The Heaven and Hell That Aren’t Israel

Israelis watch the flyover on a Tel Aviv beach on Israeli Independence Day, May 9, 2019.
\ Moti Milrod

Two camps stood out in the debate during national-holiday week this year: one that rejoices and takes pride in the country, and one that’s fed up and ashamed. The gap between them has never been wider. The first group is identified with the right, the second with the left, and both are wrong.

Paradoxically, both positions contradict reality: The lives of those who are proud of the country aren’t as good; most are from lower-income groups. The whiners actually have easier lives. Israel today is divided between the proud and the ashamed. The former glorify the present, the latter the past.

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Members of the proud, ultranational and right-wing camp worship Benjamin Netanyahu and are sure that the prime minister has led the country to great heights. They rejoice in the national-ritual ceremonies that have become personality cults. They venerate the military, shed a tear at the sight of an air force flyby or a foolish moon landing, and believe in a chosen people. They think that force is the only means to success, that the Arabs want to destroy us and that the whole world is against us.

If they have any complaint about this country, it’s that it’s too democratic and too soft on the Palestinians. They’re the majority, and they hate the other camp.

Members of the ashamed, liberal and humanist camp are sure that the other camp stole their country from them. They hate Netanyahu, the source of all impurity in their eyes, and are sure that due to him alone the country has been corrupted. They abhor the occupation, aggression, violence, militarism and religionization, and are sure that Israel’s democracy is about to be destroyed in favor of a North Korean-style dictatorship.

The High Court of Justice is their temple, a false temple. They constantly ask whether Israel will still exist in a decade. Their hope for their children is to leave and live somewhere else. They feel that life here has become a hell. “Look what has become of this place” is their slogan. They’ve begun to hate “this place.”

The following, though, is the reality: Israel is neither the paradise of the first camp nor the hell of the second. The first group is the result of Zionist propaganda, which drilled into them the dogma that nothing compares to Israel, that Israel may do whatever it pleases and is the universal victim, that “democratic” means tyranny of the majority and “Jewish” means Jewish despotism, and that it’s possible to have both. That the Palestinians have no rights and aren’t human.

The beliefs of the first camp are a house of cards made out of ignorance, arrogance, ultranationalism and unfounded fears. Israel isn’t their heaven; it’s aggressive, manipulative and devoid of all compassion, even for its own citizens. It maintains a military dictatorship in the occupied territories, passes anti-democratic laws and is deteriorating.

On the other hand, it’s not the hell the second camp describes, and it was never the paradise this camp’s members now yearn for. Their democracy included military rule, censorship and the “red booklet” of membership in the Histadrut labor federation.

Militarism, too, wasn’t born yesterday; before 1973 it was even more extreme. Religionization and ultranationalism also existed in the past. Likud didn’t invent wallowing in bereavement, the occupation or the settlers.

Yes, Israel has deteriorated. Those who are ashamed of the country are justified. There is cause for shame. The greatest crime, the occupation, actually has little effect on life in Israel. There are still islands of the good and free life that are enjoyed by the whiners, and we must fight to preserve them.

Israel isn’t yet a disaster area. There’s an intolerable gap between the apocalypse described by the complainers and their willingness to take action. If it’s so terrible, why don’t they do something? And if they do nothing, maybe it’s not so terrible?

Israel is on the way, but it isn’t Turkey. Netanyahu must be prosecuted and he must resign, but he’s not the Satan his detractors say he is. Their outrage is hypocritical: When they were in power, things were indeed better, but not as much as they claim. When Netanyahu is in power things are bad here, but not as bad as their alarm would suggest. It’s like the boy who cried wolf. I was able to write this column freely. If we’re talking about it, hell is in the Gaza Strip, but no one is talking about that.