Along with the rest of the world (or a sizeable part of it), I see daily images of Israel such as those on this euronews insert. There is bias, propaganda, a lack of objectivity, half-truths, untruths and misunderstanding of Israel’s case. Perhaps even anti-Israel sentiment degenerating into anti-Semitism.
Beyond that, however, there is an almost palpable sense that a huge injustice is being committed in the name of Israel, Judaism and the Jewish people as a whole. To me, there’s also a glimpse of the seeds of Israel’s destruction, a nightmarish vision as to how the third (and almost certainly final) Jewish commonwealth in Palestine might end.
It’s started to become almost commonplace to speculate about and predict the demise of Israel. Israel’s enemies do so gleefully, her friends sadly, but perhaps with more conviction. How has it come to this, a mere 60-odd years after Israel’s traumatic birth; seemingly the logical outcome of almost a century of Zionist and proto-Zionist thought and activity?
The external threats facing Israel are considerable, but in a sense no more than those she has faced in previous critical junctures in her history. So what’s different this time? This time, the external threats are compounded and aggravated by internal stresses, forces that threaten to rupture the fabric of her society, transform that society into something never envisaged by her founders. Something far, far less capable of addressing those external threats.
One of the ironies is that both of these existential threats – because that’s what they are – come from within Judaism itself, the force credited with keeping the Jewish people intact through two millennia of exile and dispersion.
On the one hand, the Haredi or ultra-Orthodox strain of Judaism (anti-Zionist from the beginning) has become increasingly divorced from mainstream Israeli society, while at the same time its massively subsidised demographic growth continues at the expense of the host population. The Haredi sector is distinguished by its lack of participation in the workforce, its refusal to perform military service, its separate, mind-numbingly backward educational networks, disproportionately small contribution to the tax base and excessive draws on the welfare system. This massive shift of the private burden onto the public system, coupled with an ideological emphasis on large family sizes will eventually transform Israel. Perhaps into a state based on Halacha, but more likely one based on Halukah. In the interim, Israeli society will be crippled internally and far less able to resist the external forces arrayed against her. It has in effect hijacked Israel’s domestic policy.
On the other hand, the national-religious ideology in its Settler form has already succeeded in damaging (and threatens to further undermine) Israel’s relationships with her neighbours, Israeli and Palestinian Arabs, her friends and allies (mainly in the West), and uncommitted and well-meaning people everywhere. The Settlement Enterprise is also increasingly starting to drive a wedge between Israel and previously supportive Diaspora Jewish communities worldwide. The diversion of population across the Green Line is upsetting the delicate demographic balance within Israel and transferring wealth and assets away from Israel’s control. It has in effect hijacked Israel’s defence and foreign policies.
As a result of these two trends, Israel is fast becoming an outlaw state. Within Israel and the territories for which it is responsible, Haredim, Settlers and their respective allies play games and make a mockery of Israeli law. In the world arena, an Israel in the thrall of the same elements dances around its obligations and standing under international law.
Israeli events and Israeli politics are both unpredictable, but should both of these trends – the demographic growth of the Haredim and the onward march of the Settler Enterprise – continue to their logical conclusion, it is difficult to imagine a positive outcome for Israel, hard even to imagine one in which Israel continues to exist in anything like its present form.
Perhaps Israel will yet pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat. As Lewis Mumford liked to remind us, “trend is not destiny“. The current trends, however, give little reason for hope, unless you’re of the belief that the Almighty micro-manages the day-to-day affairs of Israel. (Provided, of course, that the ritual minutiae of mitzvot are observed.)
(As an aside, some elements of Zionist thought looked forward to a renewal or revival of Judaism once the Jewish people became established in its ancestral homeland. Instead, ultra-Orthodoxy offers the same congealed cholent (now labelled “authentic Judaism”) from which generations still alive fled without a backward glance. Settler Judaism for its part has degenerated into a blood and soil cult, with all the external trappings of Jewish ritual (in an exaggerated form, e.g. oversized kippot and exaggerated payot) but little evidence of a redeeming spiritual message.)
For the first time in my adult life, I fear for Israel’s very existence. I hope I’m wrong, but I fear I may be right.