Israel's Parallel Crises, And The Whiff Of Civil War
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's return to power with the most right-wing government in the country's history has revealed a deep schism in Israeli society between settlers and secularists.
Israeli society is facing an intense and unprecedented moment in its history. There have been other protest movements in the past, such as the hundreds of thousands of people gathered against the war in Lebanon in 1982 or the economic demonstration of tents on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv in 2011.
But in the current wave of protests, there is an existential dimension. It's different than during wars, where it's been literally the physical survival of the Israeli state; this is rather existential in its identity, political system, and the weight of religion.
This is sometimes difficult to understand from the outside, where we often view this part of the world through the lens of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is also escalating. An attack in Tel Aviv on Thursday reminded us that the two crises are evolving in parallel.
Once again this week, significant demonstrations took place throughout the country against the reforms that weaken the role of the Supreme Court as a counterbalance, against the "illiberal" drift of Benjamin Netanyahu's plans and his coalition with the religious far right.
The protesters indirectly received support from the President of the State, Isaac Herzog, who spoke of a "nightmare" and called on the Prime Minister to "withdraw his plan from this world." Strong words indeed.
Netanyahu's right-wing agenda
Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power just two months ago, after winning the fifth legislative election in four years at the head of the most right-wing coalition in the country's history.
This ideological steamroller has awakened a part of a society that had tired of political quarrels.
If some hoped to see Netanyahu contain the influence of right-wing extremists, he has instead given them key positions with responsibilities for security and the management of Palestinian territories. And he has initiated a plan of reforms that distorts the democratic system of the Israeli state.
This ideological steamroller has awakened a part of a society that had tired of the political quarrels of recent years. This segment of society is democratic, secular and inclusive — and even if it is disillusioned with the very idea of peace with the Palestinians, it is not animated by the messianism of current leaders who want to swallow the West Bank in the name of a biblical property deed.
Protests in Tel Aviv, as an attempt to separate the state from religion, with protestors wearing Handmaid's costume.
Oded Rechavi's Twitter account
Settlers v. secularists
These are the two Israels that are facing each other today, with antagonistic visions of the future. This polarization has always been there, but it is the first time that the ideological Israel of settlers and religious people dictates the agenda to this extent. And wants to impose it on the rest of the country as much as on the Palestinians under its control.
This explains the unprecedented reactions, such as reservists from the elite unit of the air force who threaten to refuse to fly if the reforms are passed. Or even more symbolically, members of the Israeli commando who had freed the hostages of the Air France flight hijacked to Uganda in 1976 have written to Netanyahu to disavow him. Their leader, who died in the operation, was the Prime Minister's own brother.
There is a climate of civil war in the air or at least a profound schism in Israeli society. If Netanyahu does not back down, this division will become ever more fractured. This is also echoed by the deepening incomprehension that this crisis is causing among American Jews, long a pillar of support for Israel --as well as in France if we judge from a column signed Thursday by notable Jewish personalities in France in the daily Le Monde entitled "Democracy is in danger in Israel."