A people can be united in grief and mourning. Our people is united in ensuring there shall never be another Holocaust. While this obviously means retaining our military edge, there is no unity on the issue of a political/diplomatic approach to our external problems.
As this is written, Holocaust Remembrance Day casts its dreadful shadow across the land.
With the exception of many – perhaps most – Arab citizens, and ultra-Orthodox Jews, the bitter memories pull us together. Inevitably, there will be calls for unity. In my six decades plus of observing our pubic life, it has become clear to me that “unity” always means “unity on my terms.”
Thus the much-denied, much-touted negotiations for the Zionist Union to join the governing coalition will be raised again.
If the reports are correct, one assumes that Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is trying to get the Labor Party-based Zionist Union into the coalition for many reasons.
First to get rid of Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who has been snapping at his heels on a weekly basis. The PM supposedly would offer Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog the Foreign Ministry and negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, and – wickedly – open the Justice Ministry to the quite leftist Shelly Yacimovich. The idea of removing Bayit Yehudi’s Ayelet Shaked from that ministry has already prompted Bennett to say he would pull Bayit Yehudi out of the coalition if it happened. The PM would thus rid himself of a disloyal cabinet minister (Bennett) and an overly shrill right-winger like Shaked.
Her efforts to promulgate Israeli law in the territories are both an international incendiary bomb and an internal threat outflanking the PM – who will need to veto the initiative – by rousing the settler population against the Likud.
More important, making Herzog the messenger to the Palestinian Authority, as well as foreign minister, would provide the PM with some cover from Western criticism of his government’s policies. Apparently, the Zionist Union recalls that Netanyahu has done this before, using minister Tzipi Livni and then-president Shimon Peres as his negotiators.
Once the negotiations with the PA were close to fruition, he pulled the rug from under their feet. Tempted as Herzog must be by this offer, he – or at least his party – has no desire to be the proverbial fig leaf.
Rightly so. A nation is best when there is an opposition. The late Menachem Begin was an outstanding example of this important role in a true democracy.
Even in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943, in the very crucible of fire, there were two organizations of Jewish fighters, one led by the pioneering movements on the Left, and one led by Revisionists on the Right.
Jewish unity is a chimera, a mirage. From the first written tales of our people, there was a revolt against Moshe the leader of the Exodus.
In a way much of the Bible can be read as a record of struggles among the tribes of Israel, or prophetic condemnation of the powers of the time: royalty and the priesthood.
Let us stop prattling about unity. Differences of opinion are normal, they provide health to a democracy and in our situation are natural.
It would do no harm though if the Right and Left would stop using inflammatory language against each other, especially since the normative Left and Right are united in denouncing the ugly face of Jewish terrorism.
The question, on a worldwide basis, is whether there can be a political dialogue based on mutual respect, or whether political discourse is forever changed. The language of the presumptive US Republican candidate, Donald Trump, is coarse and populist. There are two major reasons for this phenomenon and its phenomenal success.
The vile language and violence of most popular television programs has reached unnatural proportions. One can hardly hear a sentence without words that, as children, we might sometimes daringly whisper. Each program must be more violent than the next if it is to succeed in ratings. (Ratings is the Golden Calf worshiped in a world where Oscar is also an idol.) The cultural level of the viewers has been set lower and lower, the language rougher and rougher. Mr. Trump understands this.
He also understands that in the US there is a major breach of faith and trust in government.
The public does not trust the political class. By using the language of the “people” and playing on the alienation of the classes which have been left behind in the race to be rich, he has caught the tide of anger and vulgarity.
I suggest the reader now apply this crisis of faith in governance to Israel, and see where and by whom the vulgar mode is in use to gain party favor and national prominence.
To any reasonable observer, there is a growing distance between citizens and the political class right across the democratic world. In the early days of The Jerusalem Report, some 25 years ago, I wrote about “The Crisis in Governance,” showing that the diminishing turnout of voters in national elections in many Western countries was one of the signs of the growing lack of faith in government.
No amount of blustering statements by the PM can combat the loss of faith in his leadership within his own party, his coalition and – as polls show – large percentages of those polled.
Thus we come into what is right now a closed loop. Unity there cannot be, hype has become the norm, and the world around us is a seething cauldron.
In these circumstances, we return to the Shoah. With all our self-criticism, with all our high-minded demands of ourselves, we must never lose sight of where we were in 1945.
The great Jewish philosopher Emil Fackenheim, in his lectures about the Holocaust, always ended with the hope brought by the creation of the State of Israel. This he felt so deeply that inevitably he would weep as he uttered the last word in his lecture, spoken with such love, such faith. “Israel...”
The siren has sounded, the memories live, the painful ones that unite us, and the fact that we live and we live here.
Israel.Avraham Avi-hai is a former civil servant in the offices of the state’s early prime ministers, and has been active in both academia and the executives of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization. firstname.lastname@example.org
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