Spoiler alert for Game of Thrones – and possible spoilers for the State of Israel ahead.
It recently dawned on me that the central story arc of the epic fantasy series Game of Thrones almost perfectly embodies certain trends currently occurring in Israel. Don’t believe me? Allow me to explain.
Let us begin with the people of the fictional Westeros. The people of Westeros are made up of numerous different clans and are steeped in a tradition dating back thousands of years. As Josh Hasten mentioned in his Times of Israel blog, the show’s oft-repeated mantra of “not today,” uttered by Arya Stark in a recent episode, is one of the roots of modern Zionism and a central pillar of Jewish philosophy. For the last eight seasons of Game of Thrones, Westerosians have faced the apocalyptic threat of the White Walkers, whose goal was to end the civilization of Westeros and turn the citizens into ice zombies. However, lo and behold, the battle against the White Walkers ended, and it turned out that the final villain of the show was not the army of the undead at all, but the Westerosians fellow countrymen. Ostensibly, the final battle for the Iron Throne will be fought between the citizens of Westeros themselves. In other words, it is their abhorrence for one another, which will serve as the final hurdle to be overcome.
In my humble opinion, this is emblematic, to an extent, of the current state of affairs in Israel.
Obviously, a civil war is not about to start in Israel anytime soon. However, Westeros and its citizens do share many similarities with Israeli society. For thousands of years, the Jews have faced existential threats no matter where they resided, including in the era of the ancient Jewish Kingdoms in their ancestral homeland. Jews in both Israel and in the Diaspora have faced the looming specter of antisemitism, which is taught to them in schools and taught to them by their parents at home. And for good reason, too. Antisemitism is on the rise worldwide, reaching its highest peak in decades, according to a report published yearly by Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry. Furthermore, antisemitism still manages to crawl its way onto mainstream media outlets, as was the case with the recent New York Times cartoon. Tragically, white supremacists continue to perpetrate vile shootings in synagogues around the US, claiming innocent lives. Even though many of these horrific crimes do not tangibly affect Israel, they still leave a profound impression on the Israeli consciousness, since one Jew’s pain is felt by Jews around the world. Likewise, the BDS movement continues to be pushed in full force on college campuses and by members of the far Left; the United Nations continues to employ a double-standard towards Israel; and of course, there are Islamic countries who still want to see the Jewish State wiped off the map.
Yet, these threats will not bring the annihilation of Israel, just as the White Walkers did not bring the destruction of Westeros. While the scourge of antisemitism is emboldened worldwide, the condemnation of it continues to grow stronger as well. True, the New York Times cartoon was awful. It was either a gross lapse in judgment, or a long-suspected antisemitic newspaper finally showing its true colors. Either way, what was truly moving was seeing the widespread criticism the paper faced as a result, by Jews and non-Jews alike.
Yes, the BDS movement is antisemitic. However, while the movement does strengthen the delegitimization of Israel, its effect on the Israeli economy is minimal at best. Muslim countries, for their part, are increasingly normalizing ties with Israel, and not just covertly. The United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain are realizing that Israel is here to stay, and it is more beneficial for them to engage with it than to shut it out. Even Saudi Arabia is widely believed to have clandestine diplomatic and security ties with Israel.
The point is, just like how the “Long Night” wasn’t the cataclysmic event the Westerosians thought it be, antisemitism, BDS, Muslim hatred of Israel, and white supremacy will not spell the end of the Jewish State. Without a doubt, these ideas are all evil, and each should be confronted consistently and vigorously. However, they are not the existential threat facing Israel. Rather, akin to how the final villain in Game of Thrones is not some ancient evil, but the Westerosians’ fellow countrymen, so too, the true danger for Israel lies in the widening schism between Israelis themselves.
The 2019 Israeli election was indicative of the sheer animosity Israelis feel towards each other. Israeli elections have always been characterized by mud slinging and dirty tricks, but even by Israeli standards, the 2019 election cycle was particularly ugly. It shows that even if Israel were to defeat the “delegitimizers” and antisemites who wish to see its downfall, it would still be a country in which the citizens no longer feel a kinship with one another. That is the true danger facing Israel. We should take note of the Westerosians, who took too long to realize their mistakes and remedy the problem before it is too late, lest we find ourselves in King’s Landing while it burns to the ground.
The writer is a student at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC), an intern at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and a former intern at the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations in New York.