Recently Ha’aretz columnist Ari Shavit published an essay in which he called upon the rational Israeli majority to join forces. He is convinced that our political and national future as a Jewish democratic and peace loving state is not lost. All that we need do is to reach out to one another and join hands politically, affirming the moderate center, in a new national movement of reconciliation and constructive policy advocacy. Unfortunately I think Ari Shavit, expresses wishful thinking about what he would like the basic mind set and aspirations of the Israeli people to be. I think his assumptions are incorrect and his proposals are, at this time, painfully unrealistic.
Yes of course I would like to believe that he is correct that most Israeli Jews do aspire after the idea of a Jewish democratic and just state. Yes of course I would like to believe that ours is an enlightened nation-state that does not harbor ill will towards our neighboring states; nor toward our own minority population groups. But unfortunately this is not the case. Our political and military policy of occupation and articulated viral hatred and distrust of our presumed Arab antagonists, domestic and foreign, has defined our vision as myopic and our role as self defeating.
For all intents and purposes, it appears that the Israeli majority has fallen victim to the forces of psychological terrorism, racism and nationalistic extremism. Our political leaders justify our policies by asserting the need to protect us from certain destruction at the hands of radical extremists near and far. Lest we are unable to see clearly, they tell us, we are surrounded and threatened not only by Islamic fundamentalists from without but equally so by their coreligionists within. Promoting fear is an effective way to divert the popular mind from rational discourse and analysis. The consequence is that we are less what people like Ari Shavit would like us to be than what we have become. And this is a savagely divisive society defined by narrow sectarian, political and ideological interests.
Characteristically, following the terrorist attack in Tel Aviv, our right wing coalition government effectively punished several hundred thousand Palestinians for the outrageous acts of two independent killers. Ten of thousands of entry permits to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque now, during the holy month of Ramadan, were cancelled; permits to work in Israel were permanently cancelled for all residents of the village where the terrorists lived and other repressive measures as well. The lead editorial in Ha’aretz on the following day declared “The Only Solution to Palestinian terrorism is the end of the Occupation.” These “acts of collective punishment” the editorial asserted, “will just increase the frustration and hatred among those forced to live under Israeli occupation…The only way to deal with terrorism is by freeing the Palestinian people from the occupation.”
All this is against a background of an obvious increase in frustration with and disbelief in Israeli policies on the part of the international community. Nonetheless our people appear to be nonplussed.They accept as credible the claims of our leaders, that our problems are a consequence of a plot hatched by unrepentant European and American anti-Semites and Islamic fanatics. All we need to do is destroy the BDS movement and we will relieve ourselves of the need to reconsider the wisdom of our policies. How sad it is that we have allowed ourselves to be led by a class of political leaders who in recent weeks in particular have demonstrated just how arrogant, egotistical and self-assured they have become. The very idea that Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman think that they will win the support and confidence of the European community, the United States and the U.N. et.al, simply by saying that they support the two state solution and consider the Arab League peace proposal to be constructive is astounding. Indeed now, just a week or so later the news here headlines the fact that the Prime Minister announced at a meeting of his Likud Party Knesset faction that “Israel will never agree to the Arab Peace Initiative.”
Of course, our right wing government coalition, has good reason to want to promote the myth that Israeli policy is rational and responsible. Would that this were more than a proven tactic of diversion and political obfuscation. There is small reason to believe that our ruling revisionist leaders are ready to amend their irredentist policies and thinking to allow for an end to our settlement program and a readiness for genuine territorial compromise. They have confirmed this in their own words and actions. Nonetheless, if does seem that they are successful in convincing the Israeli silent majority of their good intentions. Our people are simply too unnerved and verbally abused by our leaders to think otherwise.
No, I do not believe that there is a silent majority of rational people who have the capacity to transform reality. Our silent majority gives quiet support to our right wing ruling coalition.
In the end, I am now convinced, that the consequence of advancing policies based on irredentist and racist programs will result in our undoing. Our “leaders” continue to act blindly without concern for the implications of their actions. They appear to be convinced of their ability to achieve their objectives, regardless of world opinion and reactive policies. In the end, hopefully sooner than later, they will be proven wrong. Let us hope and pray that in the process, we will not be the victims of another historical tragedy. This time it may be one of our own making.
Rabbi Stanley Ringler is an Israeli Reform Rabbi and Social and Political Activist