Most Israelis are busy nowadays trying to clarify their identities as either Jews or Palestinians. Neither of these definitions are completely clear, and all of them are steeped in various levels of self-doubt and internal contradictions.
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When there are strong political pressures at work, people experience a growing need to understand themselves and find answers to questions of identity that will clarify the human, religious and national complexity in which they find themselves. But constantly clarifying one’s identity can create a situation of excess identity.
Groups that are highly defined, who ostensibly carry the burden of a “strong identity,” can suddenly start craving a slightly less weighty identity, which not only dictates the framework of their behavior, but also how others relate to them. It’s very possible that the ultra-Orthodox (Haredim) and Arabs in Israel are two such groups.
During the evolution of Jewish and secular society in Israel, the elders in both Haredi and Arab societies were forced to sharply define themselves so as not to totally lose their distinctive identities. But young people today take these identities for granted. For them there seems to be no point or need to deal with identity issues incessantly. They actually wouldn’t mind a little less of the identity that blatantly distinguishes them from others and blocks them from being a simple and natural part of mainstream society.
It’s very possible that the dynamic youths in both these groups, which are characterized by strong identities, are no longer interested in political parties whose main objectives are to represent the particular interests of their distinctive identities, as is the case today.
That’s why the future of the Haredi and Arab parties is not at all clear. Young people in both societies don’t want to vote for a party that’s going to determine for them in advance what they are supposed to think or how they are meant to behave – neither from the right or from the left.
They will seek a political home that will demand nothing of them in the realm of identity, but will provide them with a feeling of natural and comfortable Israeliness.
It’s from this search for a common human element that a young woman like media personality Lucy Aharish operates. And it’s from this very Israeli place that we should say to her, “Our sister, may you be the mother of tens of thousands.”
This is also valid with regard to young people in the settler community. Naftali Bennett is still trying to feed them the illusion that they are the new model for Israeli society as a whole, but that only works until they turn 16. After that they, too, want to be like everyone else.
These developments are important for all the players in the social and political realms, but the left in particular must pay close attention.
Until the 1960s and ‘70s, the left’s operating framework was still traditional; to try to reinvent the major societies of the West in light of socialist and liberal values. Since then, however, the Western left has been focusing not on the center, which has already adopted a considerable portion of its ideas, but on the margins.
The contemporary left has been struggling primarily with advancing the rights of minorities and with fostering the special identities and cultures of fringe groups perceived as weak. This is an important struggle, but focusing on it exclusively may turn out to be politically unwise, as the Democrats in the United States learned in last month’s elections.