For his own reasons, Netanyahu has brought the Israeli public to a historic crossroads. He has opened Pandora’s box and brought to the fore all the simmering conflicts, simultaneously bringing them to the point where they can no longer be hidden with palliative compromises. As a result, we find ourselves at a very dangerous crossroads, possibly even facing existential threats. But within the crisis itself we can identify a unique opportunity to pave a new path that can bring us to a new and stable social contract rather than another spurious compromise.
No one knows how exactly the ongoing crisis in Israel will play out, but we can identify the basic processes that have brought us here. In them, we can identify the alternative scenarios facing us.
Social systems seek structural balance. When the balance is disturbed, new solutions which produce new internal balance are induced. For the most part the solutions are not perfect and thus they create the conditions that lead to future imbalance. Research shows that in recurrent conflicts, crisis resolution often sows the seeds of future conflict and crises.
For us, the War of Independence demanded unity and the mobilization of all sectors. To this end, an understanding was reached with the then small Haredi community, which granted them cultural autonomy with their own education system and selective exemptions from military service. This arrangement worked for several decades, with most Haredi men working and many even serving in the IDF.
However, over the years, large parts of the ultra-Orthodox population grew up in intellectual ghettos. They were taught that they were special and that they are entitled to disproportionate benefits and a blanket exemption from military service. As the community grew exponentially, the burden on the rest of the public has reached dimensions that are neither socially nor economically sustainable. And as they spread out geographically friction with the general public increased significantly.
The establishment of the State of Israel led to the emigration of entire Jewish communities from the Arab world on a scale that overwhelmed the nascent state. The absorption process was not optimal, and feelings of deprivation remain among some sectors, the so-called “Second Israel”.
The victory in the Six-Day War instilled in Israeli society (and world Jewry) the arrogance of invincibility and illusions of unrestricted power. The Yom Kippur War dissuaded most of these illusions. However, for many, especially in the Religious Zionist and traditional communities (and Evangelist Christians), the military victory served as proof that we are living in Messianic times. Most related to this as an abstract concept expressed in patriotic pride and commitment to the development of the country. But for some, their messianic aspirations are concrete goals accompanied by illusions of spiritual and even racial superiority (intersecting with the ultra-Orthodox illusions of superiority).
Over the years, the messianic wing has become dominant in the Religious Zionist community and in their narrative. It has created an extremist settler movement with a militia challenging the IDF and security services, leaving the remnants of the moderate religious Zionist public stunned, helpless and largely voiceless.
These processes have steadily eroded Israeli society and state institutions, and over the years these conflicts have been stoked by cynical politicians and capped with stop gap solutions. This time, however, Netanyahu, for his own interests, has opened Pandora’s box, negated the historic social contract sending Israeli society and the economy into a tailspin, undermining our solidary and very security. In so doing he has forced us all to deal with the three conflicts simultaneously.
So where do we go from here?
The first scenario assumes that Netanyahu miscalculates (lately he has been doing so quite frequently) and will drag us into conflict to “unite” the people and consolidate his rule. In this case, according to many estimates, we will face the greatest threat to the state since the War of Independence and the greatest threat to the Jewish people since the Holocaust. This is our worst nightmare. Even if we win, the price will be terrible.
The second scenario assumes that Netanyahu will continue the legal coup without dragging us into a frontal war, at least in the short term. His extremist partners will actively promote their own agendas, including suppressing dissenters and discriminating against women, the LGBT community, Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. The seeds of totalitarian rule and apartheid have already germinated, they will spread and grow faster than most fear.
As a result, the economy will deteriorate at an accelerated rate. The ongoing eating frenzy of the ultra-Orthodox and Messianic extremists out of the public purse will not be stopped, and services to the wider community will be repeatedly cut. The destruction resulting from the pyrrhic victory of the extremists will eventually erode military deterrence, and we will plunge into the first scenario from an even weaker position.
The third scenario is one that many well intentioned people pray for, despite all the evidence, a magic wand that brings “compromise.” As attractive as compromise always is, it is now both unrealistic and undesirable.
Netanyahu will not compromise (he will talk about it a lot) until he manages to stop his trial and ensure the continuation of his long-term rule. In this case, we will be under authoritarian rule and there will be little left to compromise on. If for some reason a “compromise” is reached, we can be sure that Netanyahu will violate it and the structural disintegration of Israeli society will continue apace.
The fourth scenario assumes that there is no solution in sight, the inherent instability in society erupts and extends. And therein lies the hope. The economic and social instability and security uncertainty, along with the aggressive and vulgar behaviour of the regime, are leading growing segments of the right-wing, including the moderate national-religious, to recognize the risk facing the people, the state and their own well-being.
These constituencies continue to pray for the miracle of unity and compromise. However, as they recognize the fracture, they are forced to come out openly to support democracy and force a few Knesset members to “come out of the closet”, topple this government and enable the formulation of a new social contract, completely different from the one that brought us here.
Since the cracks failed to let the light in, we have reached the point where the fractures have made the conflicts and their implications clearly visible. We must ensure that the breaking point is now, in the current crisis before we descend into the very worst scenarios. Our very survival depends on it.