The Words of the Ben-Zvi Family

FFWPU in Israel

Interview of Hod Ben-Zvi
April 2014
FFWPU Israel national leader

A Jewish professor and Imam Samir Assi at our interfaith forum hosted at the El Jazar Mosque

Question: Have you formulated goals for Israel based on Vision 2020?

Yes, of course; like everyone else we were asked to come up with a plan. However many of the ideas they want are encapsulated in numbers and frameworks. For small countries, we see it more in terms of setting up a foundation

We can still project. For example, we have a goal by 2015 to have twenty-one core members, but long range, I think pioneer countries have to focus on setting a solid foundation and deep roots, and then improving the program is something we have to do along the way. We want to revisit our goals and keep them real. In such a small setting, we are more concerned about setting a deeper foundation.

Question: Percentage-wise how much of your organization is native Israeli?

It's, you know, more difficult to make percentages out of several families; but to make big statistics out of it, what we can say is that my family is fifty percent native.

Question: Fifty percent?

Yeah, my wife is from Japan.... Several families are basically all native. We had a period where volunteers worked in our country. That ended three or four years ago. We still have a couple from that first group of volunteers, which came in 1994. The wife served the country and the husband came and the two daughters are staying. But that's an unusual case. Most are local families and people that immigrated and became part of the family, including church immigration. So, in that sense, most of our members are people that were either born in or migrated to the country.

A farewell party for four Japanese second- generation members that worked as volunteers in Israel; Hod Ben-Zvi is in the center at the back

Question: I imagine that Israel has restrictions that other countries do not have.

Well, one major issue has to do with religion. Israel practices complete freedom of religion if you are a Jew. This means that they recognize something like eight major religions; the rest are not recognized. This means that you are completely free to practice your own religion but proselytizing or witnessing -- whatever we call it -- is not allowed. For anyone that wants to expand or develop or just express his faith that causes difficulties. It is still a democratic country. You can talk to people. Something in the law does not allow forced conversion but some people have taken that to extremes. In this atmosphere, if you try to witness to people, it is perceived that you are trying to change the person's religion, so they become very aggressively against you. V* need to be aware of that atmosphere.

From the Jewish side, that exists in Judaism from the fear of losing people. We lost many people during the Holocaust and many Jewish people see intermarriage as losing Jewish children to other faiths, or coming out of the Jewish community. That sense of protectiveness over your people is very strong. They see anything that tries to change that as endangering the Jewish people writ large.

Even secular people are unhappy if you try to convert someone; they see it, in a sense, as treason toward your own nationality. That's rather unusual. It's not a purely religious but a religious-national issue. You are diminishing your own species. That creates an atmosphere. If you knock on a door and say I came to talk about this or about that, people feel extremely suspicious. You are not welcome. I am sure that in other countries there are difficulties between religions and so on, but here anything that is not Jewish is suspected of being a danger. In that sense, I guess, it's unique.

The other aspect that I guess comes to everyone's mind has to do with security of life in a country that is always in the eye of the storm. It has to do with how you bring up your own children -- the whole issue of the army, living in a country where there is threat of terrorism. A lot of antagonism exists in the world.

Israel often finds itself isolated in terms of how it is perceived by other nations within its relationships, especially over the Palestinian-Israeli issue. I must say that that even influences the way we are perceived by our own brothers and sisters from our own movement. Very often, they are less influenced by True Parents' view point as it appears in Father's talks and in what Father emphasizes than in what CNN or the general media says. People take sides even in our movement. Even in or movement we feel there is a bias that is related to the general public view rather than to our providential point of view I don't know if that is what you were referring to.

Question: Doesn't Israel have Arab-Israeli citizens with the same political rights as other citizen?

Yes. Most people, I guess, think the Israeli-Arab conflict is something like two nations living side-by-side for thousands of years that have been always warring. That is not the case at all. We are talking about an area that has had continually changing demographics. In the far past, you had the Canaanite tribes living there when the Israelites came from Egypt. Two thousand years ago, the Jewish people were expelled in large part from Israel, but clusters of Israelites existed there all that time. It is not as linear as people think. So, the Palestinian issue arose very much later. Arab tribes have been living there for hundreds and hundreds of years, and they have been changing and moving around according to the rulers of the times.

There were the Ottomans, and in later times the British or French ruling the area. The demographic structure has changed, but we can say that when Israel was founded in 1948, the number of residents in the nation that were Jewish and those that were Arabs was roughly the same. The bigger numbers came later. For the Jewish people, this came through immigration in the aftermath of World War II, in several waves, and through natural growth. For the Palestinians, too, they now number in the millions because they kept naturally increasing. In Israel and in their diaspora, meaning in neighboring nations of Jordan and Lebanon and Syria and wherever they could settle.

Within Israel, we make a distinction between 48 or 67; we distinguish between the different origins. When we talk about Palestinians, we are talking about people that lived in the same territory where Israel now is, but some of them left the country in 1948 for two reasons: either they were expelled through the war or they left out of their own volition hoping Israel would lose the war and they could then come back. Either by their own choice or by force, refugees were created.

However, those who stayed became complete citizens of Israel and they enjoy the same rights. They compete in elections and have Parliament Members.

They enjoy all the same rights. Does that mean that there are no differences? There are always certain differences but they come from relationships within society, not by law I wouldn't go to the extreme of calling them second-class citizens, but there are differences. For example, they say that some of the government allocations for cities is not equal. I am sure you cannot find this by law but as a matter of fact there is certain favoritism here and there... If you run a high tech company, you may choose someone straight out of the army that has some experience in that area rather than from the Arab community.

It's not a legal problem, so to say, but more a matter of growing and developing and solving integration in the right way. It is still in process but they certainly enjoy all the freedoms of having a passport and ID. You could compare it, in a way, to the situation of women in society; legally they are free to do anything but you find there is some discrepancy, such as between their salaries and those of men. This type of social education or development still needs to be done.

Question: In light of your circumstances, how do you operate?

We have realized over the years that the country you serve will evaluate you by the service you give it. The understanding we have of outreach is not dragging people from one viewpoint to another but giving genuine service that has True Parents' hearts behind it. If we do that, I believe people will seek out what is behind that. When they do, they can understand True Parents in their true light rather than see them as a threat, which is, I guess, the situation in a country that is very nervous about anything that comes in from the outside in terms of ideology. If you are a tourist or a visitor whatever you think is okay, but it's not okay for you to introduce an ideology that might infringe on the status quo.

We feel that we need to serve the country by caring for the issue that the country cares for and needs to worry about -- the education of youth, or morality or security and peace. These issues are important for the country. We have to find ways to become involved that make a difference, or at least adds value. To do this, we want to create lasting friendships with people. In this process, we can move to the spiritual side of things and come to the point in a relationship where we can point out that it is not enough to improve the environment or the structure or the government or the system or even the ideology. We need something that is deeper in the moral nature or spiritual nature.

Essentially, we recognize the value of True Parents and the blessing because that is the key that we genuinely believe can bring true and lasting change that people need. If we express that upfront, in a sense, we are not fulfilling our role as John the Baptist. We are just putting it on the table -- Here, you either believe in this or not.

That would not actually help True Parents. In a sense we are just using them. As opposed to that, I think we should exert ourselves, make a lot of effort to win the hearts of the people through our own personalities and our own good examples, our own standard. If they value that, we can introduce the source.

Obviously, it's a longer course, because people are spiritual and they can see if your heart and what you say are the same. They can sense it. You have to be able to look inside, be reflective and try to improve your own standard, your family standard.

Road signs in Israel, in Hebrew, Arabic and English, reflect the nation's diversity

Question: People will look. Eventually, they will see that you intermarried, that your wife or husband is not Jewish. Already you are starting with a big minus. Right?

I remember coming back from the Blessing Ceremony in 1982. I was working in a university office with six ladies. They saw the pictures and my beaming face. "Obviously you look happy and she looks nice, but why couldn't you find a Jewish girl?" That was the reaction. It was out of compassion, so to say. It was funny come to the point where they appreciate our blessing and appreciate our viewpoint, we need to show real integrity and genuine care and bring to the table valuable things for the nation.

I remember back then, probably it will help the question you asked... I was questioned by the secret service; they were worried about our connection. We had this big campaign; it was 1986. It was for an international security council or something like that.

"You know that this Dr. Pak is with the KCIA...." and this and that. I was very scared. I was much younger then. They gave me the option of resigning from our movement -- as if it were a job or something -- or they would take away my security credentials, which were very high before. I said, "Do what you want." So they took away my credentials and I was put in the gunnery after I had been in a high security unit. I was put in the gunnery because there were no secrets there and you can lift very heavy stuff there. I felt very bad for a while about how they look at us. Ten years later, someone said to me or hinted to me, "We no longer consider you a security threat."

I understand the sensitivity of a country trying to defend itself; but I feel I have no secrets. They can investigate whatever, but if they have any sense, they will realize that we are the best citizens. It is in the interest of the country to have many more people like us -- we are very honest; we are very loyal and we never act against the country. In fact, we want to strengthen its moral fabric, which is something that other movements are not doing.

It is not enough to have weapons; the biggest threat is moral. That is where we want to help the country. For example, talk about the military. The military is always measured by the training and the equipment and ammunition, but if the soldiers are immoral and advocate free sex and all these other things, they become very weak. Their spiritual fabric is very weak and they cannot perform. It doesn't help you to have the state-of-the art weaponry if your morals are defunct. That was the phenomenon in the Vietnam War. I think America suffered there not because of a lack of advanced equipment. It was hit hard in its soft part, through immorality. That's the weapon that the Viet Cong med. It's still true today. Here, we can bring in added value through the moral standard.

Question: In what ways do you do that?

We have even had things like a Pure Love campaign in the country; and when we introduce security forums, we want to introduce morality. Morality can be an important component to talk about. People think morality is something that you either have or you don't, as if you are born with it. But that's actually not true. You have to be educated, and if we point this out to decision makers that are concerned about this issue, they can find the value in that.

If people are moral, it is cost effective. They take better care of equipment, and they don't steal. So there are practical benefits, so to say, not just from a Bible-based or ideological base. It makes sense. If you raise people to be moral, they don't neglect their duty.

Question: I recall a scandal over Israeli woman soldiers dancing in their underwear with M16s recently.

I know. Obviously from a moral point of view that just reflects the general problems of society In terms of the army it just shows that we are much the same as the people that take the selfie pictures. We've had worse things than that. We've had pilots, who are usually considered the top in terms of their intelligence and quality, passing confidential information through WhatsApp. They were punished for that these are ills of misusing the benefits of the computer age. I wouldn't take that as a broad indication.

Soldiers have done that too, dancing to the theme of a popular song. A soldier group even did it in Hebron. That created a mini-scandal. The real problem is much more widespread. This is what conies to the surface and makes a headline, but the real problem is that people are detached from their reality. People who do that in Palestinian lands are insensitive to the people there. Those that do it in their underwear are insensitive to their own spiritual lives, let alone others'.

This is just a tip of the iceberg showing the degradation in society. That's a problem were facing everywhere. Israel is not exempt, which is why I think we can serve the nation by working to improve morality. Of course, it is a huge task when the movement per se is small. But we can become catalysts and agents that can work with other organizations and network with other, like-minded people. True Parents' vision has to be translated into plans of action that can be adopted by other organizations. I don't think that True Parents' vision is that we do everything ourselves directly. We have to learn to work with other God-inspired people or moral people to expand the will of God more rapidly by working with others.

Arab and Jewish woman participants at an interfaith forum

Question: In what capacity do you approach people for the first time?

In whatever capacity we meet. I can meet someone through my business work. I can meet him through my professional forums. I can meet him as a friend traveling somewhere. I just create normal give and take to see where he is coming from and I have genuine interest in the person himself. Regardless of the way we met, we try to find a connection. It is definitely not going around with flags, saying I represent this. Will you join me?

I call it "natural outreach." I think family-level outreach is very important from our viewpoint, that the family will reflect a standard, because if we bring people, the first thing they see is our own relationships. If we do not have good relationships within our family or community, it's the first thing that drives people away from us. Even though we try to attract them with the value of the Divine Principle, which is eternal, and the value of the blessing, which is absolutely eternal, if our relationships are showing something else, we find it extremely difficult to bring people to an understanding of what True Parents represent. So our effort is in personal conduct, family conduct and so on.

In terms of approach, wherever you have the opportunity to meet people you gauge the relationship. It could be just business, or business plus a hit of friendship or business and friendship and a bit of the spiritual side. We have to see, also, people change. Sometimes, we meet people and it takes a couple of years before another aspect of the relationship opens. Sometimes it's very rapid because they are seekers or are prepared by God in a way. It comes from their side; they ask a question.

Obviously, if they ask a question, we are very happy to respond, but we are less likely to put it up on a billboard, so to say I guess that is the atmosphere that our unique, or not-so-unique, situation creates.

Question: What sort of organized structure do you work through?

We found more liberty working within open frameworks, like forums. It's a democratic country. You can have your own forum. There is no reason we cannot bring people together and talk to them. When you use an NGO framework, you have to follow NGO rules, which could be good at times, but we haven't benefitted much from that and just get into red tape.

Question: Even those with good standards need to actually broach topics...

It's a natural process when you talk to a person and he has a question about his life.

If the person is content, doesn't show any interest and seems very satisfied with what he has, it is very difficult to engage with him because he doesn't desire input. You can naturally offer something to those with real questions -- family issues, divorce issues, children issues, illness or other things that cause people to ponder and ask themselves deeper questions in life. There is a need. Some people show no need or you are unable to tap into it. Often people put up a façade as if everything is okay, but it you tickle them here and there and find there is a real need, you can approach them.

It is almost like a doctor having a preliminary conversation with a patient, "Where are you coming from? Do have any cases of this 'Problem in your ancestry?" He then tries to diagnose you. We have to diagnose people in a similar way; otherwise, we may be giving a remedy to people that does not fit the problems they have. So they are not very appreciative of that.

It's like someone saying Please take this medicine.

But I'm not sick.

Take it anyway.

They also have to recognize the need; then you can start give and take that is more profitable for them. You asked how what we now do compares with what we did in the past. What we do now simply allows us to go more to the society, reach more people and be more effective in helping the nation. Before it was more one-on-one. I think we are growing more on the community level, or the community; tribal, society level through that type of outreach.

Also, we believe that we have to influence the nation. We have to influence decision makers. In order to influence decision makers, you need to produce good ideas that they can adopt. At that point, we need to be able to let go of our good ideas because politicians, as they often do, from my short experience with them, don't come up with good ideas but take them from other people, thinkers, researchers...

Question: Or the opposition.

Or the opposition. They pick it up. They take the idea and proclaim it -- sometimes for good, sometimes for bad. So, why don't we feed good ideas to society? We won't get the credit; they will get the credit, but the policies they enact will benefit the country and the country will get better. It's a credit in heaven. Eventually, if someone traces it back, True Parents will get the credit. It is not an immediate thing.

If they take a policy that is inspired by the moral fabric of what True Parents taught us, they cannot make the connection immediately. We may feel that it is such a pity that they don't know that True Parents actually came up with this, but it is even more important that we follow the tradition that True Parents want, that we love the nation in the way that they do. If we do so, eventually I think recognition will come.

Let me put it a little more bluntly: I think, for example about the Middle East Peace Initiative, that if we are able, and we should make a real effort, to bring peace to the Middle East, that will be a beautiful testimony to True Parents, who planted this idea out of their love for the region and for the world. If we actually fulfill it, people will ask who came up with it. Who's behind it? So, in a sense we are proving the True Parents' value through our actual work. Rather than hoping miraculously that True Parents solve our problem, we should solve the problem and through solving it based on the principles they gave us, people can realize how precious they are.

Question: This brings me to the question: How are you bringing a broader group than the forum members to an awareness of what takes place in your forum?

First of all, the people involved in the forum have their own circle. If what we cover is valuable, they tell their own people. The forum members are the ones that bring new people in, because they tell their colleagues that they were on a forum and it was interesting. This is a way to enlarge our numbers.

The second point is that the forum is an intermediate step. I want to create a think tank or a whole line of think tanks in different areas that will create position papers that will be submitted to decision makers. These position papers will be read because decision makers need ideas. Hundreds of laws are being proposed based on such papers, so why not put forth our ideas, which come from good sources?

I often think that public figures are somewhat free from prejudice and they will read the guidance we have directly from True Parents. It is a fantastic solution for almost anything they need, but the moment they either don't go through the material or they read it with the mind-set that is not clear or with some biases that prevent them from seeing the value of it.

If we can take certain basic good elements from True Parents' teachings that can benefit the nation, put them in the right words and in the right framework that can be easily accepted, that is a way to expand. In other words, as a small group, with a relatively small number of activists, we can influence the nation. We don't necessary have to become the majority or politically gamer 51 percent of the nation. We can be a small part that is producing effective ideas that can influence the country.

Doron and Rosa Shmueli, an active blessed couple in Israel, receiving True Parents' Special Award on the first anniversary of Foundation Day

Question: Do you publish the forum proceedings?

We do, through the UPF web page. We asked UPF to redesign the page so that we have three parts -- interfaith, peace and security, and youth activities. I would like to expand to the economic field and other fields as well. I don't know if UPF will allow me to keep dividing it into more columns, but in any case that is where we are heading in terms of expansion. We are planning more forums.

Question: Is that on, their main page?

Yes. Actually, I asked for a title that was general, like "peace activities in the region." I want to remain on a regional level even though I am mainly reporting about activities in Israel and Palestine.

Question: Your region has few other sources.

That's right, but we hope we can inspire more support or even create outlets or offshoots. My aspiration is to help the region. That brings me to another issue. On the regional level we need others that we can connect to as a bridge. We cannot develop on the regional level without having at least a small base. Father said that if you talk to yourself you are deemed crazy, but if there is even a young baby or even a stone across from you, it is okay. In order for us to be effective in the region -- particularly in our spread-out and conflict-ridden region -- we need our members to set up even a tiny base in each one of the countries. Then we can interact with one another. Doing so will create a spiritual base for unity in the region. This is on the regional level. It is beyond the national level.

Without bases on the national level and interaction between them, we cannot move on to substance in our relationships to those we are dealing with in our nations. It remains very vague. You cannot create a spiritual network without that. If we have constant meetings between representatives of each one of the nations in the region, I think that can definitely influence the national relationships in the region. If you don't, it's a serious impediment. Right now, that's what I feel.

Question: My final question: Has people's response to learning that your wife is Japanese changed over the years?

Certainly. First of all, when I was blessed, that was still a phenomenon. There were no couples of that type, or maybe only one or two in the whole country. Now, many... Well, "many" in a relative sense. From one or two at the time, now there are fifty or a hundred Israeli-Japanese couples. Many young men went to Japan after leaving the army. They fell in love. We have other couples, so that changes things, not only numerically but also the atmosphere became more pluralistic. People travel now.

Definitely thirty years ago and now are different in terms of it not being an unusual phenomenon anymore. You have Korean-Israeli couples. Particularly among the younger generation, much more openness exists. Does that change the general society? I think in many ways there is still -- I don't know if the word "conservatism" fits -- but yeah it is not open everywhere. There are still strong feelings against intermarriage.

By the way, one of the issues that is not easy for us to explain is True Parents' viewpoint that intermarriage brings peace. We definitely feel it's true, but others' understanding of intermarriage is that it is a threat to Jewish existence, so it's not something that people feel only slightly uncomfortable with. They see it as completely opposing the survival of the nation. I remember a conversation I had with one of the rabbis our friend, when we talked about intermarriage: He said, No, no, and I looked at him and said, putting on a big smile, "How about beginning with Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews?" He said, 'That's okay!"

"Let's take it step by step," I said.

First, start with inner integration and move up to bigger challenges, so that they understand that there is a need for the mix, but also because the nation feels under throat of extinction. In America, the neighbors or parents may also look critically at those that marry interracially. 

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