New Law Threatens to Tear Apart Israeli Community

coverIsraelA new law threatens to tear apart communities and mutual agreements in Israeli society and brings up questions that haven’t been discussed—more democratic or more Jewish? There may be hope yet.
Guest blog post by Cultural Detective Israel co-author Anat Kedem

I wanted to share with you what has been going on in Israel. A new law declaring Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people, the so-called “Jewish Nationality Bill,” was passed last week. It has the weight of a constitutional amendment because it’s a “basic law.”

It fits right in with similar laws passed recently in other parts of the world. Sections of the law formalize symbols of statehood such as the national anthem and emblem, something that lawmakers say was missing from the Israeli legislative basis. Israel has 15 Basic Laws that require a 75% majority in the parliament to change. They constitute the legal foundation of our different institutions and are intended to be the basis for a future constitution.

The controversy is around the timing and impact of the new law and mostly around two sections in it.

  1. The first makes Hebrew the only official language, downgrading the position of Arabic to a “special” language—no longer a formal one.
  2. The other section allows communities (like the communal village where I live) to turn away people not belonging to the same ethnic group. Before this law, someone denied permission to live somewhere could sue on the basis of discrimination. With this new law there can be religious towns that will be allowed to deny secular people; Jewish villages that can turn away Arabs wanting to live there; and Arab villages that can not accept Jews. This is where the potential for division and destruction in this law is most apparent.

The new law is quite a coup for Bibi and his supporters, with protests by opposition who say it runs counter to the Basic Laws of Israel, including “complete equality of social and political rights” for “all its inhabitants” no matter their religion, race or sex. The Druze minority has found themselves excluded by the law, becoming second-rate citizens in spite of the fact that they shoulder citizen duties such as service in the military.

There was a major demonstration last Saturday evening, one of the largest in history, where side by side Jews and Druze showed solidarity. Our Arabic language learning group attended together. The protest finished with a loud and emotion-filled singing of the national anthem. It was very strengthening to come together and show that we have more unity than divisiveness.

It is a heartbreaking moment here, a death-inducing blow to everyone who believes in different groups living together, anyone that holds a vision of Israel being democratic and Jewish at the same time with equality for all. Holding both sides, as good Cultural Detectives do—being a democracy and a Jewish state—has always been a work in progress, necessitating gentle maneuvering, extensive dialogue and bridge building, but now the very fabric of our mutual existence here has been brutally torn apart. I see this as a state-generated act of exclusion, drawing a line between those that “belong” and those that are required to live in a permanent sense of existential insecurity, dependent on the good will of the government.

That said, we don’t yet know if this law will stand up to supreme court scrutiny. It was legislated by a very narrow margin and major lawmakers are conceding it will need to be changed. The Israeli parliament is out for summer break so nothing can be done now.  Things in Israel change all the time adapting to new circumstances—so who knows?!!!!

We’ve been holding counsel with friends and neighbors, and have witnessed lots of grass roots initiatives going on now. This might be a change for the better after all. People need to be much more involved with the daily work of representation—no more ballet once in four years and believing that things will be taken care of. We are in for interesting times. Passing the law has had the opposite of its intended impact, bringing us closer together. All around there are acts of solidarity. One of the hospitals had the staff stand outside with signs: “Jews and Arabs working here will not be made into enemies.” Impromptu Arabic learning groups have gathered, and Israel’s president, who must sign the law, said he will sign it in Arabic. A well regarded Israeli Arab lawmaker resigned from parliament, and writers and former chiefs of Army staffs are speaking out.

David Grossman, an Israeli writer who won the Man Brooker award and who serves as our moral compass, wrote an open letter in the August 3rd newspaper. He wrote,

“For hundreds and thousands of years, the Jewish people were a minority in the countries in which they lived. The experience of being a minority shaped our identity, sharpened our moral sensitivity. Now we Jews are the majority in our country. It is a tremendous responsibility to be a majority, and it is a great challenge, political and social, and especially human: to understand that the attitude towards the minority is one of the major tests of the majority in a democratic regime. … Equality is the starting point of citizenship, not its product. It is the land from which citizenship grows. It is also what allows the highest freedom—the freedom to be different. Different, and yet equal to everyone else…. Perhaps this law does us a great favor, and reveals to us all, from the left and the right, without illusions or self-deceit, where we are, the point to which Israel has deteriorated. Perhaps this law will finally shake all of us, from all sides of the political map, who fear for Israel; for its spirit, its humanity, its Jewish, democratic and human values. I have no doubt that there are so many, on the left, right and center, decent and sober people who know that this law is a disgraceful act and a betrayal of the state by its citizens.”

Netanyahu, as usual, presents this as a struggle between the left and the right. But it is a much deeper and fateful struggle, a struggle between those who have given up and those who still hope. Those who have succumbed to nationalist and racist bias, and those who continue to oppose it, who insist on preserving in their hearts a picture, an image, a hope of how things can be in a proper country.”

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Benchmark Statement on Intercultural Competence: AEA

AEA statement coverDo you want to promote intercultural competence in your organization or industry? Are you looking for some guidance? A blueprint? A success story? If so, do I have a “Cultural Effective” for you!

Just over a year ago, friend and colleague Stella Ting Toomey and I had the distinct pleasure of attending the American Evaluation Association‘s annual conference as invited speakers. There I was pleased to witness a commitment to responsible inclusiveness that was truly state of the art.

Six years of diligent work by a task force and other concerned individuals had resulted in a theoretically sound and practical Public Statement on Cultural Competence in Evaluation (AEA 2011, Fairhaven, MA USA).

There is so much about this public statement that stands out for me, not least of which is a definition of culture that is at least on a par with the best of what I’ve seen come out of the intercultural communication field!

Culture can be defined as the shared experiences of people, including their languages, values, customs, beliefs, and mores. It also includes worldviews, ways of knowing, and ways of communicating. Culturally significant factors encompass, but are not limited to, race/ethnicity, religion, social class, language, disability, sexual orientation, age, and gender. Contextual dimensions such as geographic region and socioeconomic circumstances are also essential to shaping culture.

Culture is dynamic, fluid, and reciprocal. That is, culture shapes the behaviors and worldviews of its members and, in turn, culture is shaped by the behavior, attitudes, and worldview of its members. Elements of culture are passed on from generation to generation, but culture also changes from one generation to the next.

Culture not only influences members of groups, it also delineates boundaries and influences patterns of interaction among them. Evaluators frequently work across these boundaries.

I remember my excitement the last couple of times a book has been published with “intercultural competence” in the title. If I am truly honest, I will admit to you that I’ve been disappointed. Amidst good work and steps forward, the books I’ve reviewed rehash a lot of what I feel is old and tired or, even, counter-productive to good practice. But this AEA statement! How do they define intercultural competence? For me it’s spot on — both theoretically sound and skillfully applied!

Cultural competence is not a state at which one arrives; rather, it is a process of learning, unlearning, and relearning. It is a sensibility cultivated throughout a lifetime. Cultural competence requires awareness of self, reflection on one’s own cultural position, awareness of others’ positions, and the ability to interact genuinely and respectfully with others. Culturally competent evaluators refrain from assuming they fully understand the perspectives of stakeholders whose backgrounds differ from their own.

Cultural competence is defined in relation to a specific context or location, such as geography, nationality, and history. Competence in one context is no assurance of competence in another. The culturally competent evaluator (or evaluation team) must have specific knowledge of the people and place in which the evaluation is being conducted—including local history and culturally determined mores, values, and ways of knowing.

The culturally competent evaluator draws upon a wide range of evaluation theories and methods to design and carry out an evaluation that is optimally matched to the context. In constructing a model or theory of how the evaluand operates, the evaluator reflects the diverse values and perspectives of key stakeholder groups.

It is tailor-made for a Cultural Detective: process-based lifelong learning (CD Worksheet); knowledge of self and others and the ability to bridge (3 fundamental CD capacities); situation-specific, contextually grounded effectiveness (CD Critical Incidents); grounding practice in theory (pulling salient theoretical teaching from practical experience); and acknowledging people as complex amalgams of the influences of multiple cultural influences (layering Lenses).

The AEA statement includes the following content:

The Role of Culture and Cultural Competence in Quality Evaluation

  1. What is culture?
  2. Evaluations reflect culture.
  3. What is cultural competence?

Why Cultural Competence in Evaluation Is Important

  1. It is an ethical imperative.
  2. Validity demands it.
  3. Theories are inherently cultural.

Essential Practices for Cultural Competence

  1. Acknowledge the complexity of cultural identity.
  2. Recognize the dynamics of power.
  3. Recognize and eliminate bias in language.
  4. Employ culturally appropriate methods.

The AEA’s blog and their annual conference include lots of project examples and discussions about how to conduct culturally responsible evaluation, through which I’ve witnessed honest dialogue about successes and difficulties. Intercultural competence in evaluation has definitely become an organization-wide effort and an ongoing process for the AEA membership.

The work of the task force continues through today, as they do their best to develop cultural competence in evaluation via education and training, within and outside the AEA, as well as by sharing the public statement and what they have learned via the process they’ve engaged. I am proud to have had a very small role in their extensive process, and pleased to be able to help share it so that others can leverage their work.

Kudos to Dr. Melvin Hall, Cindy Crusto, the American Evaluation Association, and all of those involved in this terrific effort! I know they join me in hoping that their efforts might help you further yours. I will close with an excerpt from their closing:

Evaluators have the power to make a difference, not only directly to program stakeholders but also indirectly to the general public. This is consistent with the Guiding Principle that obliges evaluators to consider the public interest and good in the work they do. In a diverse and complex society, cultural competence is central to making a difference.

Cultural competence connects with and complements existing knowledge and skills in the field. It offers both opportunities and challenges for evaluators. Cultural competence presents evaluators with new horizons for learning, opportunities for renewal, and the potential to deepen understanding of one’s own work in all contexts. Cultural competence challenges evaluators to deepen their self awareness and sensitivity in terms of their own cultures and those of others.

Many evaluators are actively exploring the terrain of cultural competence. They are expanding the boundaries of what it means to respond to cultural diversity in authentic and respectful ways. This statement invites new conversations and connections to advance this sensitive and exciting work.

Every Organization Needs Intercultural Competence

Nearly every organization these days, even the smallest and most local, works with diverse customers, team members, vendors, and service providers. A corner grocery store serves people from different age groups, ethnicities, and spiritual traditions. So, which holiday greetings should the grocery store use, if any, so as not to offend or exclude? Why do some of the regular customers talk only to male employees? Could the store increase profits or attract new customers if it started offering halal meats or Latino grocery items?

What about the graphic designer who puts up a website or Facebook page designed to attract local clients, only to find that the first inquiries come in from overseas? The mere fact that you have an online presence can mean you offer your products and services worldwide. And what about the free clinic that finds itself dealing with patient care issues of recent immigrants from places halfway across the planet? Or disaster relief agencies attempting to coordinate aid from around the world, getting it to the places it needs to be, quickly?

Cross-cultural competence, the ability to communicate effectively across cultures, is a mandatory skill in today’s interconnected world. It will help you:
  • Service diverse customers in the ways they expect.
  • Attract, retain and make the most of the talented professionals your organization needs to succeed.
  • Sell more products or services, to the people who need them.
  • Achieve success in your negotiations.
  • Discern the “right” mergers and acquisitions for your purposes.
  • Get more productivity and satisfaction out of your local and virtual teams, projects, and vendors.
  • Jump start the outcomes of study abroad and international education, as well as expatriate assignments.
  • Ensure you get the most out of the time and money you invest in international, cross-country and regional business travel.
  • Develop mutually respectful relationships with clients, employees and other stakeholders.

Cross-cultural competence is a needed skill for all of us, and it helps improve our family and social lives as well as our work lives. But amidst all the competing priorities for our time and attention, how can we develop such competence? To most of us, going back to school or even taking a few days off work for a class isn’t doable. And besides, like physical fitness, cultural fitness requires ongoing, structured practice, not just one trip to a training room.

If only there were an online cross-cultural coach available to us anytime, anywhere, at low cost. One that didn’t make us memorize lists of dos and don’ts, that didn’t promote stereotypes but rather encouraged dialogue and critical thinking. An online coach that would provide a process for recognizing cultural differences, helping us to understand and leverage them as assets rather than as roadblocks. Better yet, an online coach that could help us make sense of our everyday experiences, learning how to transform obstacles into opportunities, and frustration into innovation. A tool we could navigate freely, according to our needs and interests, not some online talking heads or narrated slide show. A tool that would be available on our time — when and where we want it…

I am very excited to be able to share with you just such a solution, yours free for three days, no strings attached. It is a brand new online system based on the proven Cultural Detective Method used by governments, NGOs and for-profit organizations around the world.

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Improve your ability to understand and collaborate across cultures, and help your friends, family members and colleagues to do the same! Let’s create a more inclusive, creative, collaborative and productive world out there! Get a clue!