Venice is sinking. The jewel of mankind, with its unparalleled beauty, is in the process of vanishing. Scientists are already calculating when the waves will finally close over the city. But the sinking is so slow that the inhabitants do not notice it.
Israel is in a similar situation. Our Israel, the state that we have created with our sweat and blood, our talents and dreams, with its new Hebrew language, culture and society that have fascinated the entire world, is vanishing. Its place is being taken by a different, antithetical state.
That is the real meaning of the process that has reached its climax during the recent weeks. The sticky brew of “unity” must not conceal from us what is happening underneath. A real revolution.
For years now our eyes have been riveted to the war between Israel and Palestine, because it kills human beings and determines the fate of peoples. But this war is but a part of a much more profound struggle: the struggle for the character of the State of Israel itself.
In recent years, it has become a fad to talk about the struggle between Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, the rift between the religious and the secular, the confrontation between left and right, the Kulturkampf. But all this modish talk is blurring the truth instead of clarifying it.
The simple truth is that this is a struggle between two quite different states: the State of Israel on the one side, the Jewish State on the other.
This struggle started on the state’s first day, but was hidden by a thick layer of conventional lies, faulty definitions and endless talk about “unity”, “conciliation” and “dialogue”. The Supreme Court contributed to the blurring by adopting the formula of “a Jewish and democratic state”, an oxymoron if ever there was one. The Israeli state cannot be saved without exposing the contradiction and reaching a clear decision on its identity.
The J e w I s h State is one that does not belong to its place and its surroundings, but to a world-wide entity called “the Jewish people”. It is based on myths thousands of years old, while ignoring the present-day reality of the country. It carries with it the memories of the Jewish Diaspora, mainly consisting of generations of persecution, from the pogroms of the 14th century, through the Spanish inquisition to the Holocaust. It is subject to religious imperatives that are accepted by the “secular” under the guise of “national values”. It is closed and self-centered, goyim-hating (the goyim including the Arabs), facing the past rather than the modern world.
The I s r a e l i State is bound to be a modern one, open to the world, integrated into the world-wide civilization and contributing to it. Not, by any means, cut off from the Jewish past, but treating it as belonging to the realm of the past. For it, the Bible is a monumental literary masterpiece, the workshop of the Hebrew language, a universal treasure. The Jewish religion is a glorious creation, the cradle of the monotheistic religions, and every person is free to believe in it, without the state being involving. It is a state that exists for its citizens, and citizenship é solely é defines their being Israelis, the way citizens of the United States are Americans, a state open to cultural influences, participating in the struggles of humanity: to save the planet, equality of the sexes, egalitarian globalization, nuclear disarmament and peace.
Striving for peace with the Palestinian people and integration into the Semitic region is only a part of this perception of the state, its character and interests. It is a patriotic Israeli endeavor. On the other hand, the eternal war against the Arabs that makes ethnic cleansing, expansion and settlement possible, is a patriotic Jewish attitude.
During the last few years it seemed that the Israeli state was gaining strength, while the Jewish state was in retreat. Israel recognized the Palestinian people and its national leadership. It started to create connections with the Arab world. It became a high-tech power. The internet exposed the young to fresh ideas from all over the world. The Arab citizens had become part of the political system. Waves of new immigration had enriched and deepened the cultural and scientific life. It was possible to think that this was an irreversible political-social trend, gathering force. But this was an optimistic and complacent impression. All this time a reaction was gathering speed, because of the lack of clarity in defining the state from the outset.
Now the counter-revolution has come, and it is a massive one. It is no accident that its symbol is Ariel Sharon – a person born into the new Hebrew life but conditioned by the perceptions of a Jewish State. The “national unity” that has come about under his auspices is not just a cynical alliance between power-hungry opportunists, as it seems on the surface, but a real coming-together of all the counter-revolutionary forces. In this respect, the differences between Peres and Sharon, Rehavam Ze’evi and Dalia Rabin-Pilosof are minimal. In practice they all belong to the same party, and so do most of the factions that have remained in opposition by accident.
Limor Livnat may not be a shining light, but by introducing “Jewish-Zionist values” into the school system she expresses the counter-revolution, as does Fuad Ben-Eliezer, no shining light either, by introducing even more brutality into the army’s behavior. The army itself, whose “chief education officer” has declared that non-Jews are inferior soldiers, has moved all the way from a Kibbutz-based force to an army dominated by the members of the religious-military ‘Yeshivot Hesder” order.
The “Zionist left” has crashed because it never dared to recognize this basic contradiction. No wonder that its spiritual leaders, people like Amos Oz and A. B. Yehoshua, are now playing a major role in the war against the Palestinians, by leading the charge against Muslim control of the Temple Mount. It is now paying the price for the conventional lie on which it has rested from the beginning, when it preached “Zionism, Socialism and the Brotherhood of Peoples”, while being engaged whole-heartedly in evicting the Fellahin from their lands. Intellectuals who do not strive with unflinching honesty for the truth crumble at the moment of truth and are swept away with the sullied tide.
The danger inherent in the counter-revolution is terrible indeed. Its take-over of the state resembles the take-over of Jerusalem by the Zealots who, 2000 years ago, eradicated the liberal, progressive elite and put the community on the path to suicide.
I do not believe that this will happen to us. A state based on the “values” of Limor Livnat cannot endure in the 21th century. The counter-revolution may indeed drag us into a dark tunnel of escalating conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and cause a severe retreat in all domestic processes, but in the end it will be shattered on impact with the world-wide and regional reality. The Israeli civilization will not give up and it has many vibrant, new cells in the young generation.
Venice is sinking é but scientists have already prepared daring plans to arrest the process and reverse it. Here, too, forces must come to the fore that can, e v e n n o w, prepare plans for arresting the retreat and restarting the march into the 21st century. Perhaps, in retrospect, the Sharon-Peres government will be viewed by historians as the last gasp of the ghetto.