Citing what he views as the untenable chasms between them, Rogel Alpher calls for the “State of Tel Aviv” to secede from Israel and become gloriously independent (Haaretz Hebrew, May 19). He wasn’t the first to make such a suggestion in light of the unbridgeable polarization in Israeli society, between the conservative-religious right and the liberal-dovish-secular left, that the results of April’s election have confirmed.
I cannot help but question, after reading this, whether Alpher and I live in the same place. The Israel in which I live is growing continuously more homogenous, cohesive and united, especially in the era of Netanyahu — who has never understood why he has been accused of inciting various groups against each other. The differences between us are shrinking; the melting pot won. Not the melting pot of the Labor Party, which demanded spiritual elevation and radical self-change, but a de facto melting pot in which all layers of society are swept toward a lowest common denominator of ultranationalism-religiosity-money-trash culture.
Israelis are becoming amazingly similar, the cultural disagreements and schisms that once divided them fading. There’s no comparing the situation today with the political schism and social tension between left and right, secular and religious, Ashkenazi and Mizrahi, elites and masses, for example surrounding the Oslo Accords in the 1990s. Then Israel was truly divided into two hostile camps, culminating in the assassination of a prime minister.
The last election, a contest beween the right and the center-right, expressed the blocs’ historic ideological similarity, the growing consensus and the disappearance of genuine debate on once-divisive issues, such as the conflict with the Palestinians or the Haredi draft. Everyone (almost) thinks Israel needn’t seek a peace accord in the foreseeable future; everyone (almost) is sure there’s no partner. Everyone (almost) supports hawkishness toward Iran and harsh blows in Gaza, believes Europe is anti-Semitic and admires Donald Trump. Everyone (almost) supports removing Israel’s Arab citizens from the political game and only a few, despite the outcry from the left, are really upset by the threats to shatter Israel’s democracy. Everyone thinks Benjamin Netanyahu is all in all a good prime minister, except for the corruption. That’s not a rift. It’s (almost) harmony.
Our identity, too, is becoming more unified and sanguine. The old theoretical conflict between Judaism and Israeliness is gradually healing in favor of a more encompassing Jewish-Israeli formula that doesn’t necessarily contradict liberalism. Studies clearly show that Israelis, including the religiously observant and some of Haredim, are growing more liberal on matters such as personal liberty, the status of women and LGBT rights, as Israeli society overall grows less secular in regard to the character of the state and the roots of its identity.
Seemingly vast differences between the two groups are largely dialectical nuances. The defiance of secular Israelis, who reject the status quo that regulated religion-state relations (as with the convenience stores that operate on Shabbat) is a mirror image of the Haredi anarchism regarding in relation to the kingdom. Tel Aviv’s trendy identity politics is a postmodern reflection of the tribalism of the periphery. Every group has food obsessions, whether it’s ancient ones like kashrut or new ones like veganism and an insatiable desire to watch cooking shows, but all agree that the food here is terrific. Everyone watches the same shows and speaks the same slang.
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Everyone went crazy for Eurovision, because escapism and vulgarity are not the antithesis of ethnocentrism but its complementary image. Everyone is addicted to reality singing shows and Mizrahi pop music. Everyone forgot long ago what real music is supposed to be and everyone agrees that the most important thing is to rejoice and to be “moved.”
Israel’s profile is clearer and more coherent than ever. A Western country in terms of standard of living, and Levantine in culture and government. This is what the citizens chose, and a solid majority are happy with their choice. Tel Aviv cannot secede from Be’er Sheva and Jerusalem, because Tel Aviv is Be’er Sheva and Jerusalem, with more bike paths.