Look around. The country looks the same. But it doesn't feel the same. Not even close.
The Jewish mourning day of Tisha B'Av came early this year.
The date marks two tragic occasions in the past during which the Jewish people effectively lost the Holy Land. Sages taught that the ancient Temples were destroyed on that date because of Sinat Hinam on the part of Jews - gratuitous hatred, hatred without just cause, hatred which does nothing but take a place of conflict, despair, bigotry, violence, and make it worse.
Why is this year's Tisha B'Av different than the others? Because this year, in an explosion of legalized, governmentally weaponized Sinat Hinam, it marks the week that this country, as we have known it, effectively ended as well.
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- On Sunday and Monday, Benjamin Netanyahu publicly promised Israel's LGBTQ community - among them his own voters and a Likud lawmaker - that he supports surrogacy rights to same-sex couples. Two days later, with religious and Russian-immigrant-supported politicians opposing the measure, Netanyahu led his coalition in voting to kill the bill.
- Also on Sunday, security services at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion Airport's departures area took aside and interrogated at length and with pronounced incredulity a prominent Jewish-American philanthropist who chairs Brandeis University's Board of Trustees, is Orthodox, and has close family in the settlement city of Maaleh Adumim. The reason? His suitcase had been searched, and guards had found a pro- Palestinian pamphlet in his luggage, left over from coexistence meetings the philanthropist had attended between Jewish-American community leaders and Palestinians.
- In the dead of night early Thursday, Netanyahu led the government in passing the Nation-State Bill, a law which effectively repealed and superseded the equality and democracy provisions of Israel's Declaration of Independence as a guide for the future of the country. Gone is any mention of equality. In its place, directives that veer Israel towards genuine apartheid, including a downgrading of the status of the Arabic language and therefore of Arab citizens of Israel.
The wording of the law, though diluted down from an outright endorsement of Jim Crow-type housing segregation, retains an element of implied support for what are commonly Jews-only communities.
- Soon after on Thursday, in a pre-dawn raid, police rousted out of bed and detained a Conservative rabbi in Haifa under a law forbidding officiating at weddings outside the government's Orthodox Rabbinate. The law carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison.
- Still later on Thursday, in a direct slap in the face of Hungarian-born Israeli survivors of the Holocaust and of the anti-Semitism-besieged Jewish community of Hungary, Netanyahu hosted a love-fest welcome for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who based his recent re-election campaign on dog-whistle encouragement of Jew-hatred.
And Tisha B'Av doesn't even start until Saturday night.
And, this beginning this year, it may go on indefinitely.
This is what Netanyahu's new Israel feels like.
On Thursday, Israelis woke up to a country in which Netanyahu's hand-picked goon squad - politicians who mock and shout down bereaved parents, politicians who mock and denigrate disabled colleagues - posed grinning with him for a victory selfie after effectively repealing Israel's Declaration of Independence, passing the single most gratuitously hateful legislation in the nation's history.
This, then, is Netanyahu's legacy: He has taken the Israel of the Start Up Nation and turned it into the Israel of the Shithole Nation State.
Call it irony or call it inevitability, this man who has spent every waking minute of the last decade warning Israelis about the dangers of the Iran of the ayatollahs and the Revolutionary Guard, also spent that same time turning Israel into the Iran of the Rabbinate and the rogue settler.
Back when he was called King Bibi, back when he was lip-servicing peace, back when he had an overwhelming Knesset majority and American backing for far-reaching diplomacy, for enhanced democracy and equality in Israel, he could have done anything he damn well chose to do. His legacy was his to create.
His legacy could have been coexistence, flexibility, humanity, respect, diplomacy, 21st century education for all, a good life for all people who share this land.
After all these years, Benjamin Netanyahu's legacy is finally clear, clear enough to be summed up in two words:
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