Israel's Political Polarization
By: Ben Dror Yemini Translated from Maariv (Israel).
Israel has much to be proud about. The Zionist enterprise is one of the most amazing national endeavors in modern times. A state made up of and built by waves of refugees, survivors of war and persecution, has become a global power in ways which have added value to humankind in general.
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The Zionist project has been a great historic success, writes Yemini, but something has gone wrong: Marginal groups occupy the political center, and Israel is on the slippery slope of becoming a state of extremes. The Jewish High Holidays call for national soul-searching, he writes.Publisher: Maariv (Israel)
We have incurred guilt, we have betrayed, we have sinned
Author: Ben Dror Yemini
First Published: September 25, 2012
Posted on: October 5 2012
Translated by: Hanni Manor
Categories : Israel
I have already suggested some time ago an evaluative measure, "the contribution to humanity per capita," which consists of a series of objective parameters such as scientific publications, medicine development, patent invention, water desalination, advanced irrigation methods and so on and so forth. All these rank Israel high up — in fact, on top of the scale worldwide — in terms of its contribution to humanity per capita. Millions around the world owe their lives to Israeli know-how, research and inventions. However, national soul–searching as befits these days of awe — the Jewish High Holidays — requires contemplation of the weeds that have grown among us here in Israel, as well. Each sect in Israel and its own weeds; each sect and the plagues it inflicts on us; each trend and its attempts at undermining the Zionist vision and the stunning success story named the State of Israel. There is no need to adopt the outlook of the international community, which by and large regards Israel as an island of never-ending aggression, violence and crime. It's introspective self-scrutiny that is needed, as without real soul-searching, no reparation can be achieved.
The Jewish Jihad
Only recently riots flared up across the raging Muslim world in protest of the anti-Islam video, "Innocence of Muslims," that none of the furious rioters had ever seen. Just before that, a similar uproar was sparked off by some cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed published in the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo. The rage and fury were directed in both cases at elements that had nothing to do with either the video or the cartoons. However, while condemning this misdirected and disproportionate response, we Israelis seem to be oblivious to the fact that among us, too, there are phenomena of the same kind. Suffice it to mention the "price tag" acts of Jewish vandalism, as they are dubbed, that we witness time and again following each governmental move in Judea and Samaria.
Even if we assume for the sake of discussion that there are valid arguments against the evacuation of some West Bank outpost or a certain house in some such outpost, what does the evacuation of an illegal structure have to do for God's sake with the desecration of a church or the torching of a mosque? And is there really any fundamental difference between the Islamists in Tripoli and the Jewish jihadists? Well, considering the governmental backing and the scope of the phenomenon, there is certainly a difference. Yet, we in Israel are not free from such uncalled-for occurrences. What's more, while the incidents of vandalism are carried on unbridled, the vandals are even enjoying insinuated sympathy. And more often than not, the culprits are not tracked down for some reason or another, which only further encourages the hooligans. And we have not said a word yet about the key role played by these hooligans in the creation of a bi-national, Jewish-Arab state. The possessed left is talking about it; alas, the extremist bullies of the right are creating it.
Even though it's quite clear that the majority of settlers are going to stay within the State of Israel under any arrangement eventually reached, the right-wing hooligans have a quite different goal in mind. They aspire to secure their dominance over the entire region and rule as masters by virtue of some divine decree, whose violators would be deemed heretics deserving of their wrath. They are no more than a small minority not only in Israel but in the Israeli right wing as well. Unfortunately, there is no need for a majority to cause devastation. A resolute, single-minded violent minority is capable of bringing ruin on us all Israelis. And we had better wake up to reality before it's too late.
On the other side of the political map, there are the academic elites. Under the umbrella of the freedom of expression, the gravest things are taking place in the Israeli academe. The "occupation" has become in the past decade synonymous with the name of Israel. Thousands of academic publications are dealing with the issue, most of them markedly biased. Israel is depicted in these dissertations as the quintessence of evil, more wicked than any other country around the globe. Many of these hostile publications originate in the Israeli academic world. In fact, an incitement campaign against the Zionist idea is evolving in the academe, whether deliberately or inadvertently.
A series of notable academia figures have taken advantage of the immunity granted them by virtue of their academic status to blur the lines between the intellectual world of the academe and the political activity of radical associations. When the Academic Center of Law & Business in Ramat Gan, a city neighboring Tel Aviv, announced not long ago that students active in "human rights associations" — all of which or virtually all of which have a pronounced post-Zionist agenda — would be granted hefty scholarships, it was violating academic freedom. And when an entire academic faculty, as at Ben Gurion University of the Negev's department of politics and government, consists of lecturers who are associated with the extreme left, while some of them are taking an active part in the BDS campaign — the Palestinian campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, which is designed not only to put an end to the Israeli occupation of Arab territories but actually to bring about the end of the State of Israel — then it is an outrageous complicity on the part of the academic authorities and they rather than those who dare criticize this anti-academic bias should be put to shame.
True, it's only a minority that is involved in these anti-Zionist activities; however, the problem is that this minority is casting its shadow over the majority of Israeli academics, who are simply "a-f-r-a-i-d" to voice their opinion and stand their ground. The term, in this prolonged intonation, was used by Prime Minister Netanyahu during his first tenure in office with reference to his critics, in general, and the media, in particular, which he sarcastically described as being apprehensive about his possible reelection as premier in the early election of 1999.
Prof. Ze'ev Sternhell, former head of the department of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a long-time supporter of the Israeli peace camp, openly and explicitly attacked the Council of Higher Education in Israel recently over its decision to close Ben-Gurion University’s politics department. He even went as far as to call for the intervention of the international academe in the matter in an attempt to prevent legitimate criticism. Blackmail and threats are used to silence criticism of anti-Zionist activity. And it works! No wonder then that they the majority of Israeli academics keep silent. They are being terrorized by the minority. Any criticism voiced against this anti-academic bias is promptly denounced as a "fascist and McCarthyite campaign." Something bad is happening to the Israeli academe. And as it turns out, it cannot even be criticized. The aggressive minority, of the type represented by Sternhell, is terrifying and terrorizing us, the mainstream Zionist majority.
Ultra-Orthodox in place of Jewish
The issue of equal sharing in the national burden is constantly preoccupying Israeli society. However, equal sharing in the burden is just the tip of the iceberg. The problem goes much deeper than that. There are numerous Jewish Orthodox trends – Zionist, nationalistic, advocates of the state, liberals to name the most prominent among them. In the ultra-Orthodox community, too, there are various trends. Not all of them regard women as pariahs and call for their exclusion from the public space; not all of them are shirking work and not all of them dodge sharing in the burden. Indeed, it may well be that the majority of them are willing to become an integral part of society. However, one way or another, the non-religious majority invariably invests the radical minority with power and authority. Just have a look at what is going on in the rabbinical courts and the bodies in charge of conversion to Judaism. Neither the relatively moderate Orthodox nor even the ultra-Orthodox have a foothold there; rather, these rabbinical institutions are all dominated by the most extreme trends in the ultra-Orthodox community.
These very days, the battle for the Chief Rabbinate in Israel has been launched. The Tzohar Rabbinical Organization of Orthodox, Zionist, state-oriented rabbis is attempting to bring about a change and encourage a new approach to religious leadership in the Chief Rabbinate. Their cause is commendable and they deserve every support. Alas, their prospects of success are null. The ultra-Orthodox trends manage to bend the majority and dictate their own will. In the last rounds of appointments to the rabbinical courts, they have consolidated their absolute dominance over the rabbinical courts. The same holds true for the Chief Rabbinate. Once a Zionist, state-oriented institution, the Chief Rabbinate has become since home to radical-leaning rabbis of the ultra-Orthodox community.
Hundreds of thousands are living among us as Israeli citizens to all ends and purposes. They are full and true partners to the Israeli experience. They serve in the army. They take part in the labor force. They have tied their fate with the Jewish people. They can and should be Jews. There are quite a number of Orthodox rabbis who are willing to convert them to Judaism. However, they are not allowed to do so. And nothing is going to change — not now, nor in the foreseeable future — as the control over the conversion mechanisms has been yielded to the extreme trends in the ultra-Orthodox community. We wished to establish here in the Land of Israel a Jewish and democratic state. Alas, it is gradually becoming less Jewish and far more ultra-Orthodox.
Israel is leading the list of Western states with socio-economic gaps
Dozens of Jewish communities immigrated to Israel over the years from the Diaspora with the hope of creating an ideal, paragon society here. Hundreds of thousands of the new immigrants were living for years in transit camps, which were, in fact, refugee camps. Considering the low starting point, there is certainly much to be proud of. However, something has gone wrong along the way. Following decades of efforts to narrow the gaps, Israeli society has changed direction. Israel, together with the United States, is leading at present the list of Western states with the widest socio-economic gaps. The increasing polarity in Israeli society should be attributed not only to the ultra-Orthodox who are absent from the labor force nor to the minority groups alone, which fail to find their place in the market (not necessarily due to their own fault, but rather, quite often on account of the state). Indeed, it's no less the doing of the majority.
The Israeli economy is dominated by but a few – too few who leave behind many who find it difficult to obtain any decent subsistence conditions and who can only dream of a home of their own, even if they hold jobs and are hard working. The social justice protest (kindled in Israel in the summer of 2011 and carried on this summer) has instilled hope in many for a real change. But the desired change has not come about. The same familiar figures, with the same old order of priorities have remained in the centers of power and they crush any prospect of change.
The system of government and governance
The issues enumerated above have all one common denominator: Israel is losing its common sense and its power of rational reasoning; it is losing the mainstream center, while radical elements on the right and left, from the moneyed oligarchy, the academe and the judiciary are taking control. The radical forces have gained access to the center of the arena. They are by no means the majority; however, they are setting the tone.
The governmental system in Israel is destructive. The primaries held by the political parties give rise to the emergence of ideological power groups and influential employees' committees, which take control over the parties' central committees. What's happening on the party level is happening on the national level as well. The coalitional system surrenders control to determined minority groups, which thus gain power beyond their real political strength. The majority demands equal sharing in the national burden. However, it is trampled and trodden over. The majority requires a change in the electoral system. Alas, there is no chance for that. The majority wants to live in a Jewish state rather than in an ultra-Orthodox state. But what it wants doesn't really count much.
Israel is in need of a serious shake-up. Being accustomed to the old, all too familiar and mind-numbing division between right and left, we have forgotten that there is a broad national consensus on a long list of issues. However, the current governmental system undermines any concurrence of opinion. Thus, in place of a democracy, Israel is becoming a state ruled by minority power groups. And we have none other to blame but ourselves — we, the majority that is positioned somewhere between the center of the left-wing, social democratic, Zionist New Movement-Meretz and the center of the right-wing ruling Likud. We, the majority, want to have a normal state — Jewish rather than ultra-Orthodox, Israeli rather than bi-national. But somehow, we keep investing with power those who divest us of power. So, let's not blame anyone else. The accusing finger we should point at ourselves. We have incurred guilt; we have betrayed; we have sinned. Perhaps when we realize all that, when we, the majority, start voting for ourselves, we may overcome the bias and injustice that threaten us all. If we only believe it, our dream may yet come true and, in the words of Theodor Binyamin Ze’ev Herzl, the visionary of Zionism, "If you will it, it is no dream."
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