Last December, when no one knew that the coronavirus was lurking around the corner, Eitan Bronstein Aparicio, 60, and his partner, Eléonore Merza, 40, left Israel for good. They are both well-known in circles of left-wing activists. He founded the organization Zochrot some 20 years ago, she is a political anthropologist, and they co-authored a book on the Nakba (Arabic for “catastrophe,” as Palestinians refer to the events surrounding the founding of Israel). Ideologically, politically and professionally, French-born Merza, the daughter of a Jewish mother and a Circassian father, simply could not bear the situation any longer. Although she was about to be granted permanent residency status in Israel, she found a job in Brussels and the couple moved there, with no plans to return.
In a phone conversation with Haaretz from the coronavirus lockdown in Belgium, Bronstein Aparicio says he still finds it difficult to believe that he left. “I look on it as a type of exile, a departure from the center of Israel,” he explains.
Born in Argentina, Bronstein Aparicio emigrated to Israel with his parents when he was 5, growing up in Kibbutz Bahan in central Israel. “My name was changed from Claudio to Eitan – I carry the Zionist revolution with me,” he laughs. He describes himself as a “regular Israeli” who did military service, like everyone else. A personal process that he terms the “decolonization of my Zionist identity” led him to establish Zochrot (“Remembering,” in Hebrew) in 2001, an NGO that aims to raise awareness of the Nakba and of the Palestinians’ right of return among the Jewish public. He has five children: Three of them live in Israel, one in Brazil, and the youngest, a boy who’s almost 4, lives with the couple in Brussels.
“There is one point on which I am completely in accord with the move – namely, the need to rescue my son from the nationalist, militaristic education system in Israel. I am glad I got him out of that,” he says, adding, “People with a similar political profile to mine have the feeling that we have been defeated and that we will no longer be able to exert a meaningful influence in Israel. In a profound sense, we do not see a horizon of repair, of true peace or a life of quality. A great many people understood this and looked for another place to live. There is something quite insane in Israel, so to look at it from a distance is at least a little saner.”
Indeed, many of those who belonged to what’s termed the radical left in Israel have left the country in the past decade. Among them were those who devoted their life to activism, founded political movements and headed some of the country’s most important left-wing organizations: Not only Zochrot, but B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, Coalition of Women for Peace, 21st Year, Matzpen and others. The individuals include senior academics – some of whom were forced out of their jobs because of their political beliefs and activities – and also cultural figures or members of the liberal professions, who felt they could no longer express their views in Israel without fear. Many came from the heart of the Zionist left and then moved farther left, or looked on as the state abandoned principles that were important to them, to a point where they felt they no longer had a place in the Israeli public discourse.