Jonathan Muskat

Israel’s new coalition government: Shattering another post-modern ideological myth

Although far from certain, it seems that a coalition has been formed among a diverse group of Israeli political parties by a razor thin margin.    Many Israelis are excited and many Israelis are nervous.  Many Israelis want Prime Minister Netanyahu ousted and many Israelis are nervous about whether Israel can survive without him.  As many political analysts have pointed out, it seems very unlikely that there will be any significant change regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict due to the diverse composition of the coalition and the narrow margin by which it comprises the majority of the Knesset.  Additionally, for those who are upset that the right-wing parties in this coalition agreed to sit in a coalition with an Arab party, it should be noted that Prime Minister Netanyahu also tried to bring that Arab party into his coalition.  I do not live in Israel so I don’t have the same stake in this election as those who do live in Israel, so my opinion about this coalition should be appreciated with that proviso.   It remains to be seen whether this coalition can survive and function effectively.  If it is successful, then Israel can once again shatter yet another post-modern ideological myth.

The effectiveness of Israel has already shattered the post-modern ideological myth of universalism.  About nine years ago, Rabbi Daniel Gordis, senior vice president of the Shalem Center, wrote a book entitled, “The Promise of Israel,” and in this book he argues that what divides Israel and the international community is the idea of the ethnic nation-state, namely a country created around a shared cultural heritage.  Post-modern progressives don’t like nationalism.  They believe that the nation-state is a 19th century paradigm that should be forgotten.  After all, nationalism led to the tyrannical Soviet Union, the apartheid state of South Africa and, worst of all, Nazi Germany.  This philosophy asserts that that universalism trumps particularism and when we assert our differences, that’s when the fighting begins.  This is why many progressives single out criticism of Israel because its very existence goes against their core beliefs.

Rabbi Gordis argues that after the Holocaust, it would have made sense that the Jews would have embraced the vision of universalism since it was their differences that condemned them to death, but we disagreed.  Our mission is not merely survival, but our mission is to celebrate our differences.  The Jewish state of Israel is proving all the universalists wrong, that we can assert our differences, that we can be a nation-state, and that we can thrive and be light unto the nations.

And now Israel will attempt to shatter the post-modern ideological myth of cancel culture for political affiliation.  Cancel culture is a modern form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles.  Sometimes, it may be justified to “cancel” someone who exhibits certain objectionable or offensive behavior; however, one of the hallmarks of a thriving, liberal democracy is the freedom to express diverse political opinions and to allow for vigorous political debate.  In fact, Rav Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin explains that the reason why God scattered the people who built the tower of Bavel in Parshat Noach is that the people wanted to build a watchtower to spy on people who might express different opinions.  The leaders of Bavel wanted to ensure uniformity of thought and did not tolerate diversity.  God scattered them to demonstrate that this type of society is not desirable.

In theory, many of us would like to see a group of people with diverse political views work together to unite and focus more on what they agree than on what they disagree, but unfortunately, we live in a culture that doesn’t seem to allow for this.  That is why in America, very often, democratic members of Congress vote together and republican members of Congress vote together even on issues that may not directly relate to each party’s ideology because to compromise means that the other side won. The current political climate tells us that we must not merely disagree but we must cancel the other political view.

Israel now has the ability to shatter that myth and prove that the left, the center and the right and even the Arabs can sit together in a government and not cancel each other.  Israel now has the ability to prove that a coalition of diverse parties can find a way to run an effective government on those matters upon which they agree and not get bogged down on that which they disagree.

I think that there is a high likelihood that at some point in the near future, supporters of Prime Minister Netanyahu will say, “I told you so,” because the degree of constant compromise necessary to keep this coalition intact probably will be nothing short of a modern-day miracle.  But we have witnessed miracles previously in this country.  I hope and pray for stability in Israeli politics and not another election in such a short period of time.  But I hope for more.  I hope that just as the existence of Israel has shown the world that nationalism is alive and well, I hope that the Israeli political system can now show the world that cancel culture need not exist when people have a significantly different political view.  We live in a world where, for the most part, we don’t view our political leaders as role models; rather, we view them as power-hungry individuals who will use unscrupulous methods to undercut their opponents to achieve their goals.  Imagine if Israeli political leaders actually can become role models for Israeli society and for political leaders across the world.  Now that would be a modern-day miracle!

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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