Rebranded Peace Now names a Mizrahi director

New Peace Now director Avi Buskila (photo: Tal Shachar)

In an effort to shore up its dwindling support,  Peace Now has rebranded itself to appeal to Mizrahi voters – by naming as its new director a ‘salt of the earth’ Mizrahi. Avi Buskila (profiled in Ynet News) is also gay, which fits with being a man of the Left. But he parrots the specious wisdom that Mizrahim do not vote for Labour because they have been ‘oppressed’ by the Left. To state that Mizrahim identify with Arab Israelis and Palestinians could not be farther from the truth. Peace, he frankly admits, is ‘wishful thinking’. This Mizrahi has not really thought things through. (With thanks: Sarah)

Buskila, who had already been a periphery and a gay-rights
activist, began organizing a protest of independent reservists. At the
same time, he also led, along with a friend, a project to create a
treaty of teenagers for fair discourse in Israeli society. This was his
rehabilitation after the war.

“I got my energy back and realized this was what I needed to be
doing. A year later, Tzali Reshef (a founder of Peace Now) called me and
said, ‘We’re looking for a director, and a little bird told me you
might be a good fit.’

“I had 15 minutes to think about it, and I decided to try. When they
called to say I got the job, I felt it was the best compliment I ever
got. I was given a chance to do something for the country.”

But you didn’t grow up in Peace Now. You were brought in as “Mizrahi talent.”

“They wanted to rebuild the organization. They interviewed a lot of
people for the job. I am well versed in local politics, and my name is
known in the center-left. In the interview, I was very clear about what
Peace Now should do next. It should become a movement that speaks to the
Israeli public. The logic behind this is that we have to expand the
movement. I admit that it’s easier to come and speak in certain places
when your name is Avi Buskila. I get significantly less abuse.”

Why is it so difficult to speak to people? You offer peace. Isn’t that a good thing?

“The peace camp comes across as an elitist Ashkenazi camp. The entire
left-wing leadership throughout the years has been Ashkenazi. (Former
Mizrahi Labor Party leader) Amir Peretz is the exception. It makes sense
for Mizrahim to hold left-wing views: They identify with minority,
disenfranchised, Israeli Arab, and Palestinian rights. But that didn’t
happen because the oppression of the Mizrahi population led to extreme
alienation toward government. Likud doesn’t care about the development
towns and the periphery, but the people who immigrated to Israel and
were dumped in the periphery still vote emotionally. I tell them, ‘Peace
has nothing to do with religion, identity, or nationality—it should be
wishful thinking for a better future.'”

Aren’t you afraid that they hired you to be the left’s Miri Regev? The Mizrahi symbol?

“I don’t think of myself as a Mizrahi symbol. I am a person who
happens to also be Mizrahi, raised in the periphery, and served in the
army. There are a lot of people like me. But they are either not part of
the left, or they didn’t choose politics as a way of making a
difference. I don’t want to create another crisis between Ashkenazim and
Mizrahim. I’m saying, we come with equal rights and the need to speak
to those that the state abandoned.

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