Sunday, December 11, 2011

Israel Culture Wars:
Is The Glass Half Full, Or Half Empty?

Two diametrically opposed views of Israeli domestic politics and society appeared by "left wing" commentators this week. One says all is lost, the other says that the barbarians have been stopped at the gates.

Writing for the doom and gloom side, is Gideon Levy in Haaretz:
Anyone who says this is a matter of a few inconsequential laws is leading others astray; anyone who claims a reversible procedure is being deceptive; anyone who states reassuringly that this is a passing phase is trying to put one over. Even the person who thinks it's just an attempt at regime change is under a delusion. What we are witnessing is w-a-r.

This fall a culture war, no less, broke out in Israel, and it is being waged on many more, and deeper, fronts than are apparent. It is not only the government, as important as that is, that hangs in the balance, but also the very character of the state. ...
The ferocious combined assault is highly effective. It targets women, Arabs, leftists, foreigners, the press, the judicial system, human rights organizations and anyone standing in the way of the cultural revolution. ...

There is no single guiding hand mixing this boiling, poisonous potion; many hands stir the revolution, but they all have something in common: the aspiration to a different Israel, one that is not Western, not open, not free and not secular. ...

You can't see the forest for the trees, and the forest is dark and deep. Take, for example, Friday's paper. The news pages of Haaretz reported on a few such rotten trees: the managers of dozens of businesses in Sderot have begun requiring their workers to dress modestly; in Mea She'arim, the polling places are gender-segregated; nonobservant Jews in Jerusalem have been asked to wear a kippa at work; Carmiel's Palmach School has been turned into a religious school; discrimination against Sephardic girls at schools in Jerusalem, Modi'in Ilit, Betar Ilit and Bnei Brak; withdrawal from a physicians' training program for Palestinians as a condition for tax relief; the government's new plan to fight illegal immigration. And one final touch: The foreign minister gave his imprimatur to the Putinist election in Russia. All in a single day, one ordinary day.

... The right has been in power for a long time now, but it lacked the self-confidence to launch this crucial assault. But now, in its 35th year in government, in the 64th year of the state, it has turned to the task of reshaping the country's character and faces almost no opposition.

We'll meet again in a few years, in that other Israel, that will be different and distorted beyond recognition.
In the other corner, arguing for the "don't worry be happy" position, is Larry Defner writing in 972.
In all the (well-placed) wailing over the totalitarian legislation being pushed in the Knesset by the Likud and Yisrael Beitenu, the good guys don’t seem to have noticed that all their wailing has had a tremendous effect. I’m almost afraid to say it, but the Left, ... seems to have turned the tide against the neo-fascists.

The latest and possibly most decisive evidence was reported today: Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein wrote Netanyahu a letter saying that if the Knesset legislation aimed at stifling left-wing NGOs becomes law, he won’t defend the bills against challenges in the Supreme Court because they’re indefensible from top to bottom.
“They deal a harsh blow to a long list of constitutional rights, including freedom of expression, freedom of association and the right to equality,” Weinstein wrote. ...

Not a lot of air in that statement. I don’t see where MKs Ophir Akunis, Fania Kirschenbaum, Ze’ev Elkin, Yariv Levin, Danny Danon and their henchmen can go now in their campaign, which seeks to shut off foreign government funding to B’Tselem, Adalah, Breaking the Silence and all the other Israeli NGOs that expose abuses of Palestinians.

Before this, Netanyahu was obliged to freeze the two bills Weinstein referred to. ... Netanyahu also pulled back the worst of all this wrecking-ball legislation – Levin’s bill that would give the Knesset ultimate power to appoint Supreme Court justices, God help us.

Between the anti-Supreme Court bills, the anti-NGO bills and the anti-media bill, together with the spectacle of women being forced to ride in the back of Israeli buses and facing walk-outs by Orthodox Jews when they dare to sing, there’s a vivid sense that Israel’s democracy is being shredded. And the backlash has been fierce – from Israeli civil society, media, academe, Knesset opposition, the “Likud princes” (Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin and cabinet ministers Dan Meridor and Benny Begin) and Supreme Court President Dorit Beinish. It spread overseas to the foreign media, U.S. and European ambassadors to Israel, American Jewish bigwigs Abraham Foxman, Jeffrey Goldberg and Martin Peretz, and finally to Hillary Clinton. ...

The great putsch is faltering in the face of opposition, to the opponents’ surprise.

What lessons can be drawn? That there are limits to what a country that purports to be democratic, that values its ties to the West, can do.

... Smile, comrades; it seems like we’re actually winning one.

Not living in Israel, its hard to know if the glass is half full or half empty, but experience tells me, sadly, that you won't often go wrong re Israel by predicting the less progressive outcome. And one thing at least is for sure, the amount of beer in the glass is not at a state of equilibrium. A battle is indeed a-raging, and the winner is yet to be determined.


Anonymous David said...

Your graphic is perfect. It looks less like beer than another liquid metaphor for the quality of life in Israel.

10:14 am  

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