The Lively Opinion in this week’s IJN by Mijal Bitton and Masua Sagiv is an excellent formulation of a theme we’ve all heard a lot about lately: the fragile state of Israeli society.
The theme runs like this: For its first 75 years Israel had to face down external enemies as it built a society of immigrants. But will Israel now fall apart, due to internal divisions?
True enough, the internal divisions are severe. We’ve seen them in the massive demonstrations against the proposed judicial reform, and we’ve seen them in the sharpness of the rhetoric.
Particularly highlighting the sharpness of the rhetoric to me is its lack of foundation. It screams (literally) for the importance of democracy, but when taken coolly, rationally, descriptively, substantively, the proposed judicial reform would strengthen Israeli democracy, not weaken it. The country’s democracy has been whittled away by a Supreme Court that is self-selecting and has assumed power that no other Supreme Court in a democracy has assumed. Ditto, the powers of Israel’s Attorney General.
But no matter. I am not here to argue for judicial reform. I’ve done it elsewhere, as have many others, just as those opposed to it have made their case.
Nor am I here to recount the underlying causes of all the acrimony.
It’s not judicial reform.
It’s the demographic specter of an Israel moving away from its secular roots, of an Israel whose religious population is outstripping its secular character. All this too has been taken up widely and should be familiar to all of us deeply engaged in the fate of the state of Israel.
I am here for another reason — to make another point. Surely not to underestimate the dangers of internal division. It is indeed frightening to see how far they have come — how what was once considered treason, the refusal of soldiers to carry out Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, is now almost blase. “If there is judicial reform, I won’t serve.” That truly would mark a threat to Israel.
But no matter. I am not here to focus on that, either; although my focus is closely related. I am here for something else: the idea, the very naive idea in my view, that the first 75 years of Israel were rightly focused on external enemies, but now the time has come for a new focus — on what our Lively Opinion authors this week call “writing a new chapter in the magnificent story of Israel and Zionism.”
Sorry, I am not ready for a new chapter.
Not that there doesn’t need to be a next chapter — a way to keep Israel internally cohesive, a way to keep it from collapsing in infighting.
Yes, there needs to be another chapter, but not a new one.
Because the old one is still here.
The idea that external forces are no longer the main threat to Israel is the height of naivete. Of course we have the Abraham Accords. Of course we have a form of peace between Israel and between, respectively, Egypt and Jordan. Causes for hope, to be sure. Literally unbelievable to those who remember Israel’s four wars between 1948 and 1973, to be sure.
But have we been lulled into thinking that the threat from Iran is any less severe or that the hatred from Iran is any less rational than six months ago, before Israel’s election and judicial reform?
Have we forgotten that Lebanon is ruled by Hezbollah, and Gaza by Hamas?
Have we forgotten that the peace with Egypt and Jordan is very cold and, from their point of view, strictly pragmatic?
Even these wonderful Abraham Accords — have we not noticed that since 2020 no other Arab country has rushed to join them?
Have we not noticed that the normality of Arab peace with Israel is inversely proportionate to the distance of the Arab countries from Israel?
Have we not observed that however much Iraq has otherwise changed since the US invaded it, Iraq has not changed one whit in its hatred of Israel?
Have we not noticed that Turkey —one year it’s with Israel one year it’s not?
We tend to laugh at the UN, with its reflexive anti-Israel resolutions, but the UN, like it or not, represents a lot of world power.
Has the hatred among many Palestinians — hatred that kills innocent Jewish siblings in drive-by shootings and other ways — gone away?
And what about the United States? I grew up in a country that loved and admired Israel. Now, it’s subject to polling. More still admire Israel than don’t, but the numbers are dropping. Now we have a couple of anti-Israel members of Congress, once unthinkable. We have an anti-Israel member of the Colorado legislature, once unthinkable. Don’t think that a pernicious idea, to be influential, has to start big.
Have we American and Israeli Jews fallen into the illusion that massive American military aid is automatic? Have we deluded ourselves that Israeli military power is strictly a matter of Israeli military skill and brains, such that without American aid they would just continue along, as if on automatic pilot?
Speaking of power, have we deluded ourselves into thinking that without Israel (G-d forbid), American Jewish safety would just sail along, unhindered?
The greatest threat to Israel today would be to focus on the internal divisions within Israel, as if Israel’s safety were now secure.
That’s just what Iran and likeminded haters of Israel or of Jews are waiting to see.
Israel is at a crossroads of naivete.
It needs two foci, one alongside the other, external and internal.
That’s the real next chapter.
Copyright © 2023 by the Intermountain Jewish News