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Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Arab ‘Spring’, the Israeli Winter

Moshe Arens, a former foreign minister under Menachem Begin in analysing the Arab Spring summarised its salient features as encompassing the following: No respect for human rights, oppression of women, contempt for democratic values; a school system that is backward and encourages ignorance (even in its graduates) and a radical religious population which is increasing as a percentage of the whole.  The recent Egyptian election results recorded over 34% voting for the religiously chauvinistic Muslim Brotherhood and 26% voting for the even more violently racist Salafist movement.

The question must be asked, how is the direction in which Israel is headed any different to its Arab protagonists? It is a question being increasingly raised by foreign officials and Israelis alike.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the celebration of ethnicity. We are all born with labels. Some labels we inherit from our parents while others are imposed on us by society. Too often labels serve no more than to impose the values or prejudices of one group onto another, to reinforce our comfortable prejudices.  When society applies different rules to separate groups it is a form of legalised and intermittent apartheid (another label).

Labels make up our identity.

Identity was initially defined by tribe then by religion and then by nationality. For many of us, it still is.  In the Western world ‘nationality’ supplanted religion in self-identification but did not supersede it.  Religion defined groups and helped create unique national identities.  Built upon multiple layers, identity reinforced the primary group collective.  Again, labels: ethnic, cultural, educational and historical define us.

In totalitarian societies labels are used not only to define limits but also to compartmentalise those who are empowered, those who are disenfranchised and the multiplicity of perceived ‘threats’ in between.

All nations are idiosyncratic. By failing to construct a narrative that unites the nation, Israel has created a mishmash of competing communities for whom tribal allegiances are more important than national consensus. 

Contrast this with the Arab 'world' and the difference could easily pose an existential threat not just to Israel but to all humanity. In attempting to unify all people under ‘the’ one god, the Islamic world created a malevolency of violence and benighted prejudice and Israel is now infected by it.  I repeat; by adapting the Arab-Islamic model of intolerance Israel has itself become contaminated. Israel’s political model is one that respects no-one; its most salient feature is its contempt for diversity of opinion.  The sclerotic fiction bound prejudice of the Arab world justifies every betrayal for its race and its god; the Jewish people must not follow their model.

A people incapable of standing as one will fall as one.  We arrived here because we allowed contempt to take the place of honest dissent. Pure proportional representation empowered a political minority with immense influence far in excess of its numeric size.  Xenophobic pronouncements feed fear, not compromise. But also consider how Israel permitted its university professors to demonise the country. Freedom of speech tolerates the urge to self-destruction but why do we pay our teachers to counsel their students on how they may also self-destruct? This masochistic impulse is one chronic symptom of an immature society that is struggling with and neurotically conflicted by its identity.  Fascism of the Left or of the Right, will always exploit self-abuse which is rightly viewed as a sign of inherent weakness. McCarthyism has been a leftist weapon used to intimidate anyone with whom they differed since the 1960’s. The extremists of anti-Americanism and anti-Israeli’ism share a platform with a pride they would be unable to justify were they to apply the same standards to Islam or Europe.  The gauleiters of political correctness reject diversity of thought because it means accepting that there is more than one path to salvation.

If democracy is synonymous with populism then the early twentieth century’s irresponsibility by which the ruling elites dragged the world into two world wars can only be repeated in the twenty-first century because we have renounced responsibility for an ethical domestic or foreign policy.  It is too easy to blame it all on economics.

Gadi Taub in an opinion piece in Israeli newspaper 'Yediot Achranot' commented that the elections in Egypt did not signify a positive change for the people. He said that “liberating the masses may be the dawn of a new oppression”.

This same trend applies across the globe but a nation that has never known freedom has a greater danger of transferring power from one tyranny to another, even more bloody and with less restraint because the escalation in violence is implicit in the mandate. Witness Russia under Communism and Iran under Khomeini'ism.

The internal threat to society is as great as the external threat. Betrayal does not usually come with a tattooed label.  Israel needs national unity; polarisation is an intellectual failure to which all political parties share guilt, equally. And Israeli laws currently being discussed that target specific groups are not just bad laws, they are divisive and anti-democratic laws.

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