Israel's Protest Queen Daphni Leef Isn't Prime Minister — Yet

Leader of Tent City Works in a Beauty Parlor

One More Cup of Coffee: Tuvia Tenenbom meets with Daphni Leef in a Tel Aviv café.
isi tenenbom
One More Cup of Coffee: Tuvia Tenenbom meets with Daphni Leef in a Tel Aviv café.

By Tuvia Tenenbom

Published April 20, 2014, issue of April 25, 2014.
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“Were you never interested in going there?”

“This is the first time I’ve been asked this question.”

“And what’s your answer?”

“I have no answer. This is a loaded question,” she says and, at this point, she gets animated, raging against what she calls “peace industry.”

“Look at all those amazing foreign missions in the middle of Ajami (a neighborhood in Jaffa) that are here because they want to show everybody how pluralistic they are, but the fact is that they are spitting at the faces of the poor. They have those f–king mansions in the middle of the poorest neighborhood in Jaffa, which create huge divides between the haves and the have-nots. Look at the Peres Peace Center: They don’t have one window pointing at the neighborhood! Do I need to visit the occupied territories to witness racism? I see it here. People are making money out of the concept of peace but the truth is that they have a financial interest in all this. They are not about making peace but about talking about making peace. I find it bizarre when tourists from abroad come to the occupied territories to see poverty and pain. To make peace you need two things: You need a broad enough support from within, a grassroot support, and you need courageous leadership, not NGOs coming from the outside. There is so much ‘peace’ money going to Palestinian areas; it has become a business. What will happen when there is peace? What will those NGOs do? There is nothing I want more than peace, but what I can do right now is peace within the country, to make sure people don’t live in poverty. There are people here who are in pain. I don’t care if they are Arabs or Jews; I just want their pain to end.”

The people whose pain Leef feels include the Gaza settlers who were evicted from their homes when Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. To this day, many of the evacuees still have no permanent home, a large number of them have developed acute mental problems, and the divorce rate in this community is the highest in Israel.

“Who cares for them?” Leef asks. “I think that one of the biggest hypocrisies of the Israeli left took place when those who call themselves ‘leftists’ did not stand by the settlers who have lost their homes. If you believe in human rights, how could you ignore the people who lost everything? Today, there are about 200,000 people living in Judea and Samaria, does anybody talk about what to do with them if they were to be evacuated? Why don’t we care? By the end of the day, we are all people, if we agree with each other or not, and we have to treat everybody with respect. When you grade people according to their political views, putting at bottom those you don’t agree with, you are not any better than those you call ‘racist’ or whatever name you give them.”

In my experience, Israeli right-wingers call the West Bank “Judea” and “Samaria,” and its left-wingers call it part of the occupied territories. Daphni uses both terms interchangeably, effectively mocking both right and left. Could this be the reason, or perhaps one of the reasons, why Leef drinks her coffee on the street and not in the Knesset’s cafeteria? I don’t know. What I do know is this: Wherever she is, one cannot avoid noticing how blessed is the land that has Daphni Leef as its daughter.

Tuvia Tenenbom is the author of “I Sleep in Hitler’s Room.” He is working on the follow-up, tentatively titled “Alone Among Jews.”

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