I did not pick this title lightly. There comes a time when even a historian, well versed in patient, hysteria-free observation of historical processes, feels his hair stand on end as he realizes how bad, how really bad, things are getting.
Since the second Camp David conference, two fateful processes have unfolded in Israel.
The first process is the reversal of Israeli integration into the bloc of democratic nations and the adoption in its place of the same pattern of violent and ethnocentric policies we officially condemn. Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin understood that with the end of the cold war, Israel’s security necessitated putting an end to the colonial chapter in its history. What was needed instead was a massive reallocation of resources to deal with the serious social problems created over the long period of occupation and settlement building.
Rabin understood that if we do not affiliate ourselves with the global democratic bloc and live up to its clear standards for civil and human rights, it would be very difficult for us “to be a free nation in our country” in the words of the Israeli national anthem.
Regressing to a view of the conflict in terms of retribution and revenge (eyes for an eye, teeth for a tooth); resurrecting the “Watchtower and Fence” settlement policy, which was used by Jews in Palestine during the Ottoman empire; the victorious return of self-righteousness (we are right and they are wrong, we are good and they are bad); the reappearance of the creeping annexation; the intellectual standstill; one military operation rolling into another–all these are typical of a society gambling away its own long-term national interests for short-term instant gratification.
Such changes in state policy might have been chalked up to a reaction–temporary perhaps–to the undermined sense of security in Israel. But the continuing deterioration in Israel’s democratic character indicates a change that runs deeper. That is the second process. It started with former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who was quick to break the rules of the democracy game whenever he saw fit, and it continues to expand today. Israeli society at present is marked by a deep contempt for the legislative branch, a sense of alienation from the judicial branch, and a paralysis of the executive branch. Also rampant in Israeli society today are self-censorship, constant waving of the “security interest” banner to prevent any critical discussion, and a political vacuum that the army is quick to fill. If one adds to this keg of gunpowder an economic crisis (which is bound to worsen as Western states begin to turn their back on us), there should be no trouble recognizing the messy stew that’s being cooked up.
Worst of all at a time like this is the lack of any opposition capable of articulating an alternative and fighting for it. The Labor party lost all self-respect while participating in Sharon’s coalition, amplifying in the process people’s despair of politics, that is to say, of democracy.
These are dark times for Israel. If no opposition movement is forged immediately, one that would be capable of restoring Israelis’ faith in democracy and shaking them up from Chief of Staff Mofaz’s and Prime Minister Sharon’s anachronistic nightmare, then we are witnessing the beginning of the collapse of the Israeli republic as we know it. It’s not too late, but not much time is left.