Sacred and Profane

It’s not right and fair to engage in ‘old-timer’ nostalgia at any time, I know, but in view of recent events I can’t help comparing Israel as it was fifty years ago, when I first came to live here, and today.

Israel today is, if anything, even more vibrant, productive and creative than it was then. But it is also more hidebound, more xenophobic and far less attractive. Not only has Israel as a country changed, both for better and for worse, but the Jewish religion that I grew up with has also undergone a sea change. That seems a strange thing to say, after all, the Jewish religion has been immutable since time immemorial, and that is its strong point, or so we’re told.

However, the role played by religion in Israel’s daily life has definitely changed. Most notably, the nature of the political parties representing the orthodox element of the population has altered drastically. The party that once represented the moderate and tolerant Judaism of Yosef Burg and his colleagues of the now-defunct Mafdal has been transmuted into one that purveys rampant racism (anti-everyone who isn’t Jewish, and even anti other Jewish groups), serving mainly to exacerbate mutual hatred and hostility within Israeli society, but also directed towards those sectors of the population that are not Jewish. The resulting internecine hostility is seen on our streets and features prominently in the media with sickening frequency.

The resurgence of religious fervor, and its volatile combination with the old-new ‘religion’ of nationalism, serves to create an atmosphere of enmity, fostering violence, malevolence, murder and mayhem. It is as if a juggernaut were making its slow and inexorable way towards Israeli society, destroying everything in its path.

Hatred and enmity within the Jewish camp are nothing new, and since the senseless murder of Emil Greenstein at a left-wing demonstration some thirty years ago they have continued to rear their ugly head from time to time.

Protestations about the failure of the Left to demonstrate when Arabs kill Jews do not wash. There is no justification for that either, but we don’t expect such visceral hatred to emanate from within our own ranks. The thought that there are some among us who aspire to attain the barbarism of Daish and other such groups is an abomination.

Is history about to repeat itself? If it hadn’t been for the internecine violence within Jewish society two thousand years ago, Jerusalem, the Temple and the independent existence of the Hebrew nation would not have been destroyed. Those who saw themselves as the upholders of what was sacred were the very ones who led to its being made profane.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not in favour of rebuilding the Temple. Far from it. Whatever was the agent that was behind that event, call it God, fate, or whatever you like, he/she/it knew what they were doing when it was destroyed. Who in their right mind would want to reinstate the practice of animal sacrifice and various other distasteful antique rituals?

But the ensuing exile of the Jewish nation and its two thousand years of suffering could and should have been avoided. All that was needed was one clear, sane voice calling for unity and the mending of the internal ruptures in order to overcome enmity, envy and betrayal.

But no such voice was forthcoming, and the result was disaster. Today, too, no such voice is forthcoming, and this bodes ill for the future.

To me it seems clear that there is a strong possibility that contemporary Israeli society will disintegrate and implode, creating an untenable situation in which the forces of nationalistic evil will prevail, causing the eventual annihilation of Israel as an independent state.

And that would be a terrible shame.