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The shared citizenship model of Merchavim

Mike Prashker founded and runs an organization dedicated to “the advancement of shared citizenship in Israel.” Called Merchavim, it uses as its core value the concept of fairness. In our conversation, Mike was eloquent about why fairness should be the core value. He noted that beginning where many people often do when considering the idea of citizenship in Israel, with a discussion of whether Israel can be both a Jewish state and democratic, creates an adversarial framework at the outset. He had a great line: “Israelis are often afraid of each other, but none consider themselves scary.” In conversations with Israelis of all backgrounds, Merchavim found that most if not all could agree to begin with an acceptance of fairness as a goal for which to strive, and build from there. Mr. Prashker recently had an editorial in Haaretz discussing fairness, the importance of which, he notes, “every kindergartener intuitively knows.”

Merchavim teaches teachers how to engage more fairly with the diverse populations of students in their classrooms. Mr. Prashker’s examples address gender, race, national origin, ability, religion, and class, among others. He does a wonderful job avoiding, as he himself warns against, binary oppositions. He is also explicit that Merchavim is not a protest organization. It works with the Ministry of Education to provide useful, pragmatic solutions to the real problems students and teachers from diverse backgrounds face. He gave the example of a recent critique he wrote of the emphasis some politicians are currently placing on singing HaTikva, the explicitly Jewish national anthem with a male tense, a secular outlook and a European musical setting. He said that he meant his critique to be constructive, and felt it would be unhelpful (and untrue) to call those focusing on the anthem “nationalist nutters.” Instead, he hopes to raise ideas they can consider seriously within their existing loyalties.

Mike Prashker is enthusiastic, charismatic and funny, with a terrific British accent and a knack for putting one at one’s ease. I look forward to more conversations with him about the shared citizenship model for Israel.

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