Can the many schisms in Israeli society ever be reconciled? – opinion

Today the conflict between Right and Left is still ideological, though the great ideological and political leaders on both sides, all of them modest-living men, are long gone.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz [L] and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [R] wearing masks in the Knesset (photo credit: ADINA VALMAN/KNESSET SPOKESPERSON)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz [L] and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [R] wearing masks in the Knesset
(photo credit: ADINA VALMAN/KNESSET SPOKESPERSON)
Of the many clauses in the coalition agreement between the Likud and Blue and White that are unlikely to be realized is that speaking of the creation of a reconciliation cabinet. What exactly the drafters of the clause had in mind is not clear.
There is nothing new about the schisms in the Israeli society: Right-Center/Left, religious-secular, Mizrahi-Ashkenazi and Jewish-Arab. Since most of the Jewish religious population (both Ashkenazi and Mizrahi) are right-wingers, and most of the liberal and social democratic Center/Left consists of secular Ashkenazim, the various schisms overlap each other.
The Jewish-Arab schism is of a different nature, since it is based on religion and nationality. But since the liberal and social democratic left-wingers usually support the two-state solution and are more inclined to support equality for Israel’s Arab population, the Israeli Arabs are viewed as part of the center-left bloc, even though a majority among them are religious and, if they were to form part of a Palestinian state, would probably be more inclined politically to the conservative Right.
I assume that those who initiated the idea of the reconciliation cabinet did not have the Jewish-Arab schism in mind, but the schisms within the Jewish population.
IN ONE of his recent radio programs on Saturday morning on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet, Yitzhak Noy dealt with the question of reconciliation efforts between Right and Left in the Zionist movement, the Yishuv and the early days of the state, where the main figures at play were David Ben-Gurion, leader of the socialist Mapai Party, and Ze’ev Jabotinsky, leader of the Revisionist movement, and later on between Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin, leader of the Irgun and later on of the Herut Party.
The conflict, bitter and deeply ideological, was on how the state-on-the-way should be constructed, and then how the State of Israel should be developed and run.
The three most traumatic events in this respect were the murder of Haim Arlosoroff in 1933, for which the Labor movement accused the Revisionists (the question of who murdered Arlosoroff was never resolved); the “Saison” in the years 1944-1945 in which the Hagana disclosed members of the Stern Group and Irgun to the British Mandatory authorities (the issue was the balance between fighting with the British in the war against Hitler, and fighting the British over its 1939 anti-Zionist White Paper); and the decision of the newly established IDF to stop the Irgun from unloading arms from the ship Altalena off the shore of Tel Aviv, soon after the establishment of the state, which ended up in a battle with 19 killed – 16 Irgun fighters and three IDF soldiers.
Today the conflict between Right and Left is still ideological, though the great ideological and political leaders on both sides, all of them modest-living men, are long gone, and the content of the conflict is far removed from what it was in bygone days.
In addition, today it is the Right that has the upper hand, and the Left that is being delegitimized and mocked, while the role of the schisms between religious and secular and that between Mizrahim (descendants of local Jewish communities in the Middle East and North Africa) and Ashkenazim has deepened.
The religious-secular schism is about the place of religion versus liberal democracy in the life of the state, and the schism between Mizrahim and Ashkenazim feeds on the feeling of many Mizrahim that they have a historical account to settle with the old Ashkenazi elites, whom they accuse (undoubtedly with some degree of justice) of discrimination against the Mizrahim, and keeping them in a subservient status on racial grounds in the first decades of the state’s existence. Both schisms are bitter and relentless.
ANYONE WHO views with concern the various schisms and the resulting hatred that they nurture could not but rejoice at the clause in the coalition agreement dealing with the establishment of a reconciliation cabinet, which suggested that both the Likud and Blue and White understand that a problem exists that needs to be addressed.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look as if anything will come out of this initiative. First of all, unfortunately, it was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself who, in the course of his fourth government, not only was responsible for deepening the rift between the Right and the Center/Left, but also failed to do anything to stop members of his government sowing intercommunal tensions (for example, culture and sport minister Miri Regev’s attacks on cultural institutions and those running them).
In the past 100+ days it looks as if what is most urgently needed is reconciliation between the Likud and Blue and White, which seem to be preoccupied with besmirching each other. While Netanyahu and the Likud appear to be determined to exclude the leaders of Blue and White – Benny Gantz and Gaby Ashkenazi – from all important decision-making, and to belittle and humiliate them on every possible occasion, the leaders of Blue and White (especially Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn) seem preoccupied with efforts to block the attempts of Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana to weaken the law enforcement institutions, and to ward off vicious lies spread by Netanyahu and his henchmen about them.
The fact that Blue and White ran in three consecutive elections under the banner that a man with three criminal indictments cannot serve as prime minister does not make it any easier for them to contend with what this very same man is putting them through (as they were warned he would do by many experienced politicians) after they joined him in an effort to save Israel from a health, economic and social crisis, and yet another superfluous election, which Netanyahu wanted/wants in order to try to muster a majority to form another right-religious government that would help him avoid, or at least delay, his standing trial.
Under these circumstances, how can the Likud and Blue and White sit down together and act, first of all, as firefighters trying to reduce the social flames (they aren’t doing too well with Israel’s other woes), and to carefully weave the delicate fabric of reconciliation so urgently needed, or at least try to work out practical solutions to some specific points of conflagration, such as the clash between Kibbutz Nir David and radical protesters from Beit She’an over the Amal Stream?
To those who believe that I am exaggerating the Mizrahi-Ashkenazi schism, I will concede that cases like the clash over the Amal Stream are (thank heavens) rare. However, I personally am experiencing, with growing frequency, cases in which young Mizrahim address me with total disrespect and contempt just because I am Ashkenazi. Friends of mine have told me of similar experiences – nothing really serious, but symptomatic of an atmosphere.
To reverse all the deteriorating spheres of clash is certainly no simple matter. In 2006, the recently deceased law professor Ruth Gavison published with Rabbi Yaakov Medan (co-head of Yeshivat Har Etzion) an outline for a covenant to regulate religious-secular relations in Israel. The document took three years of hard work to draft, and though parts of it might be controversial, it could certainly serve as the basis of reconciliation in this sphere, if all the parties concerned, and the government, were interested.
If. But apparently they are not.