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What Would It Take to Make Israel a 'Desirable' Country?

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Settlers planting an Israeli flag in Kyriat Arba, West Bank, last week.
Settlers planting an Israeli flag in Kyriat Arba, West Bank, last week.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

“For people to love their country, it must be desirable,” wrote British philosopher Edmund Burke in his influential tome “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” published in 1790. How does one measure the desirability of a country?

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Each people and each citizen have a criterion for setting the bottom threshold, beneath which they find their country to be unbearable. Rogel Alpher offers an almost convincing technical specification. “You’ll leave, because there’s nothing for you here. Not a future, not a home, and not a sense of partnership in a national enterprise with whose goals and values you identify. The only thing that awaits you in Israel is alienation, foreignness, a sense of profound shame and despair,” he writes on Monday.

Exile, Alpher determines, is the solution. The crystal ball used for this forecast is the poll published on last Friday’s Ulpan Shishi newscast regarding the political positions of young people 18-25. According to the poll, these young adults, who are worth about 20 seats in Knesset, give a clear majority to the “Netanyahu bloc.” Only 9 percent of them said they would cross political lines this election, 60 percent said they’ll vote like their parents, and 23 percent hold a different opinion than their parents.

How can you draw conclusions on what Israel will look like in the future from such fluid data? Some of these “youths” have just begun their military service. How will they come out of it? Will they retain their political stance after spending their days at checkpoints and their nights strip-searching Palestinian suspects? Perhaps they’ll adopt fascist views, and perhaps they’ll seek a different solution? And other young adults have already launched a career or are studying at universities and colleges – will they hold the same opinions once they graduate?

The confusion only grows: 72 percent of young adults believe that politicians look out only for themselves and not the country. Why then should they bother to go to the polls at all? And yet, over 30 percent of those who did not vote in previous elections said they would do so this time. Perhaps they believe the political reality can be changed after all, or at least that the leadership which attends only to its own interests can be replaced? If this reading is correct, it flies in the face of the prophecies of doom regarding the end of the “good country.”

Relying on a poll is a rhetorical trick at best. The situation in a country and a society is not necessarily derived from their past, and their future is not a certainty. But still, let us assume that the poll lays an empirical foundation for a description of the future. Five years ago (on September 24, 2017), Alpher published a similar article in which he wrote: “Just as the reaction of European countries to the terrible shock of World War I was fascism, so the reaction of Israel to the terrible shock of terror waves and rockets is an escalated and religious-tinged march toward fascism.” Some foresight.

However, tearing a single page from history is a well-known demagogic practice. We may recall that following the Second World War, Europe actually broke free of fascism, cured itself, and for the most part has become a beacon of democracy. It is true that the continent is currently undergoing another slimy wave of religious zealotry and xenophobic racism, but this is merely proof that changes and turmoil, and not a despairing fixation, are what characterize human society. Here, even Alpher is willing to give change a chance: “We, opponents of occupation and apartheid, must understand that the Israeli occupation can be broken, if at all, only from the outside. With the help of the White House and Europe.”

But revolutions do not come from without and aren’t built among the spectators. Benjamin Netanyahu was not overthrown by the White House, and the glue holding together the opponents of political infection in Israel was not manufactured in the U.K. or France. These forces still exist in large numbers in Israel – even among the young people supposedly pointing the way to oblivion. Therefore, the question they should be asked is not who they intend to vote for, but what a desirable country looks like to them. We may be surprised by the answers.

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