Lacking a Vision

The direction of public discussion in Israel needs to be reversed - a new vision needs to be created that includes the Arab public.

When history repeats itself, as the expression goes, it comes back as farce. Events in Israel over the past several weeks have underscored this way of seeing things: When history repeats itself, like a pendulum swinging between values, it tends to turn the original values into negative mirror images and these new images indeed turn into a farce.

Thus the original, laudable Zionist vision of building a national home for a persecuted people is transforming into a delusional trend involving hatred of Arabs, leftists and foreigners. And the uplifting vision of Arab-Israeli peace is culminating into a boycott of Ariel and hatred of settlers.

There are a few reasons why positive visions have transformed into negative, horrific images. The most fundamental one is the character of the pendulum itself. It is built upon the negation of the original vision, and then on the negation of that negation - and the result is discourse which is entirely based on negativity. Israeli reality, however, has two other distinctive traits that have created the current situation.

The first is the feeling that a dead end has been reached, a feeling that characterizes the various political camps: The right is despondent about the low probability that its dream of Greater Israel will be realized, while the left is depressed about the slim chances that peace will ever materialize. The result is that each camp focuses not on promoting its dream, but rather upon hating its rival and trying to stave off its rival's dreams.

The second component is Israeli society's deliberate turn from a humanist national identity toward a liberal, multicultural identity whose fundamental meaning is negative: If the entirety of life is my own rights and their defense, it follows that I will treat others as posing potential threats to my own rights. In this spirit, the multicultural ideal shows disdain for the concept of the melting pot - which guided the preceding generation.

But instead of taking steps to ensure that the Arab population is included in Israel's ethos of solidarity, the whole concept of social solidarity has been delivered a blow. All of the weak and vulnerable social groups have been hurt by this; the Arabs have sustained the most damage.

Under circumstances where - according to the last survey of Israel's democracy - 29% of respondents who call themselves leftists oppose equal rights between Jews and Arabs, clearly the solution is not the dismissal of some rabbis. The direction of public discussion in Israel needs to be reversed. A new vision needs to be created that includes the Arab public; and this vision needs to be inculcated by devising an inclusive educational curriculum to which all social groups in Israel can relate.

This educational program should concern not just mathematics and English, but also values - national and humanitarian ones. Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, will learn about the heritages of Jews and Arabs in the country, along with the fundamentals of democracy and citizenship.

Also needed is a change in the political system to strengthen mainstream elements, not those which polarize it. Arab parties should be included in coalition negotiations and in political activity of all sorts, just as parties that represent other sectors in society are players in the political game; most importantly, policies should be fashioned according to long-term initiatives.

Policies that look to the future can address seriously an array of values and worthy goals, in a manner that encourages a majority in each social sector to believe its needs are being addressed in the national arena. What we have instead is a negative, violent discourse devoted to putting out fires.