The reality that is 'Israel': An Éclat of messianism and apocalypse, shocking and paralysing the West
Whereas Western figures consistently claim that the radical Right national-religious movement does not “represent Judaism”, the other, equally authentic side to the Judaic ‘story’ is the obverse.
Those who imagined that the anti-‘Judicial reform’ mass protests in "Israel" (widely hailed across the West, under the misleading banner of liberal ‘democracy’ versus ‘illiberal autocracy’) had squashed government reform plans, should take note of Thursday’s massive ‘no compromise’ protests by the Israeli Right, settlers and national-religious forces.
The struggle ain’t over -- it’s just drawing breath.
Finance Minister Smotrich told the crowds: "We will not give up on a Jewish state. We will not give up on Israeli democracy - and no one will steal the term ‘democracy’ from us. [Adding], The people demand legal reform and they will get legal reform…They [the opposition] have the media; they have the tycoons who fund demonstrations: But we have the people."
If the pressures are not bending the ground forces, they are squeezing Netanyahu’s ‘pips’: There wasn’t a mention of judicial reform by Netanyahu; he embraced the masses of demonstrators, whilst keeping ‘the issue’ at a safe arm’s distance. The Right demonstrators, however, were having nothing of it. They demand revolution. It is a call to redefine Judaism in a radical framing.
But the ‘revolution’ must wait. With the opening of the Knesset’s summer session on Sunday, the government will be focused on having to get a state budget passed. The deadline is 29 May. By law, if the budget isn’t passed by then, the Knesset is automatically dissolved. Although none of the parties has an interest in dissolution, talks likely will go down the wire.
Equally controversial will be legislation altering the parameters by which the ultra-Orthodox become exempt from military service – this is complicated by being entwined with the Supreme Court controversy as the Haredi parties fear the Court overriding parliament. The means to bypass this prospect -- through a new Basic Law -- are being studied.
The West affects deep shock at events, which exposes and highlights the tension between Western liberal values and its (liberal) understanding of Judaism itself. Many American Jews, including major Jewish organizations, seem stunned into silence.
Shaul Magid, Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth college, writes:
“Why were they so shocked by the outcome”? For, whilst previous elections illustrated a decidedly rightward turn of the Israeli electorate, the last election produced a decisive win for the establishment of a stable, even strong, coalition of religious and far-right parties? What did liberal Western Jewry expect?
"For most American Jews who are Zionists, this election result was never supposed to happen", Professor Magid frankly observes.
"Whilst Israel always had a substantial right-wing current - most American Zionists believed it to be essentially a liberal country that could keep its right-wing factions at bay - and that American values and Israeli values are, if not identical, then certainly compatible. Liberal Zionism in America is built on that very premise."
Those “who were paying close attention, however, should have known that this right-wing takeover was not an out-of-the-blue, sudden event, but a gradual, transformational shift that has been in the works for decades”.
One factor identified by Magid for its ‘shock’ is that American Jews have been so committed to [unreflectively] defending "Israel" against its progressive detractors that many find it difficult to assimilate just how different is the "Israel" of today, from that of their imagination.
"Even after the Knesset passed the 2018 Jewish Nation-State Law – an evident ‘wake-up call’, which articulated very clearly that Israel was the nation-state of the Jewish people alone - and by implication, not that of all its citizens (i.e. Palestinian Israelis), most American Jews remained steadfast, in their position of Israel being the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’."
What are the reasons for this shift? Part of it, has to do with the increased influence of national-religious sentiment as the Occupation grew into a broad-based subculture of Israeli society. The settler movement is more than simply the aggregate of those living in settlement homes: It includes an intellectual and educational framework; a vision of Zionism as Greater "Israel" - or of what Chaim Gans calls, “proprietary Zionism” – i.e. one which sees the land -- from the river to the sea -- belonging exclusively to the Jews.
Other factors were ‘occupation fatigue’, which created a kind of ideological vacuum that was filled by nationalism, which drifted into an embrace of ever more draconian measures to secure "Israel’s" safety from both internal and external threats. Yet another factor is "Israel’s" stance at the forefront of the neo-liberal movement, adopting for "Israel" the moniker of the ‘Start-Up Nation’.
This firstly -- for those Israelis who traditionally would have been on the Israeli Left -- instead became prosperous. The ‘new rich’, largely secular Jews, whose ideological commitments formerly would have been expected to be of the Left, instead became cosmopolitanist and less invested in "Israel’s" leftist political movements. They were more interested in the acquisition of wealth and financial success.
This led, secondly, to a vacuum forming in the collective identity which has been filled by the rise of the religious-nationalist Judaic ideology. A shift that gave many Israelis a newfound sense of collective self-hood (albeit, one very different from the erstwhile, leftist one).
This identity was not limited to religious Jews, but it also affected secular Jews who were living the neo-liberal cosmopolitan lifestyle, but experiencing a void of belonging. The lifestyle did not contain the identitarian glue that had bonded their more socialist parents and grandparents.
But what many in America did not perceive was how this newly globalised coastal society, though prosperous, still was in search for a new raison d’être -- a new ideological foundation. They leaned to the (secular) Right.
Finally, Professor Magid reaches to the Western ‘blind spot’: Whereas Western figures consistently claim that the radical Right national-religious movement does not “represent Judaism”, which, on their reading “is liberal, humanistic, and focuses on justice and equality”, the other, equally authentic side to the Judaic ‘story’ is the obverse -- it is messianic, mystical, revolutionary and, frankly said, Apocalyptic.
This latter vein now occupies key ministerial posts in the Netanyahu government. There is no way the Biden Administration, so bereft of empathy, will be able to manage this ‘alien’ occurrence crashing into their literal, interest-based ‘world’. It is wholly dissonant to their framework.