The Culture War

The atmosphere on the street is tense.

June 25, 2015 21:59
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday. (photo credit: AMIT SHABAY/POOL)

Wild animals. Uneducated.

These are just a couple of the terms that have been used over the past few weeks by people who’ve taken sides in the Culture War that is being waged now in Israel. The Knesset sounds like a market square in a thirdworld country.

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Everyone’s been blaming one another, trying to yell the loudest. Each side is entrenched in its political stance and arguing about things that have nothing to do with the actual subject at hand.

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There have been a number of other protests recently in Israel, such as Ethiopian Israelis protesting against racism, citizens living in the periphery protesting against neglect and the latest “Sardine Protest” against overcrowded classrooms. But when you’re in the market square, whoever yells loudest is the one who gets heard, and if you spice up your language with juicy curse words you attract even more attention.

Each person stands in his food stall, hawking his product at the top of his lungs, trying to convince the public why his produce is better than the competition’s.

But the sad thing is that neither party actually has anything to sell.

There’s no content, no substance. Only words. They scream and curse and blame one another. These two “elite” groups are trying to take over the public discourse.

On one side sit the government ministers who lack vision and are setting a poor example for their constituency, and on the other side sit the cultural elitists who represent a small handful of uninspiring artists who are detached from reality.

But this debate is not an isolated event, did not begin recently and is not limited to art and theater. We argue with each other because that is our nature. We can’t help ourselves. If we weren’t arguing about cultural activities, we would have been fighting over whether there should be public transportation on Shabbat.

And as soon as the current topic of debate gets tiring, we’ll probably switch to fighting corruption in the banking system and rooting out tycoons. And if by chance a few quiet days go by without any excitement, someone will bring up an old subject we can hash out again.

And while the locals shout obscenities across the market square, the country’s leadership stands by and fans the flames, thirsty for the fight. And while all this is happening, no one notices that just outside the city walls, murderous barbarians are lurking, enjoying the show. They can’t believe what good luck they’ve been having, watching the Israelis hack at one another, keeping ourselves busy.

These bearded extremists are surrounding us from all sides, and yet we remain quiet.

On our southern border, Hamas is rebuilding its network of tunnels that lead right up to Israeli communities. In the north, Hezbollah continues to train reinforcements as it aims rockets at population centers all over Israel and Islamic State is getting closer to us every day as it captures additional Syrian territory with no resistance.

The soldiers stationed in their camouflaged lookouts report to their commanders that the enemy is on the move, but the government doesn’t want to hear about it. It’s busy dealing with its own internal Culture War, where people on the Right scream, “Traitors!” and people on the Left yell back, “Animals!.”

The rightists claim that the leftists are “breaking the silence” and forming a fifth column that is helping our enemies on the other side of the wall, and the leftists claim that the rightists are trying to silence anyone who attempts to let the minority voice be heard.

But the thing is – it’s not only the barbarians on the outside of the wall who are trying to destroy us. The unorganized, lone wolf attacks are on the rise here within the walls. Shootings, stabbings and car-rammings in Judea, Samaria and also in Jerusalem are becoming more commonplace. These are all the characteristics of another intifada.

And each time there is an attack, other would-be terrorists grow bolder and more confident that they, too, can carry out a successful attack. There’s no longer a need for an organization or leader to guide the terrorist’s hand.

The atmosphere on the street is tense; Arabs are frustrated with the lack of progress in diplomatic talks and with the dour economic situation.

These are the typical ingredients necessary for people to begin acting out in desperation, especially individuals who don’t plan ahead, but just go out into the street so they can vent their frustration on the first Jew they see. If the government doesn’t do something soon to improve the situation, things could spiral out of control.

But the fact that there are hordes of people who surround us whose entire goal in life is the destruction of the Zionist enterprise is not new. Nor is the Palestinians’ and Israeli Arabs’ frustration with their own impotent leadership and their feeling of helplessness under the alleged occupation. And the current Culture War is also nothing new; it is merely a continuation of the age-old struggle between the Left and Right. Just a more extreme version.

What can be done? The government must display leadership, determination and courage. It must take steps on both domestic and international levels instead of letting itself be dragged hither and yon.

Although the Palestinian leadership lacks the courage to enter into serious negotiations with Israel, we cannot let that prevent the Israeli government from initiating steps to promote dialogue and steps that could lead to an agreement with the Palestinian Authority.

Achieving peace under the current circumstances might be a stretch, but reaching an agreement is certainly an attainable goal.

The government needs to be proactive and create outreach programs for Arab towns, and members of the Arab community should be encouraged to participate in civic institutions, take leadership roles in education and work to help their local economies grow and flourish.

Most of these towns have been neglected for years and the residents feel like the government doesn’t care about them.

But instead of empowering local leaders who could help Arab towns get back on their feet, the government is busy self-destructing.

The road to success is full of difficult obstacles, but it’s not completely blocked.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not in the strongest position due to the narrow nature of his government, but he is our leader and he needs to muster the courage and take the necessary steps to get our country back on track.

The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency)

Translated by Hannah Hochner.

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