Our comically insecure – even hysterical – establishment

The Knesset’s decision to investigate organizations that criticize government policy is yet another demonstration of the fear that grips Israeli elites.

The Knesset’s decision last week to investigate local organizations that criticize government policy may or may not prove to be a watershed for Israeli democracy.
Either way, it is yet another demonstration of the fear that grips our elites.
This fear is supposedly directed at the country’s delegitimization abroad. The most frequently cited concern is the prosecution of IDF officers abroad, and the most popular targets are human rights organizations which, their detractors claim, distribute damaging and misleading information to foreign countries.
But human rights NGOs are not the only target. Organizations which assist refugees have been denounced as a threat to Zionism.
Groups advocating a fair distribution of profits are labeled as servants of Iran and Hizbullah. Even protectors of the environment are sometimes compared to terrorist organizations.
Need I even mention what happens to those who struggle for the rights of the country’s Palestinian minority? The sum of all this belligerence is an establishment that is comically insecure, even hysterical. The country just joined the OECD. It has never been sanctioned in any way. On the contrary, despite being a relatively wealthy nation, it is one of the world’s largest recipients of foreign aid. It is the only country outside the European Economic Area which participates in the European research and development program.
Its already vast military superiority in the region is further buttressed by a guarantee of permanent technological superiority by the world’s most advanced producer of armaments.
Even terrorism, which was never a strategic threat, has waned on all fronts in recent years.
SO WHY are our elites so afraid? Although they will never admit it, perhaps not even to themselves, their true concern is about internal strength rather than its standing abroad. Israeli society has been demobilizing for decades now. Its formerly Spartan ethos has been almost completely reversed, creating soaring socioeconomic gaps. Cohesion now has to be maintained by constantly fomenting nationalist paranoia.
Although effective in the short term, fear mongering is a shaky long-term prop.
And it certainly has real consequences.
Like all countries, Israel has never been a perfect democracy. Within a certain scope of positions, orientations and identifications, it has generally allowed a wide array of liberties as well as fierce competition for political power. At the margins of this space for acceptable discourse, freedoms were much more restricted. Outside it, they were virtually nonexistent.
The center which defines legitimacy has shifted repeatedly over the years, and so various groups have dropped in and out of democracy’s remit. In recent years, we are witnessing a substantial contraction of this center, and as a result, groups that were always marginal are now closer to losing their freedoms altogether.
We should not lose sight of the bigger picture, though. The erosion of democracy is always a result of indifference and apathy. The recent crackdown is a reaction to the opposite trend. Israelis and Palestinians are standing up for democracy.
Some pay with their lives. Others sacrifice their freedom. Most Israelis who oppose their government’s policy are giving up something more modest, yet significant: the assurance of their superiority and their belief in the justice of their privileges. The establishment is rightly concerned about these groups: They represent one of the biggest threats to the status quo.
The writer is an Israeli activist and blogger. This article was first published on www.972mag.com and is reprinted with permission.