Iran and Israel Are Similar, After All

The two countries are alike historically, in their tension between religious extremism and freedom and in their dramatic struggles between the public’s desire for change and the opposition of calcified elements of the regime.

Sefi Rachlevsky
Sefi Rachlevsky
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Sefi Rachlevsky
Sefi Rachlevsky

Iran and Israel are more similar than either of their regimes would be willing to admit. They are similar historically, similar in their tension between religious extremism and freedom, similar in their dramatic struggles between the public’s desire for change and the opposition of calcified elements of the regime.

Those who seek to belittle what happened in the Iranian election are trying to hide the sun with their hands. Whatever happens in the future, the fact that a sweeping majority voted for change, and that the regime didn’t play games with the results, is significant. Those who try to claim there’s a formal, deterministic answer to the question of who makes the decisions don’t know what they’re talking about. In the Shas party, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is formally the one who decides, but in reality, party chairman Aryeh Deri has often been the decision maker. In Israel, the cabinet and the prime and defense ministers are formally the ones who decide whether to go to war, but in reality, when all the heads of the security services are opposed − for instance, to attacking Iran − this matters.

In Iran, too, despite the formal structure, outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad carried weight, and he and his messianic cult even came close to taking over the entire government. It’s true that Hasan Rowhani’s election as his successor raises the chances of Iran going nuclear, but it delays the process and creates a good chance of a moderating change in the regime.

And we mustn’t get confused: The danger lies in the combination of messianic extremism and nuclear arms. An Islamic state that contains extremist elements, proliferates nuclear know-how and has dozens of nuclear bombs isn’t a future catastrophe, but something that already exists. It’s called Pakistan. And Israel didn’t attack it.

In Israel, too, the public is undergoing a deep process of change. Large-scale public protests dismantled the rightist-religious majority in the last election, despite the divisions among the non-right. And the process didn’t stop there. It’s not by chance that polls show a consistent and growing majority for the non-right among the public.

True, in the meantime, we are being ruled by the most extremist government ever. The statement that another nation − millions of human beings − is nothing but a piece of shrapnel in our behind was not accidental. It’s in line with the search for an “ant exterminator” to take on the port unions and with the brave new world that was created when a majority of first-graders defined as Jewish are studying in segregated religious or Haredi ‏(ultra-Orthodox‏) schools, in which they are taught that “you are called man, and the other nations of the world aren’t called man.”

Yet this government − which is enacting racist laws, promoting a scandalous segregation of women and even threatening to take over the army and the universities, and thence the work places, all while winking at a “process” that contains no peace − is not a divine decree. Once again, it depends on three people: Hatnuah party chairwoman Tzipi Livni, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich. And especially on the two woman leaders.

If former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s party would just stop acting like a cult and act like an alternative instead, the government would change just as the public has. Labor must reserve places on its slate for Livni and three other Hatnuah MKs ‏(Amir Peretz, Meir Sheetrit and Amram Mitzna‏), as well as Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz, and stop this farce that is enabling a government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett.

Without Livni’s gang, Netanyahu has no real government. He has 62 seats with Lapid or 61 with the Haredi parties, but neither is enough to govern. Not when he’ll be dependent, on one hand, on the democratic MK Reuven Rivlin ‏(Likud‏), and on the other on extremists like MK Moshe Feiglin ‏(Likud‏) or MK Orit Strock ‏(Habayit Hayehudi‏), who obeys Rabbi Dov Lior.

Rowhani’s rise to power in Iran gives Israel another year in which to put in place a new government that satisfies the public’s desire for change. Those naive types who delude themselves that, 18 years after he orchestrated protests where demonstrators chanted “With blood and fire, we’ll expel Rabin,” the milk of peace will flow from the he-goat Netanyahu, of all people, aren’t living on this planet. Netanyahu hasn’t given up on attacking Iran; on the contrary. If to accomplish that he has to pretend to conduct a diplomatic process, he may do so, but the idea that he will withdraw Israel to the 1967 lines, leave 140,000 settlers outside Israel’s borders and divide Jerusalem doesn’t even reach the level of a delusion.

The four men now finishing their post-service cooling-off periods − former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, former Shin Bet security service chief Yuval Diskin and former head of Military Intelligence Asher Yadlin − will be legally eligible to enter politics in another half a year, and Lapid cannot survive without his base on the non-right. The public is waiting for unification and change. The government of the piece of shrapnel in the behind can go home.

Hasan Rowhani flashing the victory sign after leaving a polling station in Tehran, June 14, 2013.Credit: AFP

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