The Israeli Strategic Forum (ISF), convened by the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem, in partnership with Oxford Research Group (ORG), has met twice in Israel in November 2012. A central component of ORG’s Middle East programme, the ISF is one of three parallel strategic thinking networks addressing the national debates in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The group includes leading figures from across the whole spectrum of Israeli society. All are active in challenging Israeli economic social and political inequality through a range of approaches and in different spheres, and yet most have never met before, let alone cooperated with one another, despite their common focus on equality issues. The workshop was an opportunity to address the divisions between them and the negative impact this may have on social change. Through discussion of key questions on inequality, they could begin to define a shared vision and platform for their work, under the heading of "Paths to a More Equal Israel".
In two meetings held in Haifa, and at Kibbutz Tsuba just outside Jerusalem, the group unpacked the issues that divide Israeli Jewish society. The topics discussed include, among others, gender relations, religious-secular tensions, Mizrahi (Arab and North-African origin) and Ashkenazi (European) hierarchies, and issues of inequality between Jewish and Palestinian Citizens of Israel.
Given the group’s diverse background, discussions were intense. Yet, the group, guided by the facilitator, chose to address those disagreements, rather than shy away from them. It was agreed that getting beyond these blockages is key to their capacity for collective action and for possible future development.
The project will continue in 2013, and the participants have shown interest in meeting again to conceptualise new ideas for how to move beyond polarising issues, and target inequality in a more constructive way.