“The Insider-Outsider”

A Little about Me!

I’m a writer, journalist, author, lecturer, ex-urban planner, artist, parent, husband, etc

I live in Israel, but I am not Israeli. I’m not Jewish but I am married to a Jew.

I’m a recent immigrant but am not considered a “foreign worker”, as a non-Jew I obviously cannot make ‘Aliyah’. I have (for now) the right to live and work here, the right to leave and the “right of return”, a right, however temporary, I’m conscious many others who are deserving do not.

I was born in Dublin. In Israel I am told I am ‘very’ European (code for polite). But as an Irish man “Europe” is for me colloquially known as “The Continent” and Irish people tend to see “The Continent” as “over-there” and we just don’t see ourselves as being from over there.  But yes, technically I am a “white” European, so I guess I pass for Ashkenazi on the streets of Tel Aviv. My spouse is first generation Moroccan both of whose parents were born in Casablanca. And yes, we really do celebrate the Mimouna. We as a family have toured the Jewish religious sites of Morocco, visited the graves of great-grand-parents in the Medina of Casablanca and celebrated the Seder with distant relatives in Fez.

As someone who inhabits a world on either side of many of the multiple fault lines that divide Israeli society, a life of both privilege and vulnerability, connectedness and semi-detachment, I have adopted in my head at least, a kind of permanent insider-outsider status.

I am a gay man living in a liberal city in a state that has recently enacted discriminatory homophobic laws. I am co-parenting the biological child of my husband who entered into a shared parenting relationship with an Israeli woman.  I’m a card-carrying atheist who is joyfully rearing our (beautiful) Jewish daughter, a daughter who has three great-grand-parents who are Holocaust survivors and one great-grandmother who is 7th generation Jerusalemite. She has already had her first encounter with Santa Claus in Dublin. I confess despite my distaste for most things Catholic to buying a little Christmas Tree in Jaffa.

I don’t speak Hebrew (well I speak it very badly) but as an Irish man I speak even less Irish. Yes, Irish people speak Irish as well as English.

Most of my Israeli friends vote for leftwing Meretz, most of my in-laws do not. Their votes run from Labor to Likud to Shas.  Perhaps unlike most Meretz supporters I have family living in the settlements I regularly visit. Two of my sisters-in-law live in a religious orthodox city in the West Bank. I have fifteen Haredi nieces and nephews all of whom I have known since they were born. My secular niece is studying dance with the IDF in a kibbutz.  I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else in Israel but Tel Aviv.

Like most of my Meretz friends I know very few Israeli-Palestinians (Israeli Arabs to most Israelis). Unlike most of my Meretz friends I have been to Gaza several times as I was the Israeli-Palestinian Correspondent for the (Irish) Sunday Tribune during the second intifada. Like most Tel Avivians I love New York, Berlin and London (well London not so much).  Unlike most Tel Avians I have been lucky enough to have been able to travel to see Beirut, and Damascus.

I left a country that appears to be proudly marching forward under that supposed great arc of progress. We, or should I now say they, have an openly gay Prime Minister who is the son of an Indian immigrant. We have recently had near two third majorities in national referendums to both radically liberalise abortion laws and allow for same-sex-marriage.

I have chosen to live in a country that on occasion frightens me, and whose political direction disturbs me. Some of my Irish friends refuse for politically reasons to set foot in Israel. I have been personally attacked in the letters page of the Irish Times of being an apologist for Israel. I just recently co-wrote a book that is openly critical of the policies of the current Israeli government.

I love Tel Aviv and feel privileged to able to live here but am conflicted about living in Israel. I am also acutely aware that as a non-citizen under the current administration that the ‘wrong words’ written or spoken by me could lead to my expulsion and therefore immediate family separation. I am of course a guest of this state, like most guests perhaps, I inevitably self-censor.

So, what do I care I hear some readers groan (if they get this far). Well, there isn’t any particular reason to care. But the point of this small personal introductory story is simply to reveal something about the author of a forthcoming short series of articles, stories, observations on the political geography of the forthcoming Israeli election.

What we see, what we don’t see, when we chose to avert our gaze, can all be acutely related to our own personal experiences, our daily lived lives. It may be hard to escape the propaganda of the state or detach ourselves from the baggage of learned cultural or national norms, but arguably it’s also near impossible to extradite ourselves from our own lived history.

As an “Insider-Outsider” on either side of multiple social, cultural, territorial, or privileged fault lines within Israeli society, I believe that this “Insider-Outsider” status can give potential insight to reading and revealing storylines perhaps not fully seen or acknowledged by “the other”. In a country as tribal, communal, yet profoundly scarred by division, suspicion, hatred even, an “Insider-Outsider” affords a useful perspective if not an instinctive empathy.

Over the next three months (120 Days) I will be navigating around and telling stories on superficially incongruous subjects such as the daily Israeli weather forecast map and their missing Palestinian cities, why Israel, almost uniquely has no electoral constituencies and how on election night – in the country torn by territorial division – the analysis is bizarrely aspatial. How the very ordinariness and seamlessness of the Tel Avian Dead Sea drive anaesthetizes many Israelis understanding of the geography of the occupation, and why many Israelis, erroneously in my view think Bibi Netanyahu’s fluent English is an automatic hasbara (propaganda) asset. “Political Geography” is a broad subject.

To conclude on a lighter note, after 18 years coming and going to Israel I’ve learned to like Bamba (admittedly that took a decade), I tolerate old ladies pushing me around in supermarkets lines. I have been told I have a peculiar attachment to orderly queuing.

I have still yet to fathom why in Israeli restaurants, meals for (just two) people dining together rarely come out at the same time (Israelis don’t seem to notice that one).

Sorry, but I continue to detest the noisy territorial beach aggression of Matkot.

I know what the ‘Health Basket’ is and ‘Four Mandates’ are, and I’m amused how Israeli media always report that the actions of the Israeli Central Bank affect the rise and fall of the Dollar against the Shekel and not the other way-round.

I have learned to accept that many things in Israel that I think should be slower are in fact faster, and that somethings that I believe should be faster are tediously slower.

Finally,  I am perplexed why the matter of fact no nonsense Israelis call a plain old functional ice bucket a “Champagneria”!

Enjoy the next 120 days of Pre and Post Election coverage.

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