“We are going into a civil war now.” “In just a few days, Israel may change from an embattled democracy into a de facto dictatorship.” “The Prime Minister of Israel is a danger to the security of the State of Israel.” These aren’t the words of ardent anti-Zionists. These are warnings from former prime ministers, Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak, and Yair Lapid, respectively, about the country they once proudly represented on the world stage.
For months we’ve been warned by virtually every corner of Israeli society – from former heads of state to respected military generals, labor leaders, tech titans, right-wingers with no axes to grind, etc. – that the greatest threat to the idea and existence of the Jewish state isn’t coming from the usual suspects. This time, the house is on fire and the arsonist is the homeowner.
Yet an alarming detachment existed – and still persists – between the deteriorating reality we’re witnessing and the fanciful, augmented reality too many of us in the United States have talked ourselves into believing.
That’s because too many of us – from legacy Jewish organizations to elected officials to Israel advocates – are still stuck in a state of denial that the Israel of legend no longer exists and the kid-glove paradigm of the 20th century still fits. We’ve chosen the path of least resistance, hoping that inconvenient truths and necessary confrontations can be avoided. The flaw of this better-angels-will-prevail theory is that we’ve been waiting, and waiting, and Bibi, by now, should’ve disabused us of the notion that that cavalry is coming. The passage of the Reasonableness Bill should erase any lingering doubts.
Our eyes and ears are not deceiving us. Israel is on the road to achieving something its Arab adversaries never could: its collapse. It’s being torn apart from within by a messianic minority behaving as if entitled by divine decree to the entire land, that there’s no such thing as having enough, the cost to Israeli lives a regrettable but necessary means, Palestinians be damned. A “full-blown government coup,” as Netanyahu’s former attorney general called it, to remove any checks on their biblical fantasies.
All of these divisions are facilitated by and exploited for the personal benefit of a corrupt prime minister whose driving force is to avoid prison, by any means necessary, at any cost, to the country he swore to protect.
But here in the States, we’ve been busy performing hagiography. Rather than face reality, we’ve been mired in this unhealthy enterprise to project and protect an unattainable image of Israeli exceptionalism, failing to consider that holding Israel to this impossible standard of perfection naturally sets it up for failure. We’re quicker to condemn condemnations than we are to consider whether the condemnation itself is merited and redounds to Israel’s benefit.
In fact, judging off the time, energy, and resources we’re expending, one would get the impression that the greatest threat to Israel’s existence isn’t the ultranationalism unraveling the country, but an anti-Zionist on campus, a largely toothless BDS movement, or a progressive on Twitter. That’s not to minimize the cancer of antisemitism, nor is it a suggestion that Palestinian terrorism and lack of leadership aren’t obstacles. But the time has come where the playbook of finger-pointing and willful ignorance is collapsing in the face of reality.
Burying our head in the sand has blinded us from seeing the signs in our own backyard. Take the apparent growing disconnect between younger American Jews and Israel. Hypotheses are proffered, many of which are patronizing – ranging from accusations of assimilation to a lack of proper Jewish education and upbringing. Hardly does one posit that the relationship is a two-way street, and that, for quite some time now, our counterpart hasn’t been holding up their end of the bargain to stabilize the relationship. That’s an understatement. Israel is actively sabotaging the relationship. The man tasked with strengthening ties between us effectively called a large number of us “enemies.”
These younger American Jews know firsthand that, for all the anxiety about acceptance in liberal spaces, the illiberal actions of the Israeli government and our relative collective silence – a de facto endorsement – makes it harder to break down those walls. These are the shared values we’re impressing upon others – because it’s happening in our name.
But as the dust of the Reasonableness Bill’s passage settles, we can’t, as this wasn’t a one-and-done. Being clear-eyed about this and the settlement squad’s intended conquest should render the “pro-Israel” paradigm of the 20th century dead. The “pro-Israel” solidarity of today necessitates actively lobbying against the same regime turning Israeli reservists into refuseniks. The foot soldiers of the pro-Israel community and its sweat equity must now carry a minimum set of expectations, namely, revitalizing Israeli democracy and ending the 56-year occupation, for they are inextricable.
No longer is it acceptable to make tone deaf remarks marveling at “Israeli democracy at work” when it’s been on life support and the government is actively trying to pull the plug. No longer is it enough to issue milquetoast statements lamenting the breakdown in faux judicial overhaul negotiations and the increasing divisiveness without proper attribution and calls for an outright cessation of such plans. And, no longer can we pay lip service to a two-state solution like automatons, yet remain radio silent when Israel regularly announces tranches of settlements designed to foreclose Palestinian statehood. We can’t even bring ourselves to utter the word “occupation” while some have graduated to the term “apartheid.”
Even if we’re not otherwise moved to renounce the unjust evictions, home demolitions, lack of a reliable water source, discriminatory denials of building permits, settlements, settler violence, or the other daily indignities Palestinians face – for their own sake – we should do so with the understanding that the far-reaching tentacles of occupation are rapidly eroding Israel’s moral fabric, perpetuating the cycle of violence, and deluding us into believing that it’s possible for the State of Israel to remain Jewish and democratic without the establishment of the State of Palestine.
We take for granted the miracle that is Israel – a refuge our ancestors, for millennia, longed and died for – and presume that its existence is God-given and everlasting. Like democracy, it too is not self-executing, and requires constant defense. Because, as the Jewish people know innately, the alternative portends worse. Better to withstand momentary discomfort than to live with the irreversible ramifications of a future we failed to proactively oppose.