Sam Lehman-Wilzig
Prof. Sam: Academic Pundit
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Israel, split and united

Hamas and Hezbollah get it completely wrong when they take disunion for 'the beginning of the end of the Zionist entity'
The damage caused at the scene where a missile fired from Lebanon hit the northern Israeli town of Shlomi, April 6, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)
The damage caused at the scene where a missile fired from Lebanon hit the northern Israeli town of Shlomi, April 6, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

It’s now “official”: Israelis will find an overall compromise to resolve their Judicial Reform brouhaha. Thanks to whom? Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran. And this story is as old as Zionism itself.

Most people have forgotten – or never knew – that the Zionist project was beset by serious internal strife from the very start. Uganda vs. Palestine; Socialists vs. Revisionists vs. Agudat Yisrael; Ben-Gurion vs. Jabotinsky; the newly formed IDF attacking the Irgun’s Altalena armaments ship); the German reparations riots (Herut supporters mobbing the Knesset); Mapai vs. Mapam; First Israel (Western Ashkenazi elites) vs. Second Israel (Eastern/North African Mizrahi immigrants); Maccabi vs. Hapoel (sports clubs); and on and on (not to mention Jews vs. Israeli Arabs).

The historical – and contemporary question – isn’t why Israel has had so much domestic discord, but rather how the country and society have managed to stay together with more than just a semblance of unity. The answer: external enemies. There is nothing as useful to putting out flames in the kitchen than a forest fire outside threatening to engulf your entire home.

This too has been going on for over a hundred years: 1921 and 1929 Arab pogrom attacks against Jewish settlements, 1936-39 (the Great Arab Revolt in Palestine), 1948 War of Independence, 1967 (Six Day War), 1973 (Yom Kippur War), 1982 (1st Lebanon War), 1987 (1st Intifada), 2000 (2nd Intifada), and over the past two decades numerous “campaigns” against Hamas’ attacks from Gaza, as well as other “neighborly” threats.

In the present case, there’s an added dimension. During the Judicial Reform protest campaign these past months, PM Netanyahu didn’t call a meeting of the Security Cabinet (despite what the law mandates), leading to Defense Minister Gallant’s “gevalt” speech a couple of weeks ago about the growing threats from Israel’s enemies. Yesterday’s multi-pronged attack against Northern and (a bit earlier) Southern Israel, showed the country’s Right, Center and Left just how correct was Gallant, and how remiss was Netanyahu’s government in focusing on its “reform” program when the real threat was developing elsewhere.

Even before the latest attacks, all polls clearly indicated that the majority of Israelis wanted the whole reform issue to be put to bed with some reasonable compromise. Paradoxically, these missile attacks provide Netanyahu with political cover to do just that.

It should be noted that this general phenomenon – circle the wagons when under attack, at least temporarily negating internal discord – is not something unique to Israel. Indeed, the major news this past week from Europe is as good an example as one could imagine: Finland joined NATO. This was close to unthinkable two years ago: the Finns were very wary of such a move, and most NATO countries were also careful not to poke Finland in the eyes of the Russians. The latter’s invasion of Ukraine changed all that. From a loose conglomeration of countries not all on the same NATO page, that palpable, external threat once again unified NATO’s nations like it hasn’t been since the Cold War.

This is the blind spot of most autocracies like Russia – and Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran. When they see disunion in their enemy, they take it for “the beginning of the end of the Zionist entity,” not realizing that disunion does not entail civil war or domestic military dysfunction. In fact, their attack on “the enemy” merely leads to greater domestic unity, despite real, significant differences of opinion among the citizenry.

One can even surmise (albeit not everyone will agree) that a major factor in the Jewish People’s survival through two millennia of Diaspora was (and continues to be) anti-Semitism. Indeed, from a completely perverted standpoint this was precisely Hitler’s “insight”: merely persecuting the Jews wasn’t “working” – they had to be massacred. The paradox there, as we all know and appreciate, is that from those ashes the State of Israel came into being (without taking anything away from heroic Zionist efforts before and after the Holocaust). That’s why Israel commemorates Yom Ha’shoah a mere week before Yom Ha’atzmaut. That’s not only a reminder of its historical past but especially a prompt to its own citizens – and its enemies – that attacks from the outside, despite strife from within, ultimately achieve the opposite of what they seem to be doing at first: strengthening Israel’s will to survive and flourish.

About the Author
Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig (PhD in Government, 1976; Harvard U) presently serves as Academic Head of the Communications Department at the Peres Academic Center (Rehovot). Previously, he taught at Bar-Ilan University (1977-2017), serving as: Head of the Journalism Division (1991-1996); Political Studies Department Chairman (2004-2007); and School of Communication Chairman (2014-2016). He was also Chair of the Israel Political Science Association (1997-1999). He has published five books and 69 scholarly articles on Israeli Politics; New Media & Journalism; Political Communication; the Jewish Political Tradition; the Information Society. His new book (in Hebrew, with Tali Friedman): RELIGIOUS ZIONISTS RABBIS' FREEDOM OF SPEECH: Between Halakha, Israeli Law, and Communications in Israel's Democracy (Niv Publishing, 2024). For more information about Prof. Lehman-Wilzig's publications (academic and popular), see:
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