The We-They Syndrome

The hatred on the Left toward the Netanyahus and the policies of Shaked-Bennett are a mirror image of the portrayal of the Left as “traitors” by some elements on the Right.

Ya'acov Litzman (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Ya'acov Litzman
Deputy Minister of Health Rabbi Ya'acov Litzman made headlines recently when he was accused of pressuring the Jerusalem district psychiatrist to falsely state that a woman accused of molesting several girls while serving as the principal of an ultra-Orthodox girls’ school in Australia was mentally unfit to be extradited.
I claim to be a free-thinker who makes up his mind on issues based on their own merits. But, mea culpa, I confess that when I heard about the suspicions against Litzman, I immediately thought, “Well, of course Litzman did that – he is ultra-Orthodox and doesn’t care at all about the law.” It’s no secret that I strive for an open, tradition-loving pluralistic Judaism.
Then I thought to myself, maybe his disrespect for the law is more general than that. Maybe what we have here is but another example of the We-They Syndrome that affects us all.
Fact: Investigations are underway that may lead to the indictment of Israel’s prime minister and a number of his confidants.
On the whole, the reaction of their party leaders (Likud and Shas) and supporters of these groups is denial or something along the lines of “So what, a few cigars and bottles of champagne – that’s a crime?” or “What prime ministers never spoke to editors?”
Fact: Members of the ultra-Orthodox units in the IDF beat up an Arab prisoner.
The extreme Right, and even my respected colleague Ruthie Blum, are upset with their court martial. On the contrary, the officers who rebuke their soldiers for this behavior, these right-wingers say, are the ones who should be court-martialed. Blum’s column is called “Right from Wrong,” which clearly means that only the Right is right. Always?
I have rediscovered an old-new political principle: the Inside-Outside Syndrome. It probably applies to the Left and Center as well, and I would appreciate readers giving me such examples, so I can demonstrate the universality of the Inside-Outside Syndrome in all circles and political shadings.
The underlying idea is: We protect our own kind. They are the enemy.
An extreme example of this was demonstrated by senior “National-Religious” rabbis. These extremists and their racist followers think they “allegedly” can kill Arabs and get away with it. Other practiced law breakers teach them how to behave under examination by the Shin Bet investigators. How can we doubt their guilt, if “senior” rabbis permit breaking the Sabbath by sending “briefing officers” to drive in a caravan of vehicles to the yeshiva involved?
So, dear reader, the point is clear: The hatred and fear of the Left is a driving force used by Netanyahu to sway the religious parties to run on a joint list with a new form of Kahanism, the Otzma Yisrael party. There are no boundaries to the We/They Syndrome. The hatred on the Left toward the Netanyahus and the policies of Shaked-Bennett are a mirror image of the portrayal of the Left as “traitors” by some elements on the Right.
Never in Israeli politics has there been such an ugly atmosphere shredding our people. We are, of course, a passionate, opinionated people. But we are one Jewish people, and together with the non-Jews, we are citizens of one state.
We-They has always existed in the face of antisemitism, as is readily apparent in the latest round of Polish-Jewish relations. The Polish government is trying to cover up the undeniable fact that the Polish pre-World War II governments, riding on the back of implacable Jew hatred propagated by the Polish Catholic Church, fostered discrimination against Jews, leading to boycotts of Jewish businesses, numerus clausus in universities, pogroms and murder.
It’s likely that many young Poles today have not been infected by the extreme Catholic/Polish nationalist alliance, but the Polish government, and even the intelligent Polish ambassador in Israel, deny the truth. And if the chief rabbi of Poland says differently, I’d like to see his balance book of good and bad on Yom Kippur! Until Poland takes the steps that West Germany took to bear admission for their transgressions and educate the young about the Holocaust, we should and shall remain We and They!
We seek reconciliation internally, to shrink the We-They to a manageable level. Human nature doesn’t change overnight. Since time immemorial, there has been a We-They Syndrome. In the words of poet Shaul Tchernichovsky, a better future is but a Messianic dream to hope for, one that may only manifest in the end of days: “I believe in the future, though far-off is that day,/But surely, surely it will come, bearing peace,/ strength and blessing from nation unto nation.”
Avraham Avi-hai has lived in Israel since the end of 1952 and served in a number of key roles in government, academia and at the helm of several major organizations