I have been taking annual flights from London across Europe and the Mediterranean to Israel for the past 26 years. I have probably visited Israel around 40 times to offer the teachings, known as the Dharma. I usually stay in Israel around two or three weeks. I pay regular short visits to Palestine. I leave this weekend for the next visit.
The residential retreats give me the opportunity to listen carefully and attentively to the inner life of Israeli citizens. The visits often also include a range of meetings, workshops and public talks.
Consequently, I’ve listened to Israelis from teenagers to the elderly on the political views and opinions about the state of Israel from the political left, right and centre, and outside these categories.
I’m often fully packed at home and ready to fly to Israel a week before departure. This reflects my passion and commitment to these visits. The retreats and meetings are demanding, sometimes intense, due to the high levels of stress in Israel, amongst many of its citizens, families, social life and owing to the politics of successive governments.
The retreats rely upon the kindness and generosity of the participants as well as the immense acts of service of the volunteers, who act as guardian angels for all of us on the retreat. Numbers on the retreats generally range from 60 – 90 people. It is an immense credit to Israeli citizens, who dig deep into their pockets to ensure that all the running costs are covered – including travel expenses.
There are few places in the world where people in a low income can attend residential retreats, which rely upon generosity, rather than payment for services.
The participants support myself and my assistant teachers. I can give support to my daughter, a single mother with four children, aged 3 to 17 years, make payments to a variety of computer related services for the Dharma and support our religious school, Prajna Vihar School, in Bodh Bihar, India with 600 pupils from very poor families.
I truly appreciate the numerous kindnesses of support of the Israeli sangha, along with deep and lasting friendships for more than two decades.
Since first coming to Israel in the early 1990s, thousands of participants have participated in the retreats. I can only recall one or two Palestinians on our retreats and one Ethiopian in 26 years. (1.6 million Palestinians live in Israel – around 21% of the population). One Palestinian has come several times. She loves and applies the teachings on ethic, mindfulness, wisdom, compassion and liberation to daily life. She is not afraid to state she is a Palestinian, though it is not easy to speak up. Very few Mizrahi Jews (Jews whose family date back countless generations in the Middle East) ever attend our retreats, which are open to all. I do not believe in nor support religious conversion.
What concerns me is the growing epidemic of racism in Israel. Obviously, racism is a major blight of any society. Decades of Israeli politicians, the army and the media heap blame on the Arab World and Palestinians. This has darkened and distorted perceptions of much of Israeli society. The mindset of far too many Israelis also live under occupation – of fear and blame. The invasions, bombing, killing and shooting of people in Gaza perpetuates insecurity in Israel, rather than offers any peace or security for Israel.
Powerful politicians and certain members of the Knesset express racist views, at times, crude and repugnant.
Racism exists in personal attitudes, education, immigration, housing, the media, social life and the law.
There are policies of discrimination and blatant prejudice against Arabs, Palestinians, within Israel and outside Israel. Numerous Ethiopian Jews, Indian Jews, Mizrahi Jews, refugees, asylum seekers face racist attitudes and discrimination. The refugees and asylum seekers from North Africa experienced a torrid time in south Tel Aviv.
My four grandchildren have an Anglo-Caribbean-African heritage. The names of the children include Joziah (Hebrew) Khalil (Muslim) Milan (Sanskrit), Kye (Hawaiian) and D’nae (American Indian). My daughter works as the associate director in the UK dealing with domestic violence, bullying and racism to protect individuals and families.
The Israeli government has written into the constitution last month (July 2018) a ‘basic law’ declaring ‘the nation-state of the Jewish people.’ The law states that only Jews have the right to ‘national self-determination.’ This means only the Jewish people of Israel have full citizenship. The non-Jews of Israel have effectively become second-class citizens.
A Jewish person or family from overseas can emigrate to Israel with full citizenship and thus be above Palestinians in Israel, who have lived there for centuries.
The Israeli government have relegated Arabic to a secondary language. It is no longer an official language of Israel but given ‘special status.’
Thoughtful and caring Israelis despair at such racism and prejudice against fellow citizens as well, as the people of Palestine and those in the Arab world. Arab leaders within Israel and anti-racist leaders worldwide regard the new law as a policy of apartheid.
Far too many Israelis use a word- hasbara (meaning a very selective use of facts) to uphold and defend institutional racism. Prejudice goes far deeper than hasbara. The voice of racism and prejudice emerges with expressions of fear and blame, even among those who would never think of themselves as racists.
Far too many citizens go quiet when a fellow Israeli expresses a racist attitude. It takes courage to speak up. Fear suppresses the voice. Racism thrives on fear.
Wisdom includes speaking insightfully to the racist and addressing racism.
The people of Israel continue to dig a deeper and deeper hole into insecurity and isolation. These are the darkest days of Israel. It will not be easy to climb out of this hole.
This is the great task of the nation in the months, years and decades ahead.
A Way to the Resolution
I believe Israel needs to develop a major anti-racism campaign. This campaign needs to enter every Israeli institution, the Knesset, the public and private sector, education from primary schools to university, the IDF (Israeli army), the police and all forms of public service.
A major campaign can change the entire culture to recognise and respect the diversity of citizens, culture, religion, languages and aspirations of a range of people in society.
I go to Israeli to contribute to the importance of wisdom and compassion including equal opportunity for all citizens without exception.
The people of Israel must address racism in all its manifestations.
Our spiritual teachings and practices offered at Ein dor serve to benefit all people, animals and the environment.
I try to make clear the teachings are not offered for one’s own personal and private gain. They offer a way out of the darkness of fear and blame from the personal to the political.
I look forward to my visit. It is a challenge.
The Sangha of the Wise, the Sangha of Practitioners has an important contribution to make to Israeli society and all its neighbours.
MAY ALL BEINGS LIVE IN PEACE
MAY ALL BEINGS LIVE IN HARMONY
MAY ALL BEINGS LIVE IN PEACE AND HARMONY