Opinion |

Israel's Breaking the Silence Dybbuk

One little demon can drive an entire village – or a country's political right wing – crazy, and the damage isn’t done by him but by those trying to expel him

Tomer Persico
Tomer Persico
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Hassan Joulani and Dean Issacharoff after Joulani was arrested in Hebron in 2014.
Hassan Joulani and Dean Issacharoff after Joulani was arrested in Hebron in 2014.Credit: Activestills
Tomer Persico
Tomer Persico

For several years, Breaking the Silence has been the dybbuk of Israeli politics, a kind of demon that eats at the system from within – an irksome, confusing demon that makes the system speak in strange voices. And the system, in its efforts to spew the dybbuk out, mobilizes increasingly greater exorcists.

What’s so scary about this dybbuk? He’s one of us. This dybbuk is a demon that was once our friend. He’s an ancestor, a former lover, a friend who died recently. But now he’s not in his proper place. He isn’t resting in peace. Instead of remaining part of the past, he’s invading the present.

He has something to say and he wants his voice heard. He inserts himself among the living, though not exactly where he once was – in a different place. There’s something he didn’t finish in his lifetime and he’s trying to complete it after his death.

Now that’s scary. We want to bury him, but he keeps coming back. We want to go on with our lives, and he keeps dragging us back to the past. In the past a great wrong was committed. The dybbuk wants to put this wrong on the agenda, get it recognized, correct it. We don’t want to touch this wrong, we want to move on, to ignore it.

The tragedy is that with our efforts to stifle the dybbuk we’re sacrificing more and more of ourselves. With our efforts to cover the past we’re giving up on the present, giving up more and more of our lives. And the system is freaking out.

When Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked mobilizes the prosecution to investigate a specific person, it’s a sign that the dybbuk is driving her mad. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu devotes disproportionate time and effort to condemning Breaking the Silence, it’s a sign that the dybbuk has infected him, too.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Naftali Bennett has attacked the media on Facebook (as he did Tuesday), claiming that it is stressing evidence of flaws in the prosecution’s investigation. He says the media “would prefer to believe a Palestinian lawbreaker from Hebron and not an entire platoon of IDF fighters.” He says “the media” does this “so that this despicable organization can continue to travel the world and slander IDF soldiers from every platform.”

When he does this, he is writing out of confusion and fear. Fear of the dybbuk, and fear that the latest effort to exorcise the dybbuk has failed. “Share to show that the people are stronger than the media,” he writes, inciting the masses against the old-new enemy, the one that ruined the voodoo ceremony that was meant to get rid of the dybbuk once and for all.

Because it’s emerging that the exorcism ceremony was botched. The prosecution’s investigation regarding Breaking the Silence’s Dean Issacharoff wasn’t conducted by the rules; apparently the wrong victim was questioned and relevant witnesses weren’t. And anyway, when was the last time the justice minister ordered the prosecution to investigate someone specific? Since when does one suspect get plucked out of thousands simply because probing him meets some political need?

Every kid knows that when it comes to ceremonies, precision is of utmost importance. For a ritual to work, the rules have to be carefully observed. The exorcist commissioned by the government is very experienced and has great authority. But even an exorcist of such stature doesn’t dare to improvise. In its haste to get rid of the demon, the prosecution deviated from the proper order. The result: Not only was the demon not exorcised, but the exorcist’s credibility was undermined.

The dybbuk is still with us. He has been vilified, his lectures around the country have been canceled, and bills have been submitted to restrict his activities. The prime minister has personally condemned him, as have the defense minister, the culture minister and of course the Knesset members from Likud’s backbenches, the ones with the torches and pitchforks. This time the prosecution was mobilized against him.

But that’s the way it is with a dybbuk. Weak though he may be, his very existence makes everyone around him terrified and mad. One little dybbuk can drive an entire village crazy, and the damage isn’t done by him but by those trying to expel him.

But there’s another thing about a dybbuk. He isn’t calmed until you listen to him. He insists on dredging up voices from the past. He insists on pointing out injustice. And as long as his voice isn’t heard, he will continue to harass us and drive the system insane.

Tomer Persico is a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute and a lecturer at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Comparative Religion.

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