The year of hatred
Israeli public discourse has focused in recent months on virulent attacks on various groups: Arabs, the ultra-Orthodox, settlers, the liberal-secular. 'They' are depicted as terrible enemies plotting against us, as people whose political and social power must be broken.
Lacking an external enemy (at least so far), 2009 should be called "the year of hatred." Israeli public discourse has focused in recent months on virulent attacks on various groups: Arabs, the ultra-Orthodox, settlers, the liberal-secular. "They" are depicted as terrible enemies plotting against us, as people whose political and social power must be broken.
This hatred is neither coincidental nor vague. It expresses a real power struggle in Israeli society, which has always been typified by factions and tribalism. Some people want to keep their positions of power, some seek a new social order. The front lines of the struggle vary according to demographics and political correctness. These days it is unacceptable to incite against Mizrahim or people from the former Soviet Union or Ethiopia. After the recent murders at the gay community center, derogatory remarks about homosexuals have been delegitimized. It's a pity that it took bloodshed.
Although "they," the targets of the hatred, change with time and circumstances, its manifestations are identical. The side that hates purports to speak in the name of true and proper values, while "they" are described as a danger to the state's existence: the ultra-Orthodox who want a state based on Jewish law, Arabs who want a state of all its citizens, settlers who are leading to apartheid or a binational state, secular people and leftists who are abandoning Zionism to pursue hedonism.
As support for the claim that they constitute an existential threat, "they" are depicted as parasites and law breakers who enjoy everything good the state has to offer without assuming the burdens. The ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs do not serve in the army and "do not pay taxes," the Tel Avivians evade military service or do not join combat units, the settlers cost us billions and enjoy subsidized services, the Arabs and the settlers build without permits, the ultra-Orthodox do not work and live off the public purse.
The rapid natural increase of the ultra-Orthodox, Arab and settler populations amplifies the anxiety: Our country is changing, it is being stolen right out of our hands; in no time they will multiply, take over and drag us down to the third world. Look how they are taking over neighborhoods and cities that were once "ours." How frightening: The Arabs who bought apartments in the Jewish neighborhood "will want to build a mosque." The ultra-Orthodox will build a synagogue and ritual bath on our street and will squeeze us out. "Jerusalem is lost." They will kidnap our children to make them religious. They will harass our daughters. Luckily, political correctness does not permit casting aspersions on the personal hygiene of the hated group, its lack of culture or sexual habits; public discourse has eschewed these repulsive stereotypes almost entirely.
Factional hatred is characterized by the utter negation of the enemy group and by seeking ways to get rid of it or limit its burdensome presence. The side that hates wants the state to "take care of 'them'" and remove them from our sight: revoking the Arabs' citizenship, forcing ethnic and religious separation in cities and neighborhoods, drafting the ultra-Orthodox into the army and forcing secular education on them, evacuating the settlers and destroying the outposts, breaking down the High Court of Justice's secular fortress. These proposals are largely impractical, which only magnifies the frustration and expressions of hatred.
The time has come to say enough. Calm down. The state will not come apart so quickly; it will only change. This change cannot help but involve struggles. The opposing groups cannot be made to disappear, nor can love and dialogue be forced on them. There is no point in holding tightly to David Ben-Gurion's vision of a public that must be "remelted, poured into the mold of a renewed nation." These ideas belong to the history books, not to contemporary reality. Even the great Ben-Gurion was unable to establish a constitution, change the electoral system or force state education on the ultra-Orthodox.
The task of leadership in 2009 is not to force a unified national narrative on everyone, but to seek out and foster common interests that will make it easier for rival tribes to live together and allow groups on the margins to integrate into the mainstream. That will not make the hatred go away, but perhaps it will channel some of the energy now invested in it for the greater good.