Only a Strong Political Center Will Halt Israel's Racist Frenzy

As it is turning into a multicultural and multicommunal society, Israel does not know how to organize relations among the various minorities; the result is repulsive outbursts of hatred.

An evil wind is blowing in this country. First it was the rabbis who prohibited the renting of apartments to Arabs. Then it was Jewish youths who attacked Arab passersby. Then it was Jewish residents of Bat Yam who demonstrated for a Jewish Bat Yam. Then it was Jewish residents of Tel Aviv's Hatikva neighborhood who demonstrated against non-Jews.

A series of incidents that are ostensibly unrelated, and aren't even similar, have created a new atmosphere of xenophobia. They have turned Israel into a country that exudes a xenophobic stench. What's happening to us? Why have dark forces that always bubbled beneath the surface suddenly erupted into the city square? Why has racism reared its head?

The first explanation is political. Journalist Nahum Barnea, for example, claims that the debate about the territories is dead. When the leader of the right speaks of two states for two peoples, there's no longer anything to quarrel about. So instead of quarreling about Hebron and Nablus, they're quarreling about Umm al-Fahm and Tel Aviv's Central Bus Station. Instead of arguing about the foreigners who surround us, we're arguing about the foreigners who live among us.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was the pioneer, but Interior Minister Eli Yishai understood the potential of the new battlefield. Both the nationalist right and the religious right are deliberately fanning the flames of hatred of foreigners. They are polluting the public discourse with concepts of the kind we haven't heard since Meir Kahane grazed in our fields.

The second explanation is social. In recent decades the Israeli margins have been abandoned. The development towns and disadvantaged neighborhoods have been erased from the map of our consciousness. Cities like Safed, Tiberias, Lod and Arad have been left to their own devices. The prosperous State of Tel Aviv has severed itself from the distress and suffering of the State of Israel.

As a result, large parts of the peripheral areas have collapsed. In many outlying cities the social fabric has disintegrated. When local pride and communal solidarity were lost, bitterness and despair grew. In such conditions it's easy to incite against the foreigners who enter the desperate cities and neighborhoods. It's easy to spread racist microbes in the sick social tissue. Those Israelis who have been distanced from the prosperity of north Tel Aviv have also been distanced from the liberalism of north Tel Aviv. Many of them have adopted alternative, dark and dangerous values.

The third explanation is related to the state. The Israel of the 21st century is different from the Israel of the 20th century. The ultra-Orthodox minority has grown sharply and is leaving the ghettos in which it was imprisoned. The Arab minority is also becoming stronger and is standing up for its rights. The Russian immigration has not evaporated, and to a large extent it is maintaining the characteristics of a consolidated community. Nor are the foreign workers a marginal and passing phenomenon, they are an inseparable part of the new human landscape.

As a result of all these changes, Israeli society is turning into a multicultural and multicommunal society. It does not know how to organize relations among the various minorities or between the minorities and the state. The inevitable result is friction, threats and mutual fears. The result is repulsive outbursts of hatred.

Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Tzipi Livni are committed to the idea of a Jewish and democratic state. They want to ensure both the survival and legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. But the virus of hatred in the streets is corrupting the Jewish and democratic state. The virus of hatred is making Israel look and sound like a benighted racist country.

In the absence of a strong and enlightened political center, the process of social disintegration has turned into a process of moral collapse. Lieberman, Shas and the delusionary rabbis of the right are threatening to bring down everything that Theodor Herzl, Ze'ev Jabotinsky and David Ben-Gurion believed in. They are pulling the carpet out from under the Jewish state that is supposed to grant equality to all its citizens and respect all its minorities. The time has come for both Netanyahu and Livni to come to their senses. Only joint and determined activity on their part will check the xenophobic frenzy and restore to Israel its enlightened face, which has been corrupted.