The most common catch phrase being bandied about ultra-north Tel Aviv this past week was “one state for two peoples.” Israeli sushi eaters woke up last Wednesday morning to discover that they really do live in a bubble. Many of them don’t know a single Likud voter. Many of them have never heard the music of Amir Benayoun. Many of them never imagined that members of their people would vote again, and with a vengeance, for the loathed Benjamin Netanyahu.
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The economy of high-tech, natural gas, and business concentration has allowed some two million Israelis to live a very good life in a closed world, whose values are those of California. The prosperous liberal colony that they founded on the Mediterranean allowed them to live in an illusory incubator of advanced technology, totally disconnected from reality, the state, and the land. Between Florentine and Arsuf, and between Ra’anana and the Peres Center for Peace, people launched startups, watched Channel 10, and didn’t know where they were living. They had no direct contact with Jews of Middle Eastern origin, traditional Jews, struggling Russian-speakers, Haredim, or Arabs (though they talked about them a lot).
The democracy of many of these California-dreaming Israelis has in recent decades been a democracy of unelected entities – the courts (ours), the media (ours), and NGOs (ours). And suddenly, the other element of democracy dared to show its face: the people. An Israeli people that’s alive and kicking. And it had its say, loudly. The people stood up to the bubble and rebelled against it, bursting it to smithereens.
But the north Tel Aviv bubble is not the only one in Israel. That same warm, vital, traditional and intelligent people that lives south of Florentine and north of Arsuf also lives in an illusion detached from reality. Likud voters are correct; Israel is located in the midst of a chaotic and violent Middle East. Netanyahu supporters speak the truth; Palestinian radicals will not stop pursuing us, even if we withdraw to the 1967 lines. But the right wing is ignoring the fact that the source of Israel’s power is its deep ties with the West, its intimate alliance with the United States, and the rare abilities of its high-tech bubble. If Israel continues to be an occupier and colonizer, it will lose the West, the United States, and the high-tech.
There are indeed good reasons to fear Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Islamic State, but to battle them effectively Israel has to stop the settlements immediately, reduce the occupation as much as possible, and return to the bosom of the West.
The nationalists’ refusal to understand these basic facts is making them more delusional than the most delusional sushi eaters. While the Israeli center condescends to the periphery, the periphery is disdainful of the West and marches proudly against the spirit of the times. Ironically, the diplomatic and military Iron Dome that the United States provides Israel enables many Israelis to ignore their great dependence on Washington and the growing contradiction between their values and the values of 21st-century America.
The game of bubbles has become a dangerous one. It decided the 2015 election in a grave way, and is liable to lead us by summer into a head-on collision with the international community.
Any attempt to dress the wounds and restore hope must begin by exiting both bubbles. If the satiated would leave the territory of ultra-north Tel Aviv and finally discover the rest of the people, and if the rest of the people would finally open their eyes and discover the rest of the world, the process of repair can begin.