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The Tragedy of Jewish Nationalism

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Plastic hammers used as decorative toys in Israel's Independence Day celebrations.
Plastic hammers used as decorative toys in Israel's Independence Day celebrations. Credit: \ Ilan Assayag

 A country, any country, is a machine that needs citizens who believe in it, as if it is a home, as if their collective is a family. This is quite simple when the state, any state, is founded, for the collective has fought for its liberty, sacrificed lives, its own flesh and blood for it, and before the nation goes and rests under its vine or fig tree, the state again makes sure it will not forget its unity, will not forget it is a collective with a shared past, even if it doesn’t have any shared past or any common goals, even if some will die of thirst while others will live without thirst.

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In short – the state not only obscures its prisons, its army, its income tax, its security services and calls its needs a “home,” it must also ensure that future generations, those that no longer know what happened in Bab al-Wad, or in Katamon, or in Umm Katef, or in the Warsaw Ghetto, will remember the “shared past,” will feel like a family, will go to the army and feel like a family there, brothers in arms, they are all our sons, and so on.

The leader of the nation is its caretaker, of course. He runs the ceremonies. Not just on Independence Days, but on television screens daily. There are calmer nations that make do with a school system and media outlets for reproducing their subjects. There are nations which are less calm. Such as Israel. Last week, the Bibi-haters and the Bibi admirers shared those same nationalistic vibrations, from the right or left.

And what’s more, be honest: Of all that Benjamin Netanyahu said in his lengthy speech at the Yom Ha’atzmaut ceremony, what don’t his opponents agree with? After all, just like Naftali Bennett in his speech the following night, he recited the usual hollow Zionist text. Not because these two are hollow orators, God forbid, but because the texts of any nation-state – in its schools and military ceremonies and interviews for the major holidays – are always hollow. There is no nationalism that isn’t hollow.

Jewish nationalism in Israel is a disaster. Not only does it require religion to justify itself, and not only does it use its citizens to trample the Palestinians, and not only is there a left wing capable of saying “nationalism is ad-hoc and its time has passed,” but this inability to turn one’s back on the mass production machinery dulls the understanding that hatred of “the other” is manufactured by the authorities over and over again precisely to perpetuate the fantasy that we are not just adherents of a common religion, but members of an ancient nation that always dreamed of returning to the land of its forefathers, even though it’s not clear who really was here, and no DNA test will ever be able to confirm something as delusional as eternal Jewish history. Here, this is how nationalism breeds racism. Israel’s project is to reinvent ourselves as an ethnicity. Where does the terrible hatred of refugees come from if not the thin line that separates our Ethiopian brethren from the Eritrean refugees “who endanger the country”? From where does the fierce hatred for Arabs arise among those who for years were told “you’re like the Arabs,” and also “don’t be like the Arabs”? The ethnic fantasy is Israel’s great national project. Ingathering of the exiles. Assimilation of the exiles. Seed of Israel.

Anyone who can’t rebuff the loudspeakers’ cry of “Hey, you there,” cannot object. The right is growing because all of Israelis’ ceremonial practices are tainted with the right-wing platform: Zionism. A miserable mindset that prefers to wail “they’ve taken my country from me” rather than say, “we have no part or parcel of this ideology” will forever sing background to the dominant melody.

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