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Hey Lapid, What Kind of Future Does Israel Really Have?

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Yair Lapid. There is no future, many Israelis tell themselves.
Yair Lapid. There is no future, many Israelis tell themselves.Credit: Emil Salman
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

On Thursday, Israel's 14th prime minister entered office, and the name of his party is Yesh Atid. It’s doubtful there's another party on the planet whose name means “there is a future.” It’s doubtful there's another country whose people are so convinced that the national fate is veiled in darkness.

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The head of Israel’s party of the future has entered office as the national spirit totters on the brink more than ever. There is no future, many Israelis tell themselves.

A different zeitgeist has replaced the feeling of existential danger from the state’s early days. The spirit of the times dictates that it’s over, we're stuck, there's nowhere to go, nothing to do, no chance – even if we might be the best in the world and know better than everybody else. From right to left, nobody is bearing good news. No scenario pumps us up with hope.

This doesn’t mean that it will be bad. It means that many Israelis think that this is how it will be. In polls, Israelis may say they're happy, almost the happiest people on Earth, but they're more often giving their children foreign names, and they're more often seeking foreign passports for themselves and their children. Why is it so urgent to have a foreign passport and a foreign first name? Because there is no future.

Everything is stuck: traffic and the occupation, the education system and the Interior Ministry, the health system and the airport, the peace process and the Tel Aviv subway, the cost of living and rent, parking and scooters, vacation prices and overcrowding. Even the escape hatches are gummed up. It’s apocalypse now.

And it’s all happening as the existential threat is lower than ever. What's happening largely stems from the fear campaigns and the squeezing of budgets by the military and political leaders. Israel is safer and stronger than ever. It has a strong international standing. No one dares touch it for fear of the United States. It's the safest country in the world and it's flourishing more than ever. And yet, gloom.

Something in Israel’s daily reality exudes evil. Just hit the streets, fly abroad or read the interview with Ram Cohen in Haaretz's Hebrew edition a week ago on the future of teaching. Get into your car and try to reach your destination in a reasonable amount of time. Try to find parking, book an appointment with a neurologist, get a cable TV technician to come over, speak with El Al, cross the street, catch a cab, board a bus.

Everything is filled with gas fumes and could explode at any moment. Aggressiveness and violence lurk beneath the surface. Everything is liable to give way. Everything screams existential despair.

The situation of the occupation and the roads is similar. No one has any hope about them. They're deteriorating. We don't believe in peace anymore or believe we'll ever see a Tel Aviv subway. Nor does anybody suggest an alternative.

All this is accompanied by denial, repression and the lies we tell ourselves. We tell ourselves that we’re one people and there’s no occupation, that we’re not living in an apartheid state. There is also polarization between the Ashkenazim and Mizrahim – ethnic discrimination still deep in our blood. Likewise, the struggle over the state’s character, between religion and modernity and between the Levant and the West, has yet to be decided.

Some people put the toilet lid down on all this sewer water. There's nothing like the Israeli media, which excels in denial and concealment – but there's an eruption from time to time. The most explosive vision is that the strong will leave and the weak will stay. It has yet to happen, maybe thanks to Yedioth Ahronoth's grotesque headlines like the one on Wednesday celebrating the “historic victory” by the under-19 national soccer team.

Does all this mean that the situation is one of bitter sobbing and a dead end? Definitely not. But on the day that Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid became prime minister, the strongest feeling was that, no, there is no future. Certainly not a good future.

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