Meretz candidate stumps for votes, peace in Bay Area

Friday, November 3, 2000 | by

JOE ESKENAZI



Since Middle East street battles have become the world media's favorite photo-ops, more than a few Jews have complained bitterly of slanted coverage that continually portrays the Israelis as villains and aggressors.

But, as is usually the case, things could always be worse. In Europe, they are.

"I think the American media is more pro-Israeli, more than the European media, that's for sure," said Tel Aviv-Jaffa City Councilmember Michal Eden, whose three-week U.S. trip included a stop in San Francisco on Tuesday.

"I think the Palestinian lobby is much stronger in Europe, and the Israeli lobby is stronger here in the United States."

While U.S. presidential candidates are crossing the continent in a last-minute race for votes, Eden, a member of the liberal Meretz Party, was here to raise money for her Knesset campaign next year. She has a Web site at http://www.michaleden.com.

Turning to the reprise of the intifada, Eden says she is not as concerned with media coverage—and which side is to blame—as she is with getting both sides back to the bargaining table. She says the current situation has led conservative Israelis to sport an "I told you so" attitude, affirming the futility of peace negotiations, a position Eden feels benefits no one.

Apart from negotiating, "the only other option is war, and we don't want war," said Eden, a short, slight woman with large eyes and a disarming smile. "Although there are protests, this is the time to talk peace with the Palestinians. You don't make peace with your friends, you make it with your enemies. War is bad for both sides and peace is good for both sides. There are only winners in peace, I think."

The 31-year-old Eden, who made history in 1998 by becoming the first openly lesbian Israeli elected official, says she needs to raise about as much money as "it would take to run for the San Francisco board of supervisors," for her Knesset run, "a few tens of thousands of bucks."

Concerned that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak will not be able to finish his four-year term, Eden predicts a national election possibly coming as early as April or May, with party primaries in January or February.

Eden is appealing for funds from the American gay community, the American Jewish community and, not surprisingly, the American gay Jewish community. If she wins a Knesset seat, she said she would personify three groups that are subject to discrimination: gays, women and Sephardim. She claims that under-representation of minorities in a relatively conservative Knesset is to blame for many of Israel's woes.

"Research and polls show 70 percent of the Israeli population supports talking peace with our neighbors, but you cannot find that 70 percent majority in the Knesset to make peace," said Eden. "Eighteen percent of Israel is not Jewish. Half of the Jewish are Sephardic. These groups are not represented enough. The Knesset is only 10 percent women. Nine percent of Israel is Orthodox, but they make up more than 20 percent of the Knesset."

Eden believes such discrepancies are symptomatic of a society in which Arab Israelis and other minorities are "not equal culturally or legally, and in that sense, Israel is not a true democracy.

"There are not equal accommodations in the educational system or the welfare system and a lot of Arab villages are still not recognized. They're not connected to water or electricity," she continued. "Muslims and Christians are not equal, so I can understand their despair. They cannot be drafted into the army and that is another way of discriminating against them. The army is very dominant in Israeli culture; if you are not able to serve as a soldier, all your life when you're trying to find a job or go to school people will ask, 'How come you didn't serve in the army?' Serving is an integral part of growing up."

Eden's great hope is that a progressive Knesset can help lead Israel toward peace and equality. Her great fear is that the current violence will cause voters to shift to the right.

"I think there may be a backlash, and right-wing and extreme Orthodox parties could gain support because of the protests," said the councilmember. "I am scared because I know the right wing and extremely Orthodox will not do peace and will very much not support the fight for human rights and equality among Israelis and our neighbors.

"As long as Israel is facing war, all issues of social change—equality with the Arabs, equality between men and women, Sephardics and Ashkenazis, even for gays and lesbians like me—are being put aside," Eden said. "All of those issues must wait for peace."