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No Country for New Governments

Here are the personal thoughts of Judith Bara of Mosaic Reform on the current situation In Israel.

We all have personal thoughts at this tragic time.

If you’d like to contribute articles about Israel please contact Israel matters at Mosaic

From: Judith Bara

I had hoped that by now I would have applauded the fact that for the first time in several elections Binyamin Netanyahu was no longer the prime minister of Israel and that a new coalition government of centre, moderate right and centre left parties was working on a policy agenda. This would not have detracted from the fact that the political system in Israel is broken and that serious efforts need to be made to introduce new procedures, especially electoral reform, in order to avoid the need for four elections in two years ever again. Perhaps there might even be hope for a renewal of decency, civility and fairness in government. It was not to be.

Instead, there is a stand-off between Palestinian Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, whilst rockets fired from Gaza by Hamas rain down on towns in central Israel, followed or preceded by (depending on your view), Israeli air strikes over Gaza City. Violence between communities rages across the country. And it is also possible that Netanyahu might emerge from this disaster as the prime minister.

To say that the present manifestation of the conflict between Israel and Hamas is somehow to be expected may be justified. But to say, as some are saying, that this is the cause of the appalling behaviour in terms of sectarian rioting across Israel is not. It is simplistic and short-sighted. The Israel-Hamas conflict is one aspect of the current manifestation of the ongoing clash of two nations seeking a home in the same, small territory. It is fought, essentially, within a military arena, with larger states in the world acting as supporters, occasionally as peacemakers, but, especially, as ordnance suppliers. A current example of this is the Iranian government’s role in helping to arm Hamas. This type of scenario has been the case since British Mandate era.  In the present era, any efforts to achieve real peace has been rendered impossible when dealing with Hamas, because it refuses to negotiate, refuses to accept the legitimacy of the Israeli state and remains both a political and paramilitary entity. It is indeed recognised internationally as a terrorist organisation.

But what horrifies me most about this current crisis is the breakdown of law and order and the rise in sectarian violence in cities and towns within Israel’s pre-1967 borders. I would never have believed that in areas which provided examples of good neighbourliness between Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinians, like Haifa, would see these communities turn on each other in such a violent way; nor that in Lod, a Jewish man would be shot by local Israeli Palestinians; nor that an angry mob of Israeli Jews would beat and lynch a young Palestinian Israeli in Bat Yam. This is not the Israel that I know and care about.

The conflict between communities within Israel – including Jerusalem – is of a much more complicated nature than the Israel-Hamas conflict. We could arguably go back to the advent of first, Christianity and then, Islam, to seek the root causes. More recently we might point to the partition of mandatory Palestine, which created the first Palestinian refugee crisis. Or, indeed to the aftermath of the 1967 War, which created the physical possibility of statehood for Palestinians after the disengagement between Jordan and the West Bank. This is all well-documented, but newer and more worrying roots are much more home-grown. There is a view that, in fact, this current crisis of identity within Israel is the result of the scenario which was allowed to unfold after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, z”l, in 1995. Rabin had died because he tried to bring about peace with the Palestinians through the Oslo Accords and agreed to the creation of an embryonic Palestinian state. This was anathema to many Israelis, especially on the far right, especially if they were religious. Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir, was of this persuasion. But far from being encouraged to see the error of his ways whilst in prison, he has been treated like a celebrity. Since 1995, the rise in influence of people of similar beliefs has expanded greatly. The political culture, based on democracy, rights and the rule of law has been consistently eroded.

In 1971, we witnessed the creation, by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, of an orthodox, far right, racist party with a paramilitary wing – Kach. The Israeli government banned it in 1994 but its supporters continued to flourish, especially among the settler community, and have managed to reinvent themselves as a new political party, Religious Zionism. This group now boasts 6 Knesset seats, a gain of 4 over the previous election. It has a large following among younger people and orchestrated a ‘Flag March’ in Jerusalem on May 10th. This type of march is designed to pass through the Moslem Quarter and participants chant racist slogans, including ‘Death to the Arabs’. It is an activity conceived to provoke confrontation with the Palestinian population. The group refused to abide by police demands that cancel its intention to hold a march on May 10th. Belatedly, it agreed not to take its usual route to try and meet police efforts to de-escalate tension, but this made little difference. Violence was inevitable, especially as the march took place so soon after clashes had occurred between police and Arab protesters two nights earlier. Just as the second intifada was ostensibly triggered in 2000 by the failure of the Camp David peace negotiations, it was also helped on its way by a deliberately provocative visit to the Temple Mount by then Leader of the Opposition, Ariel Sharon, so too is the current violence across Israel a manifestation of provocation and strategic planning by the religious far right.

The root cause of the violence, especially that within Israel, is the fact that the political culture of Israel has been allowed to develop in such a way as to undermine law and order and human rights, to say nothing of community cohesion. The caretaker prime minister has used every opportunity to stay in power, whether this means pandering to the antediluvian attitudes held by the Haredim, doing deals with any party no matter what their ideological basis or undermining the rule of law. Rather, than trying to bring communities closer, he has fanned the flames of sectarianism and division which exacerbates the fractured nature of the political culture of the country and fails to prevent yet another generation on both sides falling prey to extremist rhetoric and violence. The only clear voice of reason on the public stage so far seems to have been that of President Rivlin who has tried to de-escalate the crisis, but he has little authority, being a titular head of state only. And this is a huge crisis, not only for Israel, not only for its citizens and the region but for all of us in the diaspora and indeed, the whole world.


Many thanks to Judith for sharing her thoughts.  Please note that these are her personal views and NOT those of Mosaic Jewish Community or our three Synagogues.  For more about Israel see Mosaic’s webpage about Israel.  If you’d like to contribute to this series or take part in some discussions about Israel then please contact Israel matters at Mosaic

May 18, 2021