by Ofra Yeshua-Lyth
Published on Mondoweiss on March 10, 2015
“OK you’re right, but this is not something we should be discussing,” the shoe salesman said. He had just told me about his military service in Gaza in the bad years long ago, and about the bad things he had then seen and experienced. “But surely this will go on forever, if the state continues to care only about preserving its Jewish identity and the exclusive privileges for Jews alone,” I had told him. That’s what prompted his immediate, discussion-ending retort.
“Walla, correct, but no-one can do anything about it”, agree most taxi drivers – the universally recognized representative of the ‘authentic voice of the people’ – whenever I’m given the opportunity to test the simple logic, explaining to them the obvious source of most of their complaints about the difficult life in the Zionist state. The place that their parents came to, but without much independent thought of their own.
“This is not something we should be discussing” is the limiting mantra that unites Israeli discourse across left and right, with the obedient complicity of the media. Debate about superfluous elections, corruption scandals, wars, verbal and personal brutality, the high cost of living and the housing crisis, extreme social gaps, the lack of compassion for the weak: all these can be understood easier when placed against the background and core principles of the Zionist state. All are linked, in one way or another, to that unique political innovation that charges a high price in return for the perks it claims to bestow on its chosen demographic. The one hundred and five Knesset seats [out of 120] reserved for the Jewish majority squabble furiously over the prime minister’s empty bottles, over the misery of incarcerated political refugees. They are, however, united – from the radical right all the way to the so-called radical left (and Zehava Galon is truly nice and sincere) – concerning the “existential” need to avoid pushing too hard for the over-democratic measures that may jeopardize the eternal existence of a secure “Jewish majority”.
The right has learnt how not to apologise for its deep attachment to the “right” to usurp, dispossess, bomb and incarcerate entire populations. Against this, the left cautiously waves a banner of hope, but one riddled with holes like Swiss cheese, of a better future based on the conjured-up “Two-State Solution” next to “The End to the Occupation”. Not a word about the failed ethno-religious principle that will be expected to continue to rule over least one of these states. This should forever be the Jewish State, where impeached Israel Prize judge Ariel Hirshfeld and would-be ethnic cleanser Baruch Marzel belong to the same tribe and to the same “people”. A people that accept nobody, unless they are converted, tamed and censured by the likes of the ultra-nationalist rabbi Mazuz.
Many years ago, many warned against the certain damage that such a state would inevitably inflict: from the Baron Nathaniel Rothschild at the beginning of the last century, all the way through Martin Buber, Hillel Kook and the rabbi J.L. Magnes on the eve of the declaration of independence, not to mention the Agudath Israel and ultra-orthodox leaders over the generations. The ultra-orthodox adapted quickly to the comfort zone offered by the religious-national state. The secular population, however, channel their displeasure with the Isra-Bluff through satire and art. They make a fuss each time the political mainstream – pushed by the right wing – tries to deny them the privileges, grants and awards controlled by the political establishment. But concerning the very principle of the privileges regime based on ethno-religious identity, no serious discussion ever takes place, not in academia and certainly not in the media. When did one ever hear of a case made against the Law of Return, or against the Absentee Property Law? Who, amongst the worthy combatants against the vile citizenship regulations, would dare challenge the holy consensus concerning the “demographic risk”?
In Israel, no political entity may even present its candidacy for parliamentary elections without declaring explicitly that it supports the axiom of the “Jewish and Democratic State”. Haneen Zoabi might drive all the Jews of Israel up the wall, by declaring her support for the idea of a “State for all its citizens”. But she is running for the Knesset on a party list obliged to officially find a formulation for an electoral platform that promises that they are not campaigning to turn Israel into a democratic country, into a state without special privileges ascribed to Jews only. A hermetically-sealed wall protects the norms that the United Nations Assembly declared as “racist” back in 1975. From the heights of its popularity in Europe, and with the staunch support of the loving and friendly United States (of the time), Israeli diplomacy finally managed to reverse the 1975 resolution after 16 years of bitter campaigning. No-one, however, is campaigning for the change of these norms and of this regime.
As ever, the forthcoming election on March 17 will see no voice, in politics or the media, presenting the positions of those who do not buy the story that the state accidentally lost its way in 1967. These are the people who understand that the bad foundations of the State of Israel were cast directly after the UN partition resolution of 1947, and the expulsion of the majority of the indigenous residents that followed. But there is a bright side, though, as more and more people, young and old, including shoe salespersons and taxi drivers, now understand that they are living in a fake honey trap for persecuted and non-persecuted Jews. A trap whose only mode of survival is underneath the institutional umbrella of violence, forever and ever.
Some radio stations allow themselves to play – sometimes – Omri Glikman’s hit “Fakakte Medine”, but do not permit the translation, from the Ashkenazi Yiddish to Sephardic Hebrew, of the title – “a shitty state”, for all intents and purposes. About a fifth of Israel’s citizens are not Jewish. Almost half the people subjected to its control are not Jewish. Of its Jewish population, at least a third are disgruntled with the state’s excessive Jewishness. One might expect that out of this third, a group who – still – holds most of the power, knowledge and public discourse positions of the state, a clear voice might emerge to confront the isolationist, segregationist, problematic and perilous nature of the political concept we live in. Nevertheless, the silence is resounding.
Anybody who wishes to express the missing confrontation at the poles may, at best, vote for the Joint List of the Arab Palestinians of Israel. A second option, no less attractive, is to stay at home, improving the chances for Benjamin Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett to further slide, undisturbed, on a collision course with the rest of the world.