Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the anti-Zionist After All?

A coalition of religious and right-wing zealots is bent on dismantling the Israel that used to be.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Ask yourself - in the past few months, who has been the most effective delegitimizer of Israel: Ahmadinejad? Mahmoud Abbas? The Arab League? The Muslim Brotherhood? The UN? BDS radicals? Durban devotees? The editorial board of the New York Times?
The correct answer, of course, is none of the above. The most competent corroders of Israel’s international image, the most persuasive polluters of its reputation, the most trenchant tarnishers of its good name, its most effective destroyers and layers to waste, as the misconstrued passage in Isaiah 49 says, have come from within.

I am not referring to your usual suspects, to a post-Zionist history lecturer here or to a BDS advocate there, to a tattle-tailing human rights group in this corner or to a right-of-return supporter in that corner - but to a much more powerful, much more popular, broad-based coalition of home-grown, true believers who increasingly dominate Israeli public discourse and who, unbeknownst to you and perhaps even to themselves, are bent on dismantling the modern state of Israel and rebuilding it as something completely different.

Ultra-Orthodox men in Beit Shemesh trying to keep police from removing a sign ordering women to walk on the other side of the street – for the third time this week.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

The common denominators of the groups that make up this coalition are over-the-top zealotry coupled with absolute disdain for accepted rules and norms, from the new-found fusion between the fervently nationalistic ultra-Orthodox and the increasingly intolerant religious Zionists who have launched an all-out cultural onslaught, including a misogynistic campaign aimed at sending women to the back of the bus and back to the Dark Ages; through the growing ranks of militant and fanatic settler youth whose “price tag” antics succeed in giving even chauvinistic annexationism a bad name and whose elders, while denouncing such delinquency, dispute the democratically-elected government’s right to make any decisions but those that suit their aims; and, most importantly, to the Knesset consortium of religious and right-wing parliamentarians for whom human rights, civil liberties and the protection of minorities are out-and-out abominations. All of these people have caused immense damage to Israel’s international standing and its internal cohesion in recent months, and, consequentially, have harmed Israel’s national security no less than its worst enemies combined.

Now anyone who has read recent posts to this blog can testify that I am not one to claim that Israel’s internal problems are a greater existential threat than Iran’s nuclear ambitions or the Arab world’s convulsive revolutions. But what can one make of people in positions of power who choose to diminish Israel in the court of public opinion at a time when it needs international support more than ever? And what kind of true lovers of Israel would run roughshod over the sensitivities and sensibilities of such a large number of Jewish Israelis - never mind mindlessly inflaming its Arab citizens - when unity of purpose and will are essential? Why are they sowing such discord and discontent, why are they on such a crusade against Israel’s elites, why are they making increasing numbers of Israelis feel like strangers in their own land, why are they conducting bogus witch-hunts against phantom left-wing cabals and why are they concurrently demolishing Israel’s free press, undercutting its vibrant academia, dismantling its world renowned judiciary, tearing down the very institutions that for decades have been a source of internal strength and external admiration? What is driving them on?

There can be only one answer: they hate the modern state of Israel. They abhor Israel’s Declaration of Independence. They loathe Israel’s liberal traditions. They resent its secular founding fathers. They detest its once-exemplary democracy. They are repelled by the notion of equality under the law. They are disgusted by its protection of minorities. They are revolted by its freedom of speech. They are nauseated by its artistic and cultural achievements. They are jealously enraged and therefore blindly destructive toward the so-called liberal “elites” that are far from faultless, no doubt, but which have nonetheless spawned, like it or not, the cutting edge mix of gung-ho and know-how that have turned Israel into a military superpower and a “Start Up Nation” that is the envy of all the world.
And they have given up trying to keep Israel both Jewish and democratic, opting to foster the former and liquidate the latter, so that when Israel and the occupied territories do become one inseparable unit - a scenario that they are doing their best to advance - the government will be unencumbered by judicial restraint in perpetuating the second-tier status of Palestinians and the people will be xenophobically united in rejecting decadent, anti-Semitic calls for equality and the right to vote.

And patriotism is not their last refuge, as Samuel Johnson would have it, but their main line of attack, the rallying cry for their troops, the battering ram with which they break through and silence their opposition. They are self-styled über-patriots who have nothing but disdain for such Jewish traits as self-doubt and introspection, who cannot differentiate between disagreement and disloyalty and who are ready, willing and able to silence their opponents and, when the crisis comes, make no mistake, to lock them up if necessary.

As Israel confronts the critical danger posed by Iran and jihadist Islam, its internal strength is being sapped not by hordes of New Israel Fund supporters, post-Zionist university lecturers, leftist one-state supporters or overly-inquisitive investigative journalists - who couldn’t fill a medium-sized baseball stadium, by the way - but from determined legions of powerful zealots who are intent on tearing down the Israel that used to be, the Israel that thrived and prospered, the Israel that Diaspora Jews knew and loved and the Israel that the international community, at times at least, respected and admired. And they want to replace this Israel with an authoritarian, theocratic regime in which the commitments enshrined in the Declaration of Independence to “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex” and to “guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture” will be expunged for ever more.
Thus, the true threat comes not from boycotters, defamers and delegitimizers, but from these lethal, home-grown, democracy-disdaining anti-Zionists, from people, to paraphrase John Lennon, who were staring straight at you in the mirror while you were busy looking the other way.

Follow me on Twitter @ChemiShalev



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