The Israeli Body Politic Is Being Poisoned by Intimidation and Incitement

The constantly rising temperature around us isn't one of a threatening strategic environment, but of an environment of contaminated values.

Avigdor Lieberman, head of far-right Yisrael Beitenu party, (L) sits next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they sign a coalition deal to broaden the government's parliamentary majority, at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem May 25, 2016.
Emil Salman

When Benjamin Netanyahu’s confidants were still struggling against the Iranian nuclear program, they frequently used the frog analogy. Israel, they said, is like a frog thrown into a pot of hot water that is gradually getting hotter. At any point in time, they explained, the frog thinks it’s not too late. If it only wanted to, it could jump out of the pot and save itself. But as it adjusts to the hotter and hotter water, they said, the moment comes when it realizes it has reached the point of no return. It will lose its life in constantly heating water to which it had almost adjusted.

Netanyahu’s confidants were right. But it’s not nuclear Iran’s heavy water in which the Zionist frog is now lost, but the murky waters of political Israel. The constantly rising temperature around us isn’t one of a threatening strategic environment, but of an environment of contaminated values.

A process of quiet adaptation to democratic collapse is bringing into existence a terrifying reality. At every point in time, we think it’s not too late. If we only want to, we’ll be able to jump out of the bubbling pot and save ourselves. But the more we adapt ourselves to the fact that our normative pot has melted, the closer we come to the moment in which it transpires that we’ve reached the point of no return.

Our fate will be to lose ourselves and our liberty in a chauvinist-populist-bullying environment, to whose cynicism and brutality we’ve almost adapted.

You don’t have to be a state-certified scientist to understand what’s happening here. The Israeli body politic, which is basically healthy, is being poisoned by intimidation, incitement and persecution of the enemy within. The democratic institutions are eroding. The state mechanisms are breaking down. The concepts of decency, humanity and liberalism are becoming irrelevant. The water we’re in is shocking and our inner systems are failing.

But since we’re a conformist nation that knows how to conform to (almost) any situation, we conform. We put up. We learn to live with an environment of values that would have seemed monstrous only a few years ago. Without noticing, we accept the intolerable situation as a decree of fate and a natural disaster, as though it were a page in another life chapter that can be turned.

That’s why Moshe Ya’alon’s resignation was so important. That’s the reason the actions of Avi Gabbay and Orly Levy-Abekasis were critical. Because Ya’alon, Gabbay and Levy-Abekasis said “thus far.” They said there’s a moment in which it’s better to get off the wheel than stay on it. The former defense and environment protection ministers and a courageous Knesset member who fought for social causes spoke up, drew a line and stood up against the evil.

After they made their moves last week, it can no longer be said that there are no good people in politics. The question is, are there good people in the media and on the street and in the city square? Are there people who will no longer vote for the cynics, the corrupt and corrupters, but for the decent, devoted people with a spine? Will we enable Ya’alon, Gabbay and Levy-Abekasis to disappear into oblivion or hold onto them to raise a rebellion? To light a fire? To start anew?

The warning of Netanyahu’s confidants about the Iranian nuclear program wasn’t groundless. At the end of a convenient strategic decade, Israel could face a renewed, significant external threat. The question is, what inner strength will that Israel have, what image, identity and values will it have.

Unless we stop conforming to a reality we must not conform to, we may soon discover that it’s too late. The water will reach boiling point and we, like a frog, will find ourselves at the point of no return.