As critical as I am of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and its control over U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, Israel is actually less of a totalitarian country than the U.S. Case in point: You would never see an article criticizing Israel in this way in the American media. Wonder why that might be?
Anyone who says this is a matter of a few inconsequential laws is leading others astray; anyone who claims a reversible procedure is being deceptive; anyone who states reassuringly that this is a passing phase is trying to put one over. Even the person who thinks it’s just an attempt at regime change is under a delusion. What we are witnessing is w-a-r.
This fall a culture war, no less, broke out in Israel, and it is being waged on many more, and deeper, fronts than are apparent. It is not only the government, as important as that is, that hangs in the balance, but also the very character of the state. Our way of life is about to change, from cradle to grave. For this reason, it could be the most pivotal battle in the country’s history since the War of Independence.
We always knew that a few years without an external threat could strain the delicate seams: When the guns go silent, the demons roar. But no one predicted such an outburst of demons of every kind, all at once. The assault on the existing order is an all-out war, on every front; a political tsunami, a cultural flood and a social and religious earthquake, all still in their infancy. Those who call this an exaggeration are trying to lull you to sleep. The defeats and the victories up to now will determine the course of events: In the end, we will have a different country. The pretension of being an enlightened Western democracy is giving way, with terrifying speed, to a different reality – that of a benighted, racist, religious, ultranationalist, fundamentalist Middle Eastern country. That is not the kind of integration into the region we had hoped for.
The ferocious combined assault is highly effective. It targets women, Arabs, leftists, foreigners, the press, the judicial system, human rights organizations and anyone standing in the way of the cultural revolution. From the music we listen to, to the television we watch, from the buses we ride to the funerals we attend , everything is about to change. The army is changing, the courts are in turmoil, the status of women is being pelted with rocks, the Arabs are being shoved behind a fence and the labor migrants are being forced into concentration camps. Israel is barricading itself behind more and more walls and barbed-wire fences as if to say, to hell with the world.
There is no single guiding hand mixing this boiling, poisonous potion; many hands stir the revolution, but they all have something in common: the aspiration to a different Israel, one that is not Western, not open, not free and not secular. The extreme nationalist hand passes the antidemocratic, neofascist laws; the Haredi hand undermines gender equality and personal freedoms; the racist hand acts against the non-Jews; the settler hand intensifies the hold not only on the occupied territories but also deep into Israel; and another hand interferes in education, culture and the arts.
You can’t see the forest for the trees, and the forest is dark and deep. Take, for example, Friday’s paper. The news pages of Haaretz reported on a few such rotten trees: the managers of dozens of businesses in Sderot have begun requiring their workers to dress modestly; in Mea She’arim, the polling places are gender-segregated; nonobservant Jews in Jerusalem have been asked to wear a kippa at work; Carmiel’s Palmach School has been turned into a religious school; discrimination against Sephardic girls at schools in Jerusalem, Modi’in Ilit, Betar Ilit and Bnei Brak; withdrawal from a physicians’ training program for Palestinians as a condition for tax relief; the government’s new plan to fight illegal immigration. And one final touch: The foreign minister gave his imprimatur to the Putinist election in Russia. All in a single day, one ordinary day.
In 1948 the state was established, and in 2011 a war is being waged for its never-crystallized character. In between these two years, the state has been rocked by waves of immigration, by different governments and by contradictory trends, and throughout loomed the threat of war and other external dangers. Various islands formed, some of them beautiful, and sometimes it seemed as if an open, enlightened country was taking root. Now that belief is on the verge of being shattered. The right has been in power for a long time now, but it lacked the self-confidence to launch this crucial assault. But now, in its 35th year in government, in the 64th year of the state, it has turned to the task of reshaping the country’s character and faces almost no opposition.
We’ll meet again in a few years, in that other Israel, that will be different and distorted beyond recognition.