Exasperated by Israel's Reality, Its Leftists Are Trapped

Israelis sit and play on the beach as Israel celebrates its Independence Day marking the 71st anniversary of the creation of the state, in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 9, 2019.
Corinna Kern/Reuters

Independence Day caught many people unsure how to feel about it. The recent election, like its predecessor (and the one before that and the one before that, and so on), produced the same wretched outcome. Israeli democracy is in crisis, cracking under the weight of the bulldozers arrayed against it. Religious and extremist groups, which have declared war on any liberal breakthrough, are growing stronger. There is cruel, sickening racism against Arab citizens. And on and on.

All this is depressing, and it creates a cultural and emotional barrier between the state and some of its sons and daughters. And that’s without even mentioning the dangers that life in Israel entails, the exhausting front in the south and the emerging catastrophe in the north (regards from Iran, which said it would resume enriching uranium in response to Trumpian aggression, and from its successful agent of pressure there, Hezbollah).

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These are not exaggerated fears, but well-reasoned ones. They join feelings like loneliness, suspicion and alienation that lead people to demonstrate selfishness and impatience toward the other (for example, Benjamin Netanyahu’s loyal supporters, who continue to vote for him despite being targeted by rockets).

The prime minister himself is expert at sensing these feelings, but instead of extending a hand to this group so as to reconnect it with the mainstream of Israeli life, he chose, as usual, to deepen the rift. He mocked these difficult feelings and branded opponents “sourpusses,” to the snicker of his fans. That sparks aggression in response, and round and round it goes.

In what may seem a paradox, the left takes no comfort from the fact that its overall economic situation, to make a gross generalization, is better than that of people who are satisfied with the government. It’s true the cost of living in Israel is high, but leftist melancholy is generally sweetened by a fairly high standard of living.

On Independence Day, leftists grilled meat from fancy butchers, drank imported beer and finalized plans to vacations in Crete or Sicily. Their children go to speech therapists and experts in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and if, heaven forbid, there’s a medical problem, their private insurance policies give them access to the country’s best doctors.

But leftists find no comfort in this. They have come to take it all for granted: A situation that actually weakens the immune system, by creating the expectation that they will be pampered, and a fear of conflict.

Second, all these material pleasures can’t compensate for the psychological and cultural deficit created by detachment, confusion and repression. A person who feels like an exile in his own home tensely awaits the dawn, yet it only grows darker.

Granted, there are fantasies of emigration and foreign passports and jealousy of that great success story of Judaism in the modern era, the North American Jewish community (not the messy theocracy on the shores of the Mediterranean). But apart from the anxiety that a change as dramatic as leaving involves, Israeli leftists are also graced with a refined Zionism, shy to the point of denial and certainly much more humble than the screaming exclamation points of the ultranationalist right, that binds them to this place with transparent but real ties.

Hebrew, parents, friends. Friday afternoons. Reading the weekend papers in bed. Pickup basketball games with friends from high school. Who could give all that up? Who wants to give all that up?

When will the trend reverse? When will a gap open in the thick clouds and a ray of hope shine through? Anyone who truly has a leftist worldview can’t escape the searing awareness that the state will change course only in the event of a disaster, an earthquake on the scale of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

And this is the final and perhaps the most corrosive chapter of all in the history of this trap — the longing for this belief, this intuition that roils like pain in your belly, to not be true at all.