Israelis love to have an enemy

Larry Derfner in the Jerusalem Post defines his fellow country men and women as unified as a police state:

When we think of the economy, we think of “me.” But when we think of “us,” we think first and last of “them.” Of course, there are loads and loads of generous, public-spirited Israelis doing great things individually or in groups. But when we’re all together as a nation, all we see is the enemy. Stopping the enemy is the only national project we have left. It’s the only issue that gets people’s attention for more than a day.

As for the Jewish part of being Israeli, Judaism in this country is overwhelmingly tribal, to the point of belligerency. Israeli-style Judaism feeds this us-against-them mentality like nothing else except, maybe, the national cult of the military.

NONE OF this hard-assedness is new; it was always here. But until this past decade, it had competition from a less fearful, more open-minded, positive view of what it meant to be Israeli. There were people here who talked about building something besides West Bank settlements, fundamentalist yeshivot and border walls. They wanted to stop being obsessed with the enemy, they wanted to go out into the world, and they didn’t freak out every time somebody said we were treating the Palestinians badly, because they knew the critic had a point.

There were a lot of Israelis like this. They had huge demonstrations, political parties, leaders, ideas. Until this decade, there was a “peace camp,” too, not just a “national camp.” The two camps fought to determine this country’s direction, and it made for a great deal of creative tension in national life.

Until this decade, national life was interesting. Now it’s deadening. I go back to Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy’s quote from a couple of years ago: “There was a time when you’d ask two Israelis a question and you’d get three opinions. Now you only get one.”

When I try to explain Israel to Americans, I ask them to imagine that 80 percent of their fellow citizens were Republicans. Israel has become a one-party country – the war party.

We’re at war with the Middle East, with Europe, with liberal Jews in the Diaspora and with a pathetically small handful of dissenters at home. We trust no one. We see anti-Semites everywhere. We’d like to build an Iron Dome over this whole country to keep the world out.

There’s very little oxygen around here; everyone is breathing the air that everyone else has exhaled. This country has been stagnating for a decade. And we’ve never achieved such unity.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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