Does Israel Need a Culture War? Part Seven of Eight

Many reasons have been adduced for the sinking of the Titanic. But no one, to my knowledge, has ever blamed the passengers. Especially those poor schlocks down in steerage. And nobody has ever denied that the first-cabin types got more than their share of space in the lifeboats.

And yet, when you look at Culture War II in America, that’s exactly what the oligarchs and the One Percenters and their servitors are trying to do. Convince the people down on the lower decks that the disaster lurching in upon them is actually the fault of those beneath them, and that those above them really represent their “traditional” values, such as independence, hard work . . . and hate.

While making sure their own lifeboats are comfy, spacious and well-provisioned.

And these are the people, to say it one last time, upon whom Israel has staked its future with America, perhaps its future, period. True enough, neither Mr. Netanyahu nor Mr. Adelson will be with us forever. But the damage they have done will live on long after them.

And the Titanic analogy proves apt in another way. Great disasters have multiple, converging causes. If only the watertight bulkheads had been higher. If only the crow’s nest had binoculars. If only the Californian had her wireless on.

If only . . . if only . . .

Funny thing about catastrophes, and great systemic catastrophic collapses. They come upon us suddenly. But you can usually sense them coming a long way off. That’s certainly true with the two existential challenges currently facing humanity: climate change and global violent Islamism.

(No such thing as climate change? Alas, you can’t lie to your planet. And the world claims the world isn’t threatened by jihadi for whom “Israel” is only one item on the to-do list? Sorry, world, but your wish to live free and your enemy’s desire to enslave and kill you is more than a difference of opinion. Israel knows all about this. So did you, not so long ago. Why have you forgotten?)

Which brings us to Israel’s Culture Wars. The one going on right now, and the one that ought to be going on.

Israel, it may be said, is a land of endless religious, racial, ethnic, social, economic, sexual and cultural conflict, a nation always two steps from tearing itself apart, held together by smart phones, bureaucracy and the threat of annihilation. This cutesy description elides one important matter:

Israel’s complicity in its own dilemmas and disasters.

Culture Wars are nothing new in Jewish history. Civil wars, also. And the history of Jewish political self-government is both brief and abysmal. Are we headed down that dreary road again?

And let us be honest about something else: the corruption and self-oppression stretching back through all the shtetl centuries. A pity that story can never be told as it should. But we see those traditions alive today all around us.

And let us be honest about something else. Jewish history, for all its emphasis on communal survival, is also the story of the desire of Jews to get away from each other. Call it what you will – apostasy, social climbing, self-hatred, rigorist religious separatism, whatever. The fact remains. Jews just don’t like each other very much and at the moment, as they have in centuries past, millions are quietly, and sometimes not so quietly, punching out

So in one sense, the Israeli Culture War struggles now frothing at and below the surface, are nothing new. Neither are the tensions between Israel and Diaspora. But were these struggles to be placed within a somewhat different context, perhaps something of value might emerge.

I contend here that Israel’s Culture War might be reframed as the struggle of those who, whatever their other creeds and preferences, hold that Israel should – must – take its place as a 21st century nation:

Against the de facto alliance of those who believe that Israel can go on as it has, an arrogant, self-obsessed spoiled brat of a nation, in alliance with those who want the country to revert to “the people that dwells apart” modality, with or without overt dictatorship and/or dictatorial theocracy.

That, I suggest, should be the leitmotif. Entering the world, as Herzl envisioned, versus remaining, through voluntary choice or enforced isolation, once again, apart.

Entering it as one of the vital combatants in the struggle against the effects of climate change and the New Dark Age the Islamists would inflict upon this suffering planet, versus “To hell with the world” and perhaps, “My part of the boat ain’t sinkin'”

The final post in this series will get into what this might mean in political, economic and cultural terms. For now, let’s just conclude with a dictum from the great Zionist ideologue, Berl Katznelson:

Our rebellion must also be a rebellion against many rebellions that preceded it.

Good point.

About the Author
Philip Gold made Aliyah from USA in 2010 after several decades as a Beltway "public intellectual" of sorts.
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