Haaretz

In ‘Red’ and ‘Blue’ Israel, Separate Lives and Divergent Narratives



 

And there is a red, or more conservative, Israel that thought the secretary of state was delusional and insulting, divorced from the harsh reality of the only real democracy in the Middle East struggling to preserve itself in a hostile neighborhood.

Just as in the United States, many Israelis cling to their own facts, retreat to their own media outlets, advance their own narratives, and basically just talk with people who think like they do.

The result is a politics that is almost as internally divided as the relationship with Palestinians is externally.

“Either you’re in my group or the other group, my team or the other team,” said Abraham Diskin, an emeritus associate professor at Hebrew University and longtime student of Israeli society. “It’s a universal phenomenon. Always the other team is to be blamed.”

The divide seems to have grown in recent years.

At Shabbat dinners in more leftist homes, where many disapprove of the occupation of the West Bank and the construction of settlements, the talk sometimes turns to when it will all prove too much, when it might be time to finally leave Israel for the United States, Canada or Europe.

In more rightist homes, frustration grows at Palestinian violence, at European haughtiness and now what at is seen as an American betrayal, all fueled by a suspicion that anti-Semitism lies at the core of these acts.

A people split over issues so fundamental to their nation is one that has also turned away from a solution once pursued so adamantly.

While a majority of Israelis still support the creation of a Palestinian state as part of a so-called two-state solution, there is despair among many that it will ever happen — and plenty of disenchantment among others who now conclude that it should not.

The idea of two states side by side was at the heart of the Oslo peace accords signed in the 1990s, and it was the core of the various agreements that President Obama and his two most recent predecessors, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, tried to broker.

It was the centerpiece of deals offered by prime ministers like Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, only to be rejected by Palestinian leaders, who had their own internal divisions to worry about.

But now the idea has soured, like hummus left in the sun too long.

Mr. Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, both still formally support the concept, but each defines it differently and neither seems to consider it realistic anytime soon.

The election of President-elect Donald J. Trump means there will no longer be a strong advocate for this approach in the White House.

A survey last summer by the Israel Democracy Institute and the Palestinian Center for Polling and Survey Research pointed to the broader schism in Israeli society.

Fully 88 percent of those on the left supported a hypothetical two-state agreement. But such a deal drew the support of just 10 percent on the right. It was backed by 59 percent in the political center.

That disparity helps explain why Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly failed to forge a coalition government with the opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog, chairman of the center-left Zionist Union.

Israel had multiple national-unity governments through the 1980s, but the prospect today seems remote.

Instead, when Mr. Netanyahu needs to shore up his coalition, he tacks to the right, as he did this year by bringing in Avigdor Lieberman as defense minister.

But it is easy to go overboard in this analysis, and to the extent there are different camps with different narratives, they are not necessarily equal or equivalent.

Asher Cohen, a professor at Bar-Ilan University who has specialized in Israeli culture, noted there was a large political center in Israel, its size increasing at the expense of the shrinking left.

And some of Mr. Kerry’s points, especially making East Jerusalem the capital of a Palestinian state, rankle Israelis across ideological lines, he said.

“Even if Kerry’s remarks were close to their own views, centrists and leftists did not appreciate the one-sidedness of the speech and the asymmetry in the blame assigned to Israel and to the Palestinians,” Mr. Cohen said.

Still, Israel is undergoing significant demographic changes that are fraying the idea of a common Israeli identity.

Jerusalem feels increasingly religious and traditional, quiet during Shabbat when stores and businesses close each week, while Tel Aviv is a bustling, sophisticated center of European-style nightclubs, art galleries and start-ups.

Different sectors in Israeli society have their own neighborhoods, their own community centers, even their own newspapers. There are also separate school systems, one for each of the major sectors.

“Israel is increasingly polarized into different groups that have little to do with one another, despite its tight geography,” said Robert Danin, a former State Department official who worked on Middle East issues.

President Reuven Rivlin highlighted the changing Israeli society in a speech last year. Many Israelis, he said, still think of their country as consisting of a large secular Zionist majority with three minority groups: Arabs, ultra-Orthodox Jews and a national religious community more akin to Modern Orthodox in American terms.

But today, he noted, “the reality has totally changed.” He noted that about 38 percent of first-grade classes in Israel were secular Jews while about a quarter were Arabs, close to a quarter were ultra-Orthodox and about 15 percent were national religious.

“The demographic processes that are restructuring or redesigning the shape of Israeli society have, in fact, created a new Israeli order — a reality in which there is no longer a clear majority, nor clear minority groups,” Mr. Rivlin said, just “tribes,” as he called them.

A study by the Pew Research Center this year showed that Israeli Jews live within their own separate worlds.

Most secular Israeli Jews thought democratic principles should take precedence over Jewish law on questions like marriage, while most ultra-Orthodox Jews thought the other way around.

Roughly a third of those surveyed thought settlements hurt Israeli security, another third thought they helped and the rest said they made no difference.

Amid this division is an uncertain future. Mr. Rivlin has urged bridging the gaps and bringing Israelis together. That did not happen in 2016.

So when Mr. Rivlin offered his annual New Year’s message on Thursday, his optimism was tempered. He hoped 2017 would be known as the “year of mutual respect.”

H/T nytimes.com

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