Dmitri Shufutinsky

Israel Must Not Become 1930s Spain

The author shortly after making Aliyah

How is it that a country, one of the most technologically-advanced on Earth, can lack a national vision of governance?

How is it that millions of voters blindly adopt dogma without nuance?

How is it that hundreds of political leaders are unwilling to take responsibility for the current impasse?

The Jewish State is barreling on a path experienced on the other side of the Mediterranean, nearly 9 decades ago. A progressive government intent on protecting democracy allowed itself to be infiltrated by extremists and dangerously naive leaders (who only played into the hand of the opposition), to the extent that raping nuns and burning down churches became known as a “fight for liberation”. A traditional and religious reactionary group of patriotic war heroes allowed themselves to become capable of bombing out entire cities full of civilians and strafing lines of refugees, in the name of fighting “leftist Freemasonry” or “Judeo-Bolsheviks.”

The Spain that survived its Civil War did so just barely–left to the mercy of Fascist Powers or the Western democracies. Its economy slowly recovered decades later, but at the cost of half a million lives, brain drain, and the loss of human freedoms. Spain’s terrorized population did not speak of the atrocities for generations to come. In fact, that country is still unraveling its past and reckoning with this terrible, if largely forgotten, episode in a once-glorious imperial history. Now we face the question: do we want to replicate this scenario on the eastern side of the Mediterranean Basin? What would Israel be post-Civil War? Would there be a Start-Up Nation left? Would there be any Jews here? How would diaspora communities be able to fight against antisemitism or remain rooted to their heritage?

The Zionist story is the most remarkable of all–the world’s most successful aboriginal liberation movement. The story of a persecuted, dispersed people coming back to its homeland after millennia of dispersion and genocide. Israel is the story of Holocaust survivors taking up guns to defend newborn Jewish villages. It is the story of an impoverished Iraqi rabbi becoming among the country’s most esteemed religious leaders–one that help facilitate the entry of Ethiopian Jews to the country during a famine and civil war. It is the story of left-wing governments restoring our ancient patrimony in Judea & Samaria. It is the story of right-wing governments making peace with our fiercest Arab foes. We should not be labeling “leftists” as automatic traitors, nor automatically labeling right-wingers as “anti-democratic.”

We all have to look inward, examine the nuances in our history, and discuss them honestly with each other when we come to a compromise on these judicial reforms. The left-wing certainly has the right to air its concerns with these reforms–so do right-wingers protesting them on the streets or in settlements like Efrat.

The right-wing has emboldened extremists that compare the LGBT community (of which I’m a part) to animals and criminals. Some such politicians have demonized IDF veterans and soldiers while refusing to serve themselves. Others defame people for not being Jewish–or even accuse non-observant and Russian-speaking Jews of being goyim. Is this the unity that Menachem Begin–our country’s finest prime minister so far, in my humble opinion–spoke about when mocking the Labor Party’s prejudice against Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews? Is this really all that the right-wing in Israel has to offer us? Mediocre leadership? Bigots and hypocrites? Selfish sycophants fearful of losing their jobs?

The right-wing has reason to desire judicial reforms. For far too long, the country has been held hostage by an activist High Court. It is a court that lacks diversity–it is almost always universally Ashkenazi or Arab, and certainly leans politically to the left. It no longer reflects what Israeli society consists of and looks like. There is a reason for that–the left-wing has refused to acknowledge its sins of discrimination, which persist to this day. While the left-wing is happy to uphold coexistence with Palestinians–often through virtue-signaling and disingenuous ways–it fails to recognize and apologize for its horrible history of prejudice against Ethiopian, Mizrahi, and Sephardic Jewry. It treats with disdain nearly universally anyone who lives in the “periphery” or is religiously-observant. This is not consistent with progressive values. It certainly isn’t consistent with the vision of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who stated that Israel is a country built on people more than territory. “The Jews will come from everywhere: from France and Russia, from America and Yemen.”

Israel cannot afford to be mired in this constant war of words, without nuance or taking responsibility. Slandering conservatives like Liberman and Sa’ar as “leftist” or calling Karhi and Edelstein “fascists” is as absurd as it is unhelpful. Zionism cannot remain a project where the national vision is reduced only to “Only Bibi” and “Never Bibi.” The country, Judaism, and Zionism are much more than just one man. Israel has too many challenges to face–Iran, the Palestinians, terror organizations, rising antisemitism, the Abraham Accords, an exorbitant cost of living, and the fiscally-irresponsible exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox community. The left-wing has chosen to bury its head in the sand, pretending that the Oslo Accords and Gaza Disengagement brought a true peace partner to Israel and defeated BDS. The right-wing has pointed out (through electoral victories and political statements) that this wasn’t true, yet has failed to do anything other than kick the can down the road for future generations to deal with. This is what happens when all one engages in is cheap talk during political campaigns, and lacks a national vision besides remaining in office for more years to come.

Israel and its population deserve better. We deserve true, visionary leadership who will do what they were elected to: make the country safe, one way or another, for our descendants–not ensuring that they will keep fighting our wars. We deserve left-wing and right-wing leaders who own up to their mistakes and seek to make amends for the sake of world Jewry and Israeli society. We deserve to let go of bitterness and embrace our commonality. We deserve a national vision where Jews stop seeing the other side as the enemy, and start cooperating on issues that affect everyone. The childish figures in the government (and yes, I know there are exceptions) should either rethink their current strategy or resign from politics altogether. Ego is the downfall of greatness, and I cannot imagine that the average Israeli will allow the two thousand year old dream to go the way of España Franquista.

About the Author
Dmitri Shufutinsky is a freelance reporter with the Jewish News Syndicate, and a Junior Research Fellow with ISGAP. He made aliyah to Kibbutz Erez through Garin Tzabar in 2019, and served as a Lone Soldier in the IDF. Dmitri is an ardent Zionist and a supporter of indigenous rights, autonomy, solidarity, and sovereignty. He currently lives in Hadera, and a graduate of Arcadia University's Masters program in International Peace & Conflict Resolution.
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