Israel Is in the Midst of a Cold Civil War

Arabs, leftists, secular people – none are seen as part of the new State of Israel. What is our obligation to the state when it declares we no longer belong in it?

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Thousands march in Tel Aviv in protest of incitement against Rivlin, leftist NGOs. December 19, 2015.
Thousands march in Tel Aviv in protest of incitement against Rivlin, leftist NGOs. December 19, 2015.Credit: Moti Milrod
Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher

“I will not accept two states within Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared at the scene of the recent terror attack in Tel Aviv, referring to Arab society. His fellow Likud faction member MK Miki Zohar, meanwhile, said that “Tel Aviv is acting like it’s a state it’s not part of the State of Israel – it’s completely separate.”

In explaining the Education Ministry’s ban on the novel “Borderlife” from the high school curriculum, Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi) said, “The education system should not promote values that are contrary to the values of the state.” Bennett’s faction colleague, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, defended the law she initiated – requiring NGOs that receive funding from abroad to mark their documents accordingly – by saying: “It is inconceivable for the European Union to contribute to associations working in the name of the State of Israel, when they are being used by foreign countries to implement their policies.”

So, to Shaked’s mind, the leftist NGOs are the equivalent of Tel Aviv for Zohar: they are not part of the State of Israel, but something separate. The assaults on the NGO Breaking the Silence and Army Radio are also carried out in the name of the state. What, then, is the state?

The state is now an armed organization, with a bureaucracy that imposes the rule of the religious right in the area under its control (and not necessarily its sovereignty – see, for example, Judea and Samaria). In light of what is being said openly, it is clear that I, for example, am not part of the state. My lifestyle is not its lifestyle, my values are not its values, and my worldview represents the worldview of foreign countries. I might be called a dissident.

Arabs, leftists, secular people – none of them are part of the state. They were considered part of the state until not long ago, but now they are separate from it. They are not included in the state’s new definition of itself. This means a revolution is taking place before our very eyes, and we are helpless in our response.

This revolution is not being carried out by means of civil war. But when the government says at various opportunities that I and those like me are not part of the state, it is clear we are in the midst of a cold civil war.

This new situation raises a complicated question: What is my obligation toward a state that declares I am not part of it, the state that excludes me from its institutions – the Israel Defense Forces and the education system – and tries to silence me and force me to live counter to my worldview? What is my obligation to a state that claims my taking part in the political game endangers its existence, while it continues to impose taxes and demands that I obey its laws? The answers to these questions could be frightening.

The way Bennett used the term “brother” during the last Knesset election campaign can be understood as “comrade.” A person who is not a “brother” is defined as an enemy of the state.

This is no family feud. The rules of the game have changed. The dictatorship of the religious right will fall someday, but that will happen only when the binational state it created rises up against it and ends it: when the official state (the state of the religious right) will no longer be able to contain the real state, the denied state, the binational state, which will require ever more draconian means to suppress. That could go on for decades.

Until that time, the democratic forces, both Jewish and Arab, must cooperate in the battle for survival in a political arena in which democracy is restricted and weakening. It will be a good thing if Arab society, which, paradoxically, is not bound by the definition “Jewish and democratic,” leads this struggle.

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