Last week’s elections struck a nerve. I’m not one of those apologetic leftists who call out the Far-Right for racist rhetoric and unruly behavior. I don’t fear that Ben Gvir’s presence in the Israeli government will change the internal structure of Israeli society, nor do I believe that Netanyahu’s right-wing government will exacerbate the situation in any significant manner. I find it a bit amusing how all the leftist pundits, fearing for their pampered Western lifestyle, have decided that Ben Gvir and his voter base parallel the dangerous events that preceded the Holocaust. It’s not that I support Ben Gvir, I believe him to be a sleazy, opportunistic populist who demonizes Arabs, including Israeli Arab citizens, for his own, egoistic ends. I also find his theocratic running-mates from “Noam”, with their vehemently homophobic rhetoric and religious blend of totalitarian corruption, particularly disagreeable to my modern sensibilities. However, I’m not significantly worried about them coming to power, and I’m not running to raise any alarms. I choose instead to ignore the revolting qualities that such politicians represent and to focus on the brighter sides of Israeli society, and the general corruption that pervades our entire political structure.
Some may rush to judge my inaction as gross indifference and a personal escape from addressing Israeli society’s problems head on. I propose that even if I may prefer to avoid direct conflict with some of the fascistic elements of Israeli society for personal reasons, Israel’s inherent complexities require from us a more nuanced and holistic approach that sheds light on the deeper, systemic issues present in society. Israel’s political situation today cannot be compared to the past century’s totalitarian regimes. We are not on the precipice of true political fascism, nor are we on the road to a brutal genocide. However, Israel’s systemic racism does pose for many an enlightened critic an inherently problematic structure that threatens regional interests. Israeli democracy will continue to function even as it appears to polarize, but the Israeli state, along with its many bureaucracies, military and professional offices, finds itself in a particularly uncomfortable position, serving dually as a defense against true fascism, and as the basis upon which such latent racist elements fester.
Israel’s founding ethos was thoroughly undemocratic. Her founding document, the Israeli Declaration of Independence, payed lip-service to minority rights, but as we all know, Israel continues to define itself as a Jewish State, indifferent to the collective, national rights of its Arab citizens and subjects. The inherent contradiction between Judaism, as defined by ethno-racial criteria, and the imported ideal of Western Democracy, averse to such superficial classifications, creates a tension that permeates the Israeli political system and society itself. On the one hand, Israelis feel continually threatened by Palestinian terror and global Anti-Semitism, on the other hand, Israel’s unrelenting dependence on Western colonial interests and their racial construct of ethnic-Jewish nationalism (rather than a traditional, religious cultural identity) prevent any true rapprochement between Israel and her potential allies, both domestically and on a global scale. Thus, Israel acts in ways that can be categorized as undemocratic, especially regarding its policies in the West Bank (it doesn’t matter if they’re justified or not), but, in order to maintain its relations with the West, it continues to market itself as a true Western Democracy. Such hypocrisy isolates Israel from the rest of the world and artificially maintains a corrupt shatnez of vying ideologies that begets societal confusion and racist idealism.
To deal with the pernicious problem of Israeli racism, we must first address the underlying social causes and political infrastructure that have allowed for such evil to develop and grow. Internally, our democratic ethos not only limits the government’s ability to monitor and deal with extremist elements of the civilian population, it also helps to form the racist rhetoric itself. For example, I could not run for public office in Israel since I believe that Judaism is not only an ethnicity but also a traditional religious identity incompatible with democratic political structures. The Election Committee, supported by the Supreme Court, would not find it hard to prove that I don’t believe in a ‘Jewish and Democratic’ state in order to disqualify me. But, as long as one doesn’t support actual physical violence, the political system turns a blind eye to the racist rhetoric directed at ‘Israel’s enemies’, including those who question Israel’s blind fixation with a superficial ethno-racial definition for Jewish identity. Ironically, the implementation of Israeli Democracy forces many Jews, especially those who identify with traditional religious values, to adopt increasingly isolationist and racist attitudes, undemocratic in nature, just in order to take part in the system. Our continued accedence to such manufactured ideals, and our adoption of these specious modifications as authentic democracy, harms our national psyche and directly feeds the corruption that slowly devours our society’s institutions.
Our over-dependence on the Western establishment for diplomatic protection and economic stability forces us to adopt many Western concepts of governance and social structure, however, our unique location in the Middle East generates many obstacles in the path of our attempts to implement them in ways that avoid harming our non-Western neighbors. If we truly want to resolve our conflict with the Arabs and advance normal coexistence with our neighbors, we must be willing to forego parts of the Western Democratic ethos that prevent us from collaborating with potential allies in pursuit of our common regional and global interests. The solution to our conflict won’t come from unrealistic, idealistic reverie, but through concerted efforts to ascertain the true human conditions that create and prolong the suffering of both sides, and from the willingness of our Western allies to relent on their democratic fundamentalism. As a descendant of European refugees, I believe in the benefits of Western Democracy, but, as an Israeli citizen and religious Jew, I feel that this part of the world may not be ready for true democracy, and that enforcing upon us such a mentality may eventually lead us down the path of extreme fascism.