Back to the Israelite Kingdom

Western states aspire to be liberal and open, while Israel is withdrawing into itself. So why do we need a president? Why not a king?

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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It’s possible that Tashab (the Jewish year 5772) was too good a year for Netanyahu.
It’s possible that Tashab (the Jewish year 5772) was too good a year for Netanyahu.Credit: Time magazine
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Why a president? Actually, why not a king? King of Israel. As Israel gallops toward its past, basing its existence and character on what was here (or not) thousands of years ago, we cannot rule out reinstating the monarchy: the United Monarchy and the kings. Why not a king? There’s no lack of candidates, it’s a relatively simple procedure — certainly simpler than electing a president.

If this seems wacky, then we must ask whether it’s any crazier than some other “truths” that we accept as though they were “Torah from Sinai” (another Biblical expression that has become all-Israeli)?

The establishment of the State of Israel in Palestine was based first and foremost on the land’s biblical past and the yearning for it down the generations. Without the Bible, we might now be in Uganda. Without Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we might now be in Birobidzhan. Perpetuating the occupation of the territories seized in 1967 until they are an inseparable part of Israel, de facto, is also based first and foremost on that distant past. Samuel walked here and Rachel was buried there – so we too must be here and there. No other occupation justifies itself with what once was, thousands of years ago, and to hell with the painful present. Sound wacky? Not to Israeli ears.

But it doesn’t stop there. No Israeli value is more deeply rooted than the burning belief that Israelis are the very best, the Chosen People, a light unto the nations. Another import from biblical mythology. God said so way back when, that’s what’s right. Secularity, modernity, liberalism? All very well, but we’re the “Chosen People,” as the Book of Books says. Three mentions in the Book of Isaiah are sufficient to persuade us all that we really are a “light unto the nations.” There’s no explanation for Israeli arrogance and prolonged flouting of international law, institutions and public opinion and international except a deep inner conviction that this is what we are. Surreal, isn’t it?

No less surreal is the status of the holy sites. Soldiers are sworn in at the Western Wall, the masses prostrate themselves on every mosque that’s been declared the grave of some biblical figure. The connection between the mosque-like tomb near Checkpoint 300, which lays siege to the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, and the burial site of the matriarch Rachel – absolutely our matriarch – is as suspect as the link between the mosque on Shuhada Street in Hebron and the burial site of the patriarchs – absolutely our patriarchs - burial place.

But ostensibly secular Israel not only sanctifies those sites, it also demands sovereignty over them – as though there’s a self-evident link between sanctity and sovereignty. It does so solely because of what it believes happened then, in those days, and translates it into the language of occupation in these days.

Now comes the next phase in Israel’s dubious journey into its past. It consists of a variety of nationalistic laws and “heritage” learning plans for schools, also based on mythology and theology, on religious and messianic beliefs, rather than current affairs. While Western states aspire, or at least claim to aspire, to being liberal and open, guided by universal values and globalization, Israel is advancing backward.

Israel is withdrawing into itself, shutting itself up in its past. Religion occupies a central part of it. Its demands to be recognized as a Jewish state and the laws to turn it into one are leading it confidently toward a halakha state, based on Jewish religious law. Certain circles are already talking seriously about rebuilding the Temple. All that remains is to set up a dynasty and crown a king. That will be a royal closure of the circle, an inseparable link of everything happening here. After all, “King Bibi” has already been anointed.

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