existence of a Jewish state have to you personally and to Jewish people in general?
“I feel very attached to Israel, particularly a country where Hebrew has been revived as a living language. I want my kids to be knowledgeable about the country and its politics. Unlike some in my parents generation especially, I don’t feel that I’m relying on Israel as a personal insurance policy. I feel very comfortable and at home (and safe) in Canada.”
Do you feel committed in some way to defend the future existence of Israel?
“I feel committed to ensuring that Israel is a democracy. In its current form, I think its democratic status is eroding. The ongoing occupation erodes Israel’s democratic character, and structural and systemic inequalities between Jews and non-Jewish citizens continue to dog it.”
Do you affiliate yourself with a specific denomination in Judaism? What is your view regarding the dominance of the Orthodox denomination in Israel religious establishment?
“Conservative Judaism. I am troubled by the lack of separation between religion and state in Israel, which means that citizens have no recourse to civil channels for ordinary personal-status matters (marriage, funerals, etc). That the rabbinate is exclusively Orthodox adds insult to injury.
“Religious pluralism (which is a separate but related issue to that of the separation of religion and state) is seriously under threat in Israel, as we’ve seen most recently and strikingly with the debate over access to the Kotel. That non-Orthodox rabbis (except in one well-publicized case; perhaps there have been a handful of additions) are not funded by the state (compared to their Orthodox counterparts) is an additional swipe at religious pluralism.”
Do you feel morally responsible for Israel’s actions (such as its management of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict)?
“I feel that those who don’t stand up and issue anti-occupation sentiments and statements are in some ways culpable, but only in the way that silence leads to the continuation of oppression. Not being an Israeli citizen, I don’t feel myself to be directly responsible, no. But I do take the Judaic dictum about repair seriously: neither are we free to desist from it [repairing the world].”
In your opinion, what is the main thing Israelis fail to understand about the reality of being Jewish outside of Israel?
“I think there are great differences, but I don’t think that Israelis necessarily ‘fail to understand’ them. We in the Diaspora are pretty vocal about our identity and I think that most Israelis — who, especially by virtue of being a small country tend to look outward for so much of their popular cultural consumption, at least — see us quite clearly. (The reverse may be less the case.) Here in the Diaspora, those among us who are less formally observant still tend to gravitate towards religious ritual more than our secular counterparts in Israel.
“As for the politics and history of Israel/Palestine, I think Diaspora Jews can sometimes be hobbled in their intellectual faculties by a perceived need to support Israel ‘right or wrong.’ In my writings and public commentary and teaching, I try to provide more nuance.”
How would you describe Israel’s policy (formally and in practice) regarding its relationship with the Diaspora?
“In practice, I think that there is a desire for Diaspora financial and moral support but not for Diaspora critique. This is understandable, but can be frustrating for those who want to cultivate attachment while wanting the object of their attachment to right its wrongs.“
In your opinion, does Israel have an obligation to defend and help Jewish communities in need?
“If it has capacity — which it does — then yes. But it should also be helping the asylum seekers knocking at its gates. Israel is failing at its commitment to the most basic refugee conventions, and this is tragic.“
Have you ever been to Israel? if you have, can you summarize your impressions from Israel?
“I have traveled to Israel multiple times and have spent three separate years living there in my 20s. I have great attachment to the place, especially via Hebrew and Israeli culture — film, tv, music, the people.
“I am also very troubled by the occupation and civil rights deficiencies within the country. I hold my academic and activist Israeli colleagues in high esteem. And like many Diaspora Jews, I’ve got lots of family and friends there who I care about.“
Can you tell us a bit about the Jewish community in your hometown?
“Like many cities in Canada, it tends to be quite conservative on Israel especially. There is a tight-knit core and an apathetic outside. Jewish engagement is a challenge, as is encouraging a critical mass to educate their children Jewishly (whether through day school or ‘afternoon/Sunday’ school).”
If you could ask the Israeli readers of this project a question, what would it be?
“How do you think you can convince your government — and fellow voters — to end the occupation?”