Dying From Normalcy

We in Israel are so desperate for normalcy that we are willing to convince ourselves that the abnormal is also normal

Illustration by Eran Wolkowski.

Sometimes history must be examined from the end back to the beginning. One must identify the turning point, the event that marked the revolution or caused the change, the moment we can point to and say: This is where the end began. The problem is that this point can be identified only when everything is over, when there is nothing left to be done with the conclusions and the lessons. But it’s a crucial point. When you reach it, you either say it can’t go on like this anymore, or you run away.

It’s hard to identify this point. When Motti Ashkenazi set up his protest tent after the Yom Kippur War, no one said it was the beginning of the end of Golda Meir’s government; when Yitzhak Rabin was murdered, very few thought it would bring Benjamin Netanyahu upon us. So what will be the next turning point? When the High Court of Justice strikes down the nation-state law? When after it’s overturned, Ayelet Shaked launches the war among the branches of government that she’s promised? Will this evolve into a battle between left and right that will bring us to the inevitable end?

Until the end comes, we’re in limbo, in twilight, living in the hope that darkness will never fall, or at least that it won’t fall as long as we and our children are around. We call this twilight “normalcy.” We crave normalcy, we want safe ground underfoot.

We are so desperate for normalcy that we are willing to convince ourselves that the abnormal is also normal. That even a country with no borders and a million stateless subjects without rights is normal, that even a country whose prime minister incites against its citizens is a local, special version of normalcy.

And maybe, we wonder, this is what normal looks like. After all, we get married and give birth and buy apartments and replace cars like in normal countries. We take comfort in the fact that the beginning of an abnormal process does not necessarily imply its abnormal end; that not every Jewish nation-state law leads to the Nazi Enabling Act and that not every silencing of Arabs will lead to the silencing of Jews.

The comparison to Germany infuriates us. But those who guessed in the 1920s what would happen there in 1940 were saved. Anyone who deluded himself that it was normal for there to be riots and murders on the one hand, while on the other Bertolt Brecht was writing and George Grosz was drawing, paid with his life.

Here, too, we want to believe that the combination of high-tech exits and Eurovision with racism, fanaticism and discrimination can create a kind of normality. We are repressing the possibility that our government is planning for us a different normalcy; a normalcy from the movies, a normalcy we haven’t yet dreamed of.

This government is cautious, but determined. The way in which normality will change will also be cautious but determined. In the end, its normality will take over the schools, conquer the army and annex the court. What it is doing to democracy we are somehow squeezing into our box of normality. We’re getting used to things. We’re getting used to interrogations at the airport, separating boys and girls in the army, and the petering out of the investigations against the prime minister.

And then, suddenly, we’ll ask ourselves if this is really what normal looks like. We will ask whether the apartments we buy, the cars we replace and trips abroad are worth this normalcy. We will wonder whether the undermining of freedom of religion, freedom of expression and equality before the law were ever the most important parts of our package of normality.

When we discover that our package is ridiculously meager, we will ask ourselves where our point of no return is, and whether it might already be behind us. We will also ask when normalcy becomes unbearable and when will we say that enough is enough. When will it happen? When they close the cases against Netanyahu? When they cut our pensions? When they raise the price of cottage cheese? When they erase the High Court of Justice?

It’s possible that we’ll only recognize it the moment after the end has come.