Israelis have more in common than not with one another - opinion

There is another reality out there – reflected in a meeting of reservists.

Reservists train during a battalion wide exercise in the Golan Heights. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Reservists train during a battalion wide exercise in the Golan Heights.
On Thursday evening, the night after Tisha Be’av, a group of about 20 reservists gathered in an apartment rented for one night in a moshav in the Beit Shemesh area to celebrate the upcoming weddings of two of their comrades.
This tight-knit group served together for three years in an elite army unit and fought together in one of the campaigns in Gaza. They include right-wingers and those on the Left, religious and secular, the wealthy and the struggling, Jews and non-Jews. They met at the same time a protest was taking place near the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem.
They met after the media throughout Tisha Be’av was full of comments about how close Israel is to repeating the mistakes of the past and letting baseless hatred tear the country apart.
They met as commentators were bewailing the seemingly irreparable split in the country and talking about the possibility of political violence, if not civil war.
They met as Facebook, Twitter, the radio, television and newspapers were describing – and creating – an atmosphere of deep enmity and hatred everywhere.
And they felt none of it.
Some of those gathered agreed with the protests; some did not. Some abhor Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; some do not. Some were suffering financially from the coronavirus; others had better luck. But there was no hatred in that group.
They all came from different places; they all had a different ideal of a perfect Israel. But there was no hatred. On the contrary, there was genuine respect and affection one for the other because of the path they traveled together. They told war stories, they joked, they drank, they caught up with each other.
They put into practice what Abraham Lincoln preached in his first inaugural address in 1861: “We are not enemies, but friends… Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
That, too, is Israel in the summer of 2020.
WAKE UP in the morning and turn on the radio, open up the newspaper, or click onto Twitter, and the impression you can walk away with is of a country where each “tribe” has its hands on the other’s throat.
Twitter is the worst because the discourse there is the most uncivil and most insulting. Why? Because that garners the most comment, gets the most “likes” and re-tweets.
Tweet something nuanced, and nobody pays attention. Tweet something extreme or insulting, and you can create a buzz. You can spend 15 minutes on Twitter in the morning and be depressed for the rest of the day, feeling that the country is completely lost, that everyone hates everyone else.
And don’t think about seeking refuge by turning on the radio or television, or opening a newspaper, because there, too, what is going to be highlighted is the divisive.
If there is a large protest, the media will – as it must – interview the protesters and then the politicians. The protesters are protesting because they are angry, and that anger comes out in their words. The politicians are looking for someone to blame, and that anger comes out in their words.
Both Transportation Minister Miri Regev (Likud) and MK Moshe Ya’alon (Yesh Atid-Telem) – on opposite sides of this country’s pro- and anti-Netanyahu divide – sound as if they are about to blow a gasket every time they talk about the other side. Interviewee after interviewee sound angry, mad and full of hate.
But there is another Israel out there. It’s the one that quietly goes on with its life in these uncertain times, perhaps not agreeing – and perhaps even strongly disagreeing – with the political outlook of their neighbors or co-workers, but not hating them, not wanting to wage an all-out war against them. In fact, there are many who feel a great deal of sympathy for their countrymen’s suffering as a result of the pandemic.
The problem is that right now, that does not attract attention and does not get air time. What attracts attention is extreme rhetoric. What attracts attention is comparisons to dark periods of history. What attracts attention is saying that the other side are a bunch of fanatics hell-bent on destroying the country: anarchists to the left of me, fascists to the right.
And since that is what attracts attention, that is what is shouted out from the megaphones, picked up by the press and amplified on social media. So one wakes up and believes that is the reality.
Except it’s not. It might be a slice of this country’s reality, but only a slice.
There is another reality out there,reflected in that meeting of those reservists, of an Israel where not everyone hates the other side, and where – though it might sound corny – what binds really is greater than what divides.
Which is not to say that the atmosphere is not charged, and that in a charged atmosphere someone may commit an act of political violence. But civil wars – the type some are warning of now – are not made of individuals on the fringes taking extreme action, but rather, brother taking up arms against brother because the hatred in their hearts overflows.
Walk the streets of the country beyond Balfour Street during one of the nightly protests – or step away from Twitter for a day – and chances are that you won’t encounter that overwhelming hatred, but rather, a reality that, while contentious, is softer and far less toxic and hate-filled than what you come across every time you turn on a computer, radio or television set.
Most people are not inhabiting the hate-permeated reality being portrayed in the media and online. There is another Israel out there.