Yonathan Bar-On

The New Normal

I’m not sure whether I am one of the two grumpy Muppets, Statler and Waldorf, or maybe the child from The Emperor’s New Clothes. Ever since Trump and Netanyahu announced their ‘deal of the century’, virtually all media have praised that snake oil of a deal and its well-synchronised salesmen. Some journalists – and not necessarily Bibi’s usual sycophants – even spoke about a new golden age for Israel and compared Netanyahu to Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin. Seriously? As if Bibi has ever taken responsibility for any mistake or made peace with an enemy that we actually fought wars against, or as if Rabin and Begin were ever indicted not once but three times. May their memory be blessed, not abused. Excuse me if I am not jumping for joy because two of the more controversial leaders of any democracy today – who in my humble opinion have considerably damaged their countries in many ways – managed to cut some kind of peace deal with a country that is not really our enemy anyway, and which has been a cooperative partner – secretly and in the open – for many years already.

A word that we hear over and over again is normalization. As if this deal somehow turns the crazy reality here into normal. How can that be? Doesn’t normalization mean ‘to bring or restore to a normal condition’? What is normal about what is going on in this country these days? Since when have corruption, occupation, a Prime Minister with three indictments plus 40 Ministers and Deputy Ministers become even remotely normal? I’ll tell you what would and should be normal, more or less in random order:

A country that has well-defined borders, does not control and impede the lives of another people, and seeks peace with its next-door neighbors rather than with non-enemies far away. Judges and prosecutors who can do their jobs without needing protection 24/7. A lower and middle class that can make a decent and honest living and do not feel abandoned in times of need. Young people who can afford to buy a house without their parents’ help. Health workers, teachers and other vital professionals not being underpaid and overworked. A health system that has no problem dealing with a pandemic. A government that serves the people, rather than the people serving a government that serves the interests of only one man. A country without the threat of new elections coming up every other month because of those same interests. A media landscape that does not include a free newspaper established with foreign money only to hail the Caesar and hurt his ‘enemy’, the free press. A Prime Minister who does not undermine the judiciary or demand tax benefits in the middle of an economic crisis, who takes responsibility for his actions and does not excel mainly in fearmongering and blaming others. Making domestic tourism more affordable, rather than selling a peace deal by pointing at the low prices for accommodation ‘over there’. Not accepting a situation in which citizens near a border risk being fired at almost daily. Cherishing and promoting rather than neglecting our arts, culture and language, and doing the same with the mother tongue of 20% of our citizens (and not studying that language primarily to get a good job in the army). Accepting and even welcoming honest, concerned criticism from our own citizens and from our friends abroad, and not labeling every such critic as an anti-Semite or a self-hating Jew. A peace deal that would allow us to enjoy the beauty and hospitality of Nablus and Ramallah rather than those of faraway Dubai or Abu Dhabi (this would be better for the environment too). A peace agreement that is not based on $3,000,000,000 worth of weapon deals which endanger the IDF’s strategic advantage. Handicapped people not having to humiliate themselves in order to be able to live in dignity. A country without a poverty line. A country where Judaism and being Jewish are first and foremost about values, and not mainly about blood and soil. A country where I don’t have to worry about being called a traitor for writing this, and for caring about its soul. A country where people refuse to silently live with the total opposite of what I mentioned in this paragraph (and I could add much, much more).

Our rulers would not know what normal or normalization is if it were standing right in front of them and hit them in the face. They have turned what not so long ago used to be wrong, unjust and abnormal into the new accepted norms of behavior. When good, decent, fair, reasonable, and just have become respected and normal again in this country, I will be happy to hang out the UAE flag and hop on a plane to Dubai. Until then I stay at home, dreaming, thinking of the words of Yitzhak Ben Zvi: “Peace, like justice, begins at home.”  I would say the same about normalization.

About the Author
Yonathan Bar-On (Bert de Bruin) is a historian and an EAL teacher. He teaches English at the Leo Baeck Education Center in Haifa, and has written extensively for Dutch newspapers, and occasionally for American and Israeli newspapers and online media. Yonathan writes a weekly column for the Dutch daily Friesch Dagblad. In 1995 he immigrated to Israel from the Netherlands.
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