Dear Israeli Leftists: Things Could Still Get Much Worse

Fascism, religious coercion, rampant nationalism, ethnic cleansing, censorship of books – if everything is really so awful, why isn’t anyone doing anything about it?

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Protesters shout slogans as they stand in front of a giant painting that reads 'Working Class' during a massive rally calling for social justice, in Tel Aviv, August 6, 2011.
Protesters shout slogans as they stand in front of a giant painting that reads 'Working Class' during a massive rally calling for social justice, in Tel Aviv, August 6, 2011. Credit: Reuters

I understand that the situation is absolutely awful. The worst ever. Worse than the last time that it was the worst. Is it really worse now than it was then? I can’t remember. I only know that things can’t go on like this. That’s what everyone says. We’ve reached the outer limit. This is it. We’ve deteriorated to the point of no return.

Clerics are inciting the masses. It’s the destruction of the First, Second and Third Commonwealths at the same time. A second Holocaust. A fourth ice age. It’s like in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”: The dark side is in control. Which Jedi knights will save us from ourselves? Spoiler: None. Repeat: None. There’s no use waiting for them. It’s a waste of time. Better to keep complaining. Or to write a letter to Mark Zuckerberg. Maybe he’ll save us.

One thing I can say for sure: This is the most hysterical period in the history of the Israeli left. The more it shrinks, the more stressed it becomes. That’s a natural phenomenon. People feel they are losing strength. Mostly it’s a gut feeling. Not anything solid. Collective panic. One guy spooks the next.

A dynamic of fear is generated. Like a child who’s having a tantrum. He no longer distinguishes between his right and his left. He’s not capable of analyzing the objective situation. He’s caught up in a feeling of helplessness. Nothing else matters. Not what’s right and what’s wrong. He thinks the whole world is against him. He can’t even say what bad thing was done to him. There is only the injury itself. Go explain to him that as soon as he calms down, everything may be alright.

I refuse to get upset by all the apocalyptic scenarios that have become so popular that it’s hard to take them seriously any longer. Not a day goes by when I don’t hear or read about the latest dire prophecy in a series of dire prophecies warning us about Israel’s deterioration and the destruction of the country’s secular, liberal fabric.

Then I go out into the street. The flowers are blooming. People are hanging out at cafes. Reading books. Drinking liquor. Painting. Doing karaoke. This is not what people in a state of emergency look like. People with a sword poised above their delicate necks, for whom a terrible danger lurks around the corner.

Illustration.Credit: Sharon Fadida

Everything feels normal. So why is everyone constantly insisting that everything is absolutely not normal? There is a disconnect of consciousness between what exists and the potential of what will be in the future. Action has been superseded by hysteria and militancy, as supposedly meaningful substitutes. It’s like vegetarian schnitzel vs. Wiener schnitzel.

You know there’s no way the situation can be that awful. It’s just not possible. So there are two options: Either the situation really is not that awful (or maybe it’s slightly less awful than what people say), or people are exaggerating – because it’s in their interest to exaggerate. That’s how they defend their territory. So that no more of it will be snipped away. Like a hermit crab that retracts into its little shell. It may be a small shell, but it’s still a crab. It has pincers. It just chooses not to use them. 

I grew up in a family that personally experienced the totalitarian regime of the Soviet Union. I remember all the horror stories about how people were silenced, about the racism, the anti-Semitism, the persecution of the elites. When the government decides to go after you, you don’t sit in front of your laptop. I have refusenik relatives who were exiled to Siberia, did time in jail, were prevented from making a living and were denied the freedom to express themselves. Families who immigrated here from South America tell similar stories. I hope Israel never reaches a situation like that. It’s not even close now.

An entire Israeli public – people who possess significant power and economic and cultural capital – is acting as though its fate were sealed. I don’t make light of that sentiment. It’s a harsh, frustrating, depressing feeling. But it’s not more than that so long as it remains some kind of abstract, amorphous feeling that doesn’t generate change. These are exactly the people for whom the term “shooting and crying” was coined. The more accurate term now is “sitting and crying,” “writing and crying,” “reveling and crying.” It’s the same old mentality: The Israeli left is good at pointing a warning finger, but it won’t move it.

It always bears recalling the simple fact of our life: The only ones who have a right to complain are the Palestinians. They are the victims. We are not victims. We feel like victims. There’s a big difference between the two. We’ve grown accustomed to the good life. When life becomes a little less good, we get stressed out, send out a warning. As though that’s the only thing left for us to do. The warning has already become a goal in its own right. There is no longer anything concrete. Israeliness doesn’t exist other than as a prolonged travel advisory.

There is an infuriating loss of connection with reality, and a lack of desire to influence it. I don’t know whether it’s due to fear or indifference or despair. We are all afflicted by one of those symptoms at least. Waiting for someone else to pick up the reins. Fear of doing. Because taking action that moves something in the real world is liable to have consequences and results. The sacred status quo is liable to be shattered. Help! Anything but that – as long as nothing happens to change the balance of forces (which we revile and but also sanctify). You know what? Let’s sign another dumb petition penned by intellectuals and writers. It makes you feel good inside, and it’s certainly not dangerous.

Above all, the question looms: Why doesn’t anyone do something? The answer: Because there’s too much to lose. And no one is ready to give up anything. Not status, not image – not, heaven forbid, money or position. And if we’re talking in profit-loss terms, those who feel most threatened are those who have enjoyed the existing situation for years and will probably continue to enjoy it, in one degree or another.

The more testimony there is about genuine damage being done to democracy, the greater the withdrawal into the comfort zone of the liberal left. No one is rushing forward with a multi-pronged spear. You know what someone wrote on Facebook when she was invited to a demonstration at the Education Ministry after Dorit Rabinyan’s novel “Borderlife” was excluded from the high-school curriculum? “Sorry, I’m abroad.” That’s an accurate description of the situation: The ground is burning! Sorry, we’re abroad.

Maybe things have to get even worse so that we will all come back from abroad at last. Or maybe it’s preferable that we stay there. That too is a logical option.

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