By Merav Michaeli
Around here, when we talk about Passover as the holiday of freedom, we talk about freedom for the Palestinians, foreign workers, contractors’ workers and others. Others, especially. Not ourselves. We perceive ourselves as free.
Not only have we left slavery for freedom, and not only are the Israeli people dwelling securely in their home, we are also living in an age of freedom. There is the freedom to vote and freedom to be elected, a free economy, free religion, freedom of speech, freedom of occupation, the freedom to marry and the freedom to unionize. Freedom of thought. There is the right to dignity, personal security, privacy, property rights, the right to a fair trial and of course the right to equality.
But this is not exactly the way things are. Today freedom – as it has always been – is in the hands of those who have power. More precisely, freedom is in the hands of those who have money. The possessors of this liberal freedom find it convenient to assume that the principle of freedom means that everyone has the same freedom: No matter what their starting point, everyone competes under the same conditions.
In this situation, freedom belongs to the strong and crushes the freedom of others. The wealthy person’s unrestrained right to property crushes the right of others to own property of their own and makes them servants of the wealthy. The white male’s freedom of occupation blocks women and others from the possibility of redressing discrimination and blocks the freedom of occupation from women in significant positions of power. Racist, chauvinist and pornographic freedom of speech forces women, children and also men to live a life of repression, humiliation and slavery.
We are not free at many levels, starting with the obligation to serve in the oppressive institution of the army, to jobs with exploitative employers to brainwashing by advertising, which is nearly impossible to escape. Using advertising, the wealthy condition the way we perceive ourselves – who we are, what we eat, how we look and think.
Those who exercise freedom of speech and assembly to protest against the occupation are persecuted by the police and Shin Bet security service. The right to marry is reserved for kosher Jews marrying kosher Jewesses, and the right to divorce is reserved for men. The right to a decent life is not yet recognized, there is no freedom of religion and no freedom to be an Arab nation with a narrative of its own.
But the language of freedom transforms the discrimination, oppression and obstructions into a glass ceiling. The illusion that we really are all equal and everything is possible is very effectively reinforced by those for whom this pays off. Thus it is harder to combat discrimination and oppression and rise up against them, because it is not clear what should be combated.
So what if as a woman you earn half of what a man earns? So what if there is sexual harassment in the workplace? So what if you won’t know what to do with the children and how you will manage with what you get for maternity leave? And so what if you need to invest money and time in your diet, clothing, makeup and hair every morning?
Nevertheless, it annoys us to think we aren’t free. Every time someone tries to show us the sophisticated way they keep us in our place, accept conventions, buy and consume, we resist and object. And we are convinced we are making a free choice and doing things “because they are good for us.” Not, heaven forbid, because somebody has directed us to them because it’s good for him and not for us.
It’s interesting to observe ourselves and see how it’s more important to us to cling to the position that we are free than it’s important to really be free. This insistence prevents us from looking at the world with our eyes open, to examine what really is good and what isn’t, to act accordingly and not be exploiters or exploited.
In every fight against oppression, some of the oppressed oppose liberation, as in the fight against slavery in the United States and the suffragettes’ fight to win the right to vote. Both women and blacks opposed the very idea of their own liberation, internalized the position of repression and thought it was good for them that way. Maybe this, too, is a stage and one day we will cease to fear freedom.
Imagine what a civilized and wonderful world we will have then. Happy festival of freedom.