'Despite our differences, we are one'

Galilee street concert offers respite from locals’ polarization surrounding overhaul

Hundreds attend conciliatory event in Kiryat Shmona, where left-leaning kibbutzniks and right-wing residents have been picketing for weeks

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Chen Zimbalista conducts a concert in Kiryat Shmona on May 22, 2023. (Leonid Novikov)
Chen Zimbalista conducts a concert in Kiryat Shmona on May 22, 2023. (Leonid Novikov)

Tel Aviv and Jerusalem may be the epicenters of the debate over the government’s judicial overhaul plans, but they have been at least as polarizing in the country’s north, where affluent left-leaning kibbutzniks live literally around the bend from residents of poorer, predominantly right-wing towns.

Preexisting tensions between those populations – visible also in the recent legal fight by residents of Beit She’an for access to the Asi stream in Kibbutz Nir David – did little to help hostility levels surrounding the overhaul protests.

A protest rally against the overhaul held on March 9 in the city of Kiryat Shmona elevated this hostility to the national news level. Locals unfurled a sign reading: “Kibbutzniks get lost, this is our home” opposite that rally and heckled protesters with insults, including “traitors” and “left-wing garbage.”

In an attempt to heal some of those divisions, Erel Margalit, the startup entrepreneur, last week hosted at his firm’s offices in Kiryat Shmona a rare musical event that united these groups and others in celebration of what unites them: Love of the land, its traditions and arts.

Hundreds of people from across Israel’s north and beyond attended the “Tsliley Bikurim” street concert in Kiryat Shmona featuring conductor and percussionist Chen Zimbalista, one of the most prominent percussionists in Israel.

The artistic program hosted at Margalit Start-Up City in Kiryat Shmona in partnership with JNF US, included Rabbi Yitzhak Kakun who performed a piyut, or liturgical poem, young singers from Kiryat Shmona, the Druze Elfirdous Choir conducted by Tamara Al-Halabi from the Golan Heights, and the Tzlil Choir of the Clore Center for the Performing Arts, conducted by Alexandra Kim.

“After 20 weeks of Israelis clashing on the streets, we’re bringing people together, people that have different political opinions but are committed to one big idea, which is creating a real opportunity here in the Galilee for the kids and the youth and the young people of the region,” said Margalit, a former lawmaker for the now-defunct, left-leaning Zionist Union party.

Erel Margalit attends a street concert he organized in Kiryat Shmona, Israel on May 22, 2023. (Leonid Novikov)

Atar Mandel, a 36-year-old architect and an organizer of anti-overhaul protests, called the event “a welcome breathing space, where we can put aside our differences.”

“We share this amazing space, which is the most visited and toured area of Israel,” she said of the Galilee and the Golan. Mandel, who is also an animal welfare activist, lives in Lahavot HaBashan in the Galilee but grew up in Kibbutz Merom Golan.

Golan Bokhris, a banker from Kiryat Shmona who is a passionate supporter of the overhaul, was not turned off attending the event even though it was hosted by Margalit, a former lawmaker and a vocal opponent of the move by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to severely curtail the power of the courts.

“It may seem like we’re living this constant fight in this country, and in Kiryat Shmona, and the north, but we’re not,” Bokhris said. Despite objecting to Margalit’s dovish political agenda, he credits the high-tech entrepreneur, who opened his Margalit Start-Up City in Kiryat Shmona — away from the high-tech hub of Israel’s center — with “doing so, so much” for the city.

To Bokhris, a father of seven, the concert was “not meant to make our differences go away. We, on the left and on the right, stand by those differences, we live by them.” The concert, “like the fabric of everyday life here, is a reminder that we are one despite those differences.”

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