Israel Moving Beyond 'Left' and 'Right'

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IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot at a ceremony on Mount Herzl, Jerusalem, April 19, 2015.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot at a ceremony on Mount Herzl, Jerusalem, April 19, 2015. Credit: Emil Salman

The takeover of Israeli consciousness by Im Tirtzu’s reading of reality, the NGO Law, the arrest of artist Natali Cohen Vaxberg, the probe by investigative journalism TV show “Fact” and arrest of two left-wing activists, the editorial alignment of Yedioth Ahronoth with Ben-Dror Yemini, including the thinly-disguised informing on Alon Liel, and the media’s general devotion to the extreme right – all these increase the fear of the future we can expect here. At this rate, political persecution and incitement will lead to Jewish terror and even to political assassination.

But Jewish terror is nothing new, not even suicide terrorists (Baruch Goldstein) and the archetypical political murder was committed here 20 years ago. What is the significance of Israel’s reverse trajectory toward events that have already happened?

Yigal Amir may have been ahead of his time and reality might be trailing after him in an attempt to retroactively close a historical gap; or Israel might have begun processing Rabin’s assassination, which it has repressed for 20 years. Israeli society might finally be daring to defy the reconciliation order it issued to itself after the assassination, the clearest expression of which was the election of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, the man seen by the public as having orchestrated the incitement that led to the assassination.

It is also possible that the pressure on Israeli society has led it to the point of meltdown, putting it on the verge of a fundamental transformation. “We have no anger, we are not people who hate,” Natan Meir, whose wife, Dafna, was killed by a terrorist in their home. That’s the way a settler talks, whereas opposition leader Isaac Herzog (“I want to separate from as many Palestinians as possible as quickly as possible”) and Yair Lapid, both secular liberals, are revealed in their racism and vengefulness.

This is not the only contradiction that has emerged of late. The army, too, often shows itself to be a much more moderate body than the body politic. Recent statements by military chief Gadi Eisenkot follow several moderate remarks by former security officials. They all present assessments that differ from those of the politicians (regarding the Iranian threat, the reasons for the terror and the dangers of a diplomatic dead-end), and propose a fundamental change of approach.

Anyone who stays alert cannot deny that under the superlative-filled rule of Netanyahu, the Arabs of Israel are in the process of gaining political strength and integrating themselves into the key intersections of Israeli economic and social power. The new plan to allocate more resources to the Arab community is an example of this. It is also undeniable, and even demonstrable in the differences in the last names of outgoing and incoming top officials, that the Mizrahi community in recent years has been going through the same process, which features a strengthening of Mizrahi identity.

The rediscovery that there are no essential differences in Israel between the government and opposition not only points up a problem, but is crucial to a more basic understanding of this period of transition: The people who are causing Israel’s decline are the people who will – most likely under a different national leadership – be the ones to save it. Thus we must be careful about the overweening influence of both right-wing symbolism in reading the current reality (Munich 1938) and the symbolism of the left (the 1930s rise of fascism), and remain alert to an open-ended reading of reality, one that identifies the new, healthy potential underlying it.

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