Israel Needn't Become as Repressive as Iran

As we merrily celebrate life, we ignore the coming apocalypse - even though it has already long since arrived.

Sefi Rachlevsky
Sefi Rachlevsky
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Sefi Rachlevsky
Sefi Rachlevsky

Some time ago, I took a cab ride. As chance would have it, the driver was also born in 1966, though in Tehran. Khomeini's revolution erupted when he was 13. At the age of 20, he immigrated to Israel, mainly because he did not want to serve in the Iranian army during the Iran-Iraq war. His parents remained there. About two years ago, his father came to Israel for six months. By fall, at the end of his visit, he decided that Tehran suits him better and returned to Iran.

The driver described an Iranian reality unlike that most people imagine. Long months of unrest, nighttime curfews and troubles with the family store preceded the Islamic Revolution, but quiet and order immediately followed it. Numerous restrictions on economic life were lifted; Jews won state protection; and the store came back to life and prospered.

To be sure, religious laws and restrictions were stringently enforced in public. A man and woman could not walk down the street together. A man could not even stroll with his sister or mother. Actually, the latter was possible in principle, but the Basij militia's brutal checks to verify whether the woman was really the man's mother made it not worth the risk. The cab driver himself was beaten on the street because his hair was slightly longer than the permissible limit.

Nonetheless, every Thursday a party was held in the city. Many young men and women would come to a private, spacious private home. A special room was set aside for all the veils and burkas. The young people would remove their religious costumes as raucous contemporary music played; forbidden alcohol and sex filled the house.

The taxi had long since reached its destination, but my friend was still, in his mind, reviewing all his male and female friends. He was unable to come up with a single one, Jewish or Muslim, who did not enjoy a long-standing, intimate, extramarital relationship. His life in Tehran was very good.

The cab driver's story also included other details, and of course, there are many other stories. But the principle remains true: People are people, wherever they are. Life goes robustly on, even under the most fascist regimes. Even in Nazi Germany, until what for them were the bad years of 1944-1945, life was pretty good for many people. And in Iran, we are talking about a variety of religious fascism that is especially intrusive into the personal realm.

But our imaginary idea of the terrible life under fascist regimes has produced a thick curtain that enables us to repress the reality: Fascism is already here. It has struck deep roots in our living rooms.

True, life in Tel Aviv is sweet (albeit expensive ) for many young men and women. It seems that nobody interferes with their partying, which goes on as it always has in Tel Aviv - where it's always Thursday. But these are the Thursdays of Tehran.

The surrounding reality is governed by completely different rules that alter the perception of reality. From the very beginning, Israel abandoned the promises in its Declaration of Independence regarding "complete equality of rights, irrespective of religion, race or sex." From the beginning, Israel has (for example ) banned marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew in a manner reminiscent of the laws of that other country. From the beginning, a person who lacks a private car has been prevented from traveling on the weekly day of "vacation."

For 70 percent of Israel's existence, or 43.5 long years, there have been large swathes of land in which Jews are citizens, but their non-Jewish neighbors remained noncitizens. This is true even in Jerusalem, the state's "united" capital.

Jerusalem is also a city in which, on public transport, men and women are often forbidden from riding in the same part of the bus. And a majority of the country's Jewish first-graders receive a state-subsidized religious or ultra-Orthodox education that deems it self-evident that non-Jews are not human beings, and must never be allowed to be citizens, only subjects.

In reality, the foreign minister ascends the world stage and, in the name of the State of Israel, announces his intention to "transfer" those who are not of the correct ethnic origins out of their citizenship. In reality, a prime minister who has been elected twice took office for the first time just seven months after having led incendiary demonstrations in which participants chanted "with blood and fire, we'll expel Rabin." These demonstrations led to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination.

In reality, pogroms are conducted in Safed, with the aim of ethnically cleansing the city. In reality, a ban on selling or renting apartments to those who are not of the Jewish race is promoted by senior public officials - from the leader of a major party that controls the Interior Ministry, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who has issued religious rulings to this effect, to the chief rabbi of Safed, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu.

That is the nature of the human spirit: In order to live, man is equipped with ample powers of repression. It is also always within our power, therefore, as we merrily celebrate life, to show a bit of concern for the possibility of a coming apocalypse - which in fact already arrived long since.



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