Small slices of officialdom
Before we can share the country with the Palestinians, we have to learn to share it among ourselves.
"What, does he think his father owns it?" is a comment commonly heard here to refer to someone who seems to have an overly proprietary attitude toward one thing or another. Now retired Supreme Court Justice Mishael Cheshin has come along and provided a literal embodiment of the remark. In an interview he granted in the wake of Daniel Friedmann's appointment as justice minister, Cheshin, a second-generation Supreme Court justice, described the court not only as his home, but as his father's home. A dynasty.
The reaction to his words was surprisingly low-key. Had someone else, let's say Avigdor Lieberman or Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, threatened to chop off the hand of anyone who tried to change the character of a government institution, his words might well have been seen as a threat to the foundations of democracy. When they came out of Cheshin's mouth, they were interpreted as an expression of pain.
Moreover, the crisis surrounding the appointment of the minister illustrates the ongoing struggle over the ownership of the country, over its public space and over the definition of its official character. It seems that the more widespread the agreement as to the future borders of the country, the greater the struggle for hegemony over the state within those borders. If the Supreme Court is the body that is supposed to interpret the explicit and implicit social contract, what is happening within it is revealing not only the fact that even officialdom is designed in the image of a certain group, under a cover of universalism, but also that there is an absence of a consolidating common ethos.
Every group in society is involved in the struggle. The struggle over land and over ownership of public housing, which was waged by the Sephardi Democratic Rainbow, was in effect a retroactive struggle over the place in the Zionist ethos from which the Mizrahim (Jews of North African or Middle Eastern origin) were banned for so long; the religious and secular communities are fighting over the fine balance between a Jewish state and a democratic one; the immigrants from the former Soviet Union are demanding that the old elites turn over the leadership to them. The struggle has been replicated to the army as well, which for years was considered the great social equalizer, but where in fact a battle for the leadership is being waged between the members of kibbutzim and the wearers of knitted skullcaps.
In today's situation, there is no public arena where common background values reign. Instead of partnership in an arena where there is no need for agreement as to what is proper and where a common foundation would be sufficient, there is a demand for exclusivity. Even officialdom has a hierarchy of its own, and it creates obstacles that prevent entry.
Such a situation invites struggles for control and a defiance of the official spaces, which have revealed themselves to be little more than myth. All that is left is a submissive internalization of the right of the privileged, such as Cheshin, to say what others are not permitted to say.
The uproar that surrounded the appointment of Friedmann is, in this sense, an additional sign of the disintegration of official Israel into smaller subdivisions. It is no longer the Arabs, the Sephardim, the ultra-Orthodox who are defying the place to which they do not feel a sense of belonging; this time the defiance came from within a public that until now was seen as being homogeneous. Apparently in this group too, some people see themselves as more "in," as those in whose image officialdom was designed.
When the dust settles on this affair, it should rightly be used as a lever for change. Before we can share the country with the Palestinians, we have to learn to share it among ourselves.