Right from Wrong: No, Israel’s not imploding

Every period in the country’s 71-year history has been marked by internal strife coupled with external danger.

Supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu protest outside Likud Party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel November 22, 2019. The placards in Hebrew read, "Strong in security, strong in Economy " (photo credit: CORINNA KERN/REUTERS)
Supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu protest outside Likud Party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel November 22, 2019. The placards in Hebrew read, "Strong in security, strong in Economy "
(photo credit: CORINNA KERN/REUTERS)
If I had a shekel for every prediction of Israel’s imminent implosion, I’d be as rich as most of my socialist friends, and as free to abandon all religious-ideological nuance as many of my right-wing ones. Alas, the affluence evades, but at least with good reason. To paraphrase a quip attributed to Mark Twain, “Reports of Israel’s death are greatly exaggerated.”
It is especially important at the moment – with an unprecedented political situation accompanying a very familiar bombardment by enemies far and near – to remind all the gevalt-sayers that every period in the country’s 71-year history has been marked by internal strife coupled with external danger. So let’s take a break from misplaced nostalgia to appreciate the present, with all its aches and pains.
As it happens, the so-called “malaise” afflicting Israelis – due to the current electoral impasse, the rockets raining from Gaza and the announcement of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s indictments – is more of a mantra than an accurate depiction of daily life in the Jewish state. Even today.
Indeed, it is not for nothing that Israel ranks high on every annual global happiness index.
It’s not simply a sexy tourist destination, after all. It is an ancient land-turned-ultra-modern state that exudes excitement derived from intellectual, spiritual and social stimulation. Indeed, in spite of its shortcomings – which amuse as often as they enrage – the place is never boring.
None of the above portrait of the country’s heart and soul in any way minimizes the genuine trauma suffered by Israelis living under constant Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah fire, however, or by civilians and soldiers repeatedly targeted by Fatah terrorists armed with rocks, knives, Molotov cocktails and vehicles doubling as deadly weapons. On the contrary. If anything, it is a testament to the life force of the individuals who make up the fabric of Israeli society as a whole.
Nor is any Israeli a stranger to bomb shelters or funerals. Yet each of us manages to panic ahead of a visit from our in-laws, bemoan a bad hair day, obsess about what to wear for a job interview and fall into a funk when our soccer team loses a match. In addition, everyone continues to laugh loudly while watching the political satire program, Eretz Nehederet, making mincemeat of our leaders and other famous figures.
This, too, was the case throughout the Second Intifada, when Palestinian suicide-bombers were blowing up innocent Israelis on buses, at malls and in restaurants, without letup, for nearly four and a half years. As soon as the blood and body parts were removed from the scene of every such horrific attack, people’s work and play resumed – along with their kvetching about mundane matters, such as grocery shopping and parent-teacher conferences.
The latter was a central subject of endless maternal chatter among friends over cappuccino at some of the very venues that had been cleaned up in the wake of a terrorist attack the day or week before. These conversations were usually punctuated by a hasty paying of the tab and a rush to pick up kids from school by car. You know, so that they wouldn’t be on a bus that might explode.
It was at that time that I began to write a column, in these pages, aimed at conveying the beautiful oddity of Israelis going about their usual business in the midst of carnage. Called “Flip Side,” the weekly column consisted of vignettes about Israelis’ uncanny ability to thrive – to be preoccupied with the normal human concerns of love and livelihood – despite their surrounding unfathomable circumstances.
I wrote the pieces as fiction, to protect the identity of the protagonists, some of whom were friends. Others were strangers whose conversations I overheard in public places. Being a skilled eavesdropper was key to the craft, as the dialogue of the characters had to be real. And it was, to the point that I frequently found myself muttering: “You can’t make this stuff up.”
Had the column been in Hebrew rather than in English (and subsequently collected as a book in Italian), it likely would have flopped. Taking one’s own resilience for granted, as Israelis do, means not being wowed by someone else’s depiction of it. Though this makes perfect sense, it’s a shame, because all of us denizens of the Jewish state could benefit from an occasional glance at our country through a benign prism.
WHICH BRINGS us to what is being touted today as Israel’s most “unbearable,” “untenable” and “chaotic” situation ever.
More “unbearable” than the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, when the Likud-led Israeli government, headed by former prime minister Ariel Sharon, forcibly removed every last Jew from Gush Katif, ostensibly to prevent the infiltration of Palestinian suicide-bombers into Israeli population centers?
More “untenable” than the 2000 Camp David Summit, where then-Israeli prime minister and peace fantasist Ehud Barak offered arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat the moon and the stars – and was granted in exchange a suicide-bombing war against his populace?
More “chaotic” than the switcheroo pulled by Sharon, when he suddenly split from Likud to form the Kadima Party, three months after the Gaza withdrawal?
The same can be asked about every step of the State of Israel – prior to, during and since its establishment in 1948.
Yet here we are, with a strong economy, a steady baby boom, blossoming film and food industries, world-renowned medical breakthroughs and even burgeoning relations with Arab and other Muslim-majority countries. All of this has been fostered not by the self-anointed “peace camp” with a penchant for government intervention and handouts, but by a politically conservative electorate that has kept Netanyahu in office for 13 years in total, and consecutively for the past decade.
THE RELIGIOUS-SECULAR divide, which defeatists have been claiming for decades will spark a civil war, also needs to be put in perspective. Whereas in the past, non-kosher establishments were denounced and harassed, while bus stops with ads showing scantily clad women were torched, today numerous treif restaurants and butcher shops operate freely. There are, as well, far more options on Shabbat, including public transportation in the greater Tel Aviv area. That ground-up initiative, launched just last week, is a perfect example of creative coexistence – the opposite of civil war.
And now a word about “national unity,” a hackneyed couplet currently used ad nauseam in relation to coalition negotiations. Whether or not Likud and Blue and White, the two largest parties, reach an agreement to form a joint government, “national unity” will not ensue. In Israel, it’s hard to find next-door neighbors who can agree on parking privileges, let alone see eye-to-eye on how to combat the Iranian nuclear threat or handle Hamas.
No, “national unity” is a technical political term that does not reflect Israeli patriotism or Zionism, both of which are widespread yet dormant until aroused at certain junctures. Independence Day and wartime come to mind.
This is not at all bad news. The Jewish state is no longer an aspiration; it’s a given. Israelis are passionate individuals whose ideas differ and vary, to put it mildly. Ironically, it is this nature and character of our peoplehood that causes the schisms while simultaneously providing the glue.
As a result, we will muddle through the coalition crisis, until a government is established or another election is held. Either way, a majority will be dissatisfied, and all the difficulties we’re facing will be there the day after – pouncing with a vengeance, as always.
Perhaps the problems will be magnified. But the pessimists across the spectrum who’ve been forecasting Israel’s implosion are wrong. If they weren’t, the whole argument would be moot. And I’d be a multi-millionaire.