An individual is invited to give a lecture at an academic conference on subjects related to his expertise. He invests thought in his speech and prepares a provocative lecture - something innovative and challenging, clearly and sharply worded. (Academic conferences have a tendency to put listeners to sleep and wrap themselves up in a complex jargon of their own ).
Most importantly, he breaks out of the narrow confines of his present job to provide a historical perspective and broad view of society and macroeconomics. When he opens his mouth, it transpires that some of his remarks tend to be populist and demagogic, containing controversial statements and dubious generalizations. A storm breaks out. Within a few hours, he is fired from his job.
The dismissal of Shlomo Maoz - a hasty, one-sided move, without the minimal amount of clarification - was a shocking act. Shocking, yes; but it also well reflected and precisely expressed the spirit of the times. Public discourse in Israel pays tribute to conservatism and circumspection; it is padded with taboos and sacred cows and gives off a sense of panic. It is a clumsy and primitive discourse that reacts hysterically and acts aggressively. On the slippery slope, basic values that are taken for granted in a democratic society are beginning to disappear, such as freedom of expression and the liberty to express an opinion - almost any opinion.
To paraphrase a remark attributed to Voltaire, a decent Israeli would have to sacrifice a great deal in order for Maoz to continue speaking nonsense. And there was nonsense in the lecture he delivered at the Sapir College, alongside quite a few disturbing truths and thought-provoking assertions.
Neither the former nor the latter is important right now. The personal story of the dismissed Maoz, a senior and highly regarded economist who will no doubt continue to sit on profitable boards of directors, is dwarfed by the general message.
Even though the issues on the agenda today in Israel are more fateful and complex than ever before, one can say less and less about them. The seams are unraveling, the splits are growing wider; but with all its might, the discourse sanctifies a mainstream that is in line with the interests of the state and is hollow.
Most Israelis are not directly exposed to critical and subversive thought. It has transpired now that it is also forbidden to pass on that kind of thought to them from time to time. People here talk a lot about "challenges." This is a nice, respectable term that slips easily off the tongue. However, in order to meet challenges, one has to challenge lines of thought, to pose doubts about conventions, to breach boundaries. This is the way in which human societies move forward.
In both Jewish and Zionist history, exemplary figures who were considered heretics at the time have found an honorable place. We have a history of prophets of doom, starting with Isaiah and Jeremiah and continuing through to Ahad Ha'am and Theodor Herzl. Why is it that precisely now the level of ideological tolerance has dropped to rock bottom?
The State of Israel has, since its birth, required a sweeping and seminal ethos. But when the internal belief in the chosen path was based on a healthy and reasonable foundation, combined with broad international support, it was possible also to contain ideological anomalies within the bounds of the discourse. No one thought of firing philosopher Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz or playwright Hanoch Levin.
However, the greater the diversion is from the straight path, the more security is undermined - and with it, the tolerance toward ideological pluralism. There is no longer room for a free highway with many lanes in which ideas and arguments collide at a crazy speed. All that is left is a narrow lane that runs in one direction, a cul de sac.
This dangerous process finds grotesque expression in the Knesset - legislation that forbids people to speak about the Nakba [the "disaster", in Arabic, referring to the establishment of the state] and soon also about "Nazism." There are threats to shut down the department of politics and governance at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. One of the most serious accusations there was made against a lecturer who proposed to his students the argument that the abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was not an act of terror.
The heads of the Excellence Nessuah investment house, where Maoz was the chief economist, simply and willingly hastened to toe the cowardly line together with the regime of fear.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now