Israel’s Right and Left, Conjoined Twins

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A scuffle at the Knesset Finance Committee, December 8, 2014.Credit: Emil Salman

Nothing will change a month from now, and there’s no reason it should. We won’t move a millimeter. We didn’t ask for the election; there’s no program we’re being asked to approve or ideas to reject. There are no proposals we haven’t already heard, no initiatives we didn’t know about.

Even the candidates are the same, though we know a little more about them now. They can’t surprise us anymore. They’re the same old masters in pancake makeup who promise to chart a new path — at an age when others can barely find a job. True, we failed, they say, but they’ll try harder.

The rest of us haven’t changed either. We’re still the same two peoples, as it were, bound by fear and threats. When somebody frightens us, we cling to each other. When nobody frightens us, we go back to being two peoples. Does “two peoples” sound crude? Is “two blocs” better?

Blocs sounds more flexible, like in America. In America, after all, the Democrats switch places with the Republicans. But Israel isn’t America. In Israel there are two peoples, not two parties.

We are two peoples with a common language and a single religion. The common language helps us comprehend just how much we hate each other. Is hate too crude a word? Maybe.

There certainly isn’t any love. We share a religion, too. We’re are all Jews, but Judaism also divides us. Their Judaism doesn’t resemble our Judaism. One is governmental, the other personal. One seeks to supersede the laws of the state and the other refuses to accept that.

This division has been written about before. The leftists (they’re not really leftists, but it’s convenient to call them that) are secular, Ashkenazi, bourgeois and cosmopolitan. The rightists (ditto) are traditional, religious, Mizrahi, poor and nationalist.

The specifications are generalizations and stereotypes, but they’re an increasingly accurate reflection of reality. The rightists are slightly more than half the nation and very few of them cross the lines, far less than Republicans and Democrats do. A party can be replaced, but not a people.

And the center? There isn’t really a center. The center is an unplanned pregnancy that’s always discovered before the election. Two years later its bastard children look for a different mother.

There are always new mothers, always someone with certain positions that match those of the other people, but the whole remains the same. There are always orphans circling the edges of the peoples, looking for a lap to crawl onto — and there are always Mizrahi intellectuals who find such a lap. This time they chose Shas.

In their eyes, Mizrahi representation is more important than ultranationalism and the exclusion of women, and they deserve our admiration for sticking to their priorities. Going with Shas and supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will connect them, finally, to the Mizrahi public after years of failure.

Whatever the result of the election, it won’t be accepted with equanimity. This isn’t America. The word destruction won’t be removed from the agenda.

If the left loses, it returns to a familiar situation. The left will sit in the air-raid shelters and serve in the army reserves as required; it won’t ask Hamas to point its missiles at communities with a right-wing majority. It will be happy to shed its minor involvement in reducing inequality and focus on preserving its bourgeois values.

If the right wins, it will have it easier. It will rebuff voters’ demand for social justice, saying “not now, the security situation is difficult.” There’s no reason this won’t continue to work.

There is a separation, but not a total disconnect, between the two peoples. Conjoined twins can’t be separated. We’re conjoined twins who after 66 years must separate due to biological necessity. We share a digestive system but our hearts are separate; we can’t live with each other and can’t live without each other.

If not separation, then at least cultural autonomy, without government intervention. Filmmakers will be forced to give up state funding and authors their prizes. The education system will be freed of its discriminatory centralization; responsibility for the curriculum will devolve from the state to the community.

In history class the rightists will study the history of Mizrahi Jews, and in art class the leftists will leaf through the New Testament. Other than that, nothing will change. Conjoined twins learn to live together. Both will ignore the concept of hope out of a mutual understanding and a conspiracy of silence.

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