Israel’s Schizophrenia

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Israelis have been absorbed in two heated debates of late: one is whether the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was a saint or the devil; the other is whether Israelis who live abroad are merely emigrants or traitors. Taken separately as well as together, these questions reflect the magnitude of Israel’s schizophrenia.

Can one have a viable state in which women fly fighter jets but are sent to sit at the back of the bus?

Can one have a halakhic, racist, nationalistic state which guarantees equal rights for women, gays and minorities? Can one have an educated, cultured, science-oriented society when many of the citizens don't know English or even the multiplication table? In short, can one have a modern, progressive, peace-seeking, war-mongering, racist and primitive state, all at the same time?

Make no mistake. The division between progress and darkness cannot be determined, as many might find convenient, by ethnic or any other racist guidelines. The schizophrenia can be found in all groups and sectors of Israeli society, and even within every individual, without regard to race or country of origin. Just recall how it was Shas, the “unenlightened” party of Jews of Middle Eastern descent (Mizrahim), and its so-called primitive leader, the late Yosef, who supported the Oslo Accords, hoping for peace and equality between Jews and Arabs in this land. On the other hand, the leaders of the settlement drive, the very “progressive and cultured” Ashkenazim, led by high-tech entrepreneur Naftali Bennett, are doing their very best to derail any possibility of a peace deal with the Palestinians, leading Israel to an all-out, permanent war against the rest of the world.

At the same time, Shas' representatives and voters, allegedly proud of their Mizrahi heritage, do not wear the same clothes their ancestors wore in North Africa or the Middle East, but rather, in the most  self-deprecating manner, Ashkenazi attire from Eastern Europe. At the same time, most Israeli Ashkenazim, whose six million relatives were murdered by ”cultured and enlightened” Europeans, are constantly striving to behave like Europeans and even return to their countries of origin. But they loathe our Arab neighbors because of their purported murderous streak.

When a person's psyche experiences such powerful contradictions, the result is usually anxiety attacks, which are as troublesome as schizophrenia. Not surprisingly, the torn soul of Israeli society has found or invented the very same solution: unending existential fears, with every mustached individual with a gun labeled the new Hitler, and every jet that flies past our skies heralding a new holocaust.

Has Israeli schizophrenia passed the pathological threshold, necessitating hospitalization, or can it still be treated with Clonex or other tranquilizers? Can we be our own physicians? And how long can the illness be contained, without a violent outbreak?

If the illness continues there are only two possibilities. One is that in order to save the nation's soul from being torn apart, we will all unite and beat the hell out of somebody else. The other possibility is that one of the forces in our soul will overcome the other, and we'll either have a progressive, enlightened state, or a primitive backward one. I do wonder which of these it will turn out to be.

Can one have a viable state in which women can fly fighter jets but are sent to sit at the back of the bus, like the women boarding this segregated bus in Jerusalem? Credit: Emil Salman

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