Very soon, Israel will mark its 75th year as an independent state. Like most countries, it will be a time for celebration and fest. It might also be a good time for reflection and feedback. Feedback, after all, is gold… it’s a gift. And here is my gift to the nation of Israel – some honest feedback (from a friend).
We start by reflecting on some recent hits on the Israeli charts. Music and culture, after all, reflects a nation’s spirit.
A recent big hit on the Israeli Charts is a song called Anachnu HaDor Haba (We Are the Next Generation). The song is sung by current IDF members Agam Buchbut, Ella Lee, and Or Amrami Brockman. The baton is now passed to the next generation – the generation born after the wars, after the revival of the State, after the Holocaust – and now we have a new “story” generation, the “instant” generation, Generation Z. The writer of the lyrics of the song, Moshe Klughaft, says: “Fifty years have passed since ‘Choref 73’ and we have arrived at ‘Aviv 23’ of the next generation” The verses of the song range from the time of the Bible, through the Holocaust, the miracle of the revival of the State – to the present day.
Another hit at this moment is Ma Nishma, Yisrael? (What’s Up, Israel?). A few months ago, the Jewish Agency asked Jews around the world to submit lyrics for a special song for Israel’s 75th. That song is now a reality, courtesy of Shaanan Streett (of Hadag Nahash) along with Jewish artists from around the world singing in several languages. Their message? We may speak different languages, but we are one people. And when we are unified, we speak in one voice, no matter where on earth we may live. Can you think of a better message from Israel in honor of this special milestone?
And a third hit is Am HaNetzach (The Eternal Nation). Subliminal V’hatzel are together again. Their unique, hard-hitting raps of the early 2000s, tackling some of Israel’s most sensitive issues head on, are legendary. So, it was only a matter of time before Subliminal and the Shadow released a new song, celebrating the resilience of this special nation on its 75th birthday. Living in Israel isn’t easy, and the country is not without its problems, the boys tell us. “We’ve come a long way together,” they sing, “and together we’ll face it all – delusions, lies, and fear…but the eternal nation is not afraid.”
It’s also appropriate to reflect on the state of the country today – wondering if it will last another 75 years, and if so, in what condition?
Taking Palestinians out of the ‘equation’ for a moment; ‘Jewish Israel’ reflects multiple personalities. It seems to be a nation at war with itself. The facets don’t get along comfortably. Israel has become mad – schizophrenic – with multiple (dangerous) personalities. There are warning signs every day: Israeli democracy is in danger.
As a ‘hosted’ minority in most parts of the world, that have been persecuted, Jews need a homeland. There can be no debate about this. After 75 years, the questions surrounding Israel are NOT whether there is a need for a homeland for Jews, but what shape this homeland should take? What does its future look like? The answer to this fundamental question, is precisely what is tearing the nation apart; and risking its very existence.
Take Eva Weiner. She survived the “Voyage of the Damned” during the Holocaust. With antisemitism rising today in America, a Jewish homeland is “all the more important,” she says. A resident of Neptune (Florida), Wiener is among the few living survivors of the MS St. Louis, the ill-fated cruise liner that departed on May 13, 1939 from Hamburg, Germany, with 937 Jewish refugees seeking freedom from Hitler’s regime. They were turned away from many ports they stopped at. Wiener was a toddler when her parents boarded the St. Louis and departed Nazi Germany with great fanfare. The ship was bound for Havana, but no country, including Cuba and the United States, would permit entry to the passengers. When they reached Havana, one man on the boat was so distraught at being turned away that he slit his wrists and jumped overboard. Gustav Schroeder, the ship’s captain, refused to return to Germany, where the passengers would face certain death. Eventually, four countries agreed to take them in: England, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. “My father requested to go to England because he wanted as much distance between us and Germany as possible. It was a wise decision. Unfortunately, nearly 300 other passengers who found themselves in other countries ended up being killed in concentration camps.” Eva Weiner is Israeli but prefers to live in the U.S.!
Or consider Labi. At 92, he is a retired physician living in Manhattan. He was born in Benghazi, Libya. He recalls that life in Benghazi was peaceful until 1938, when the fascist Italian government that controlled the region began passing antisemitic laws. After war broke out, Labi’s father was taken to a concentration camp. “Although he returned to us alive, he never recovered from that experience,” his son said. The family fled to Egypt, “but the Germans kept advancing so we continued running. We escaped to Sudan for a while but when we had the chance to go to Palestine, which was then under British rule, we took it.” In Palestine, Labi joined the Haganah, a Jewish paramilitary group, at age 16. He later became an officer in the Israeli Defense Forces, working to train new recruits. “We didn’t have a real army or real weapons. But we needed fighting soldiers who could defend our new state.” The United Nations in November 1947 passed a resolution to partition Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states. “Everyone was exhilarated and ran out into the streets to celebrate,” Labi says. “We danced and sang with flags in our hands all night long. It’s hard to describe the joy and happiness. We were simply overjoyed to have our own state in our own homeland.” Labi too, is Israeli, but prefers to live in the U.S.!
Eva and Labi are two of roughy 4 million dual-national Israelis. Israel, itself has a nominal Jewish population of 7 Million, the majority of which carry a second passport; and participate in politics both inside and outside Israel. They vote in both countries and are deeply engaged in ensuring that the countries they live in – not Israel – support Israel. These dual national, foreign resident Israelis will stop at nothing to make sure there is total – and utter support for Israel (everywhere). The majority don’t want to live there but would at the same time support policies that deny others (notably Palestinians), the opportunity to do so peacefully. Israel, now, has become an insurance policy that most Jews can claim – if persecuted – but clearly is not a ‘best’ place for live. Why is that?
The problem is that Israel has become a deeply divided nation – among Israelis themselves. No government in recent times has lasted much more than 6 months. There is no political stability.
On eight-thirty on March 27, a major Tel Aviv junction normally choked on a Monday night with late rush hour traffic instead hosted young Israelis in a frenzied victory dance. Hundreds of thousands of other Israelis had been protesting all day; one hoisted a sign comparing 1948—when Israelis also danced in the streets to celebrate the founding of the state—to 2023. An influential columnist similarly proclaimed: “This is our second 1948.”
The evening street revelers had just learned that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to pause the legislation of a series of measures to constrain, if not clobber, judicial independence in Israel. For three months, Israelis were panicking at the looming evisceration of the Supreme Court, the country’s most important constraint on state power, and mounted an extraordinary civic protest under the banner of democracy. After a wave of reservists in crack military units threatened not to report for duty, Israel’s defense minister (from Netanyahu’s Likud party) called a halt to the legislation, and a day later, last Sunday, Netanyahu summarily fired him. The protestors went wild, blocking highways all night and bringing the country to a hair-raising standstill with a general strike. Netanyahu’s concession of a temporary pause was their greatest—and only—achievement so far. Many felt democracy was being reborn.
But at the very same time, another enormous crowd was dejected. Israel’s most right wing, overwhelmingly religious Jewish citizens were out in force at a large-scale demonstration in Jerusalem that same night. They longed for the government they had just elected last November to advance their interests, which include punishing the courts; to these voters, pausing the legislation was tantamount to electoral theft.
This rift between the right-wing pro-Netanyahu camp and the pro-democracy camp has deeply polarized Israel.
Since Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government announced plans to undermine the independence of Israel’s Supreme Court, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have demonstrated in the streets. All of Israel’s living former attorneys general, in a joint statement, have warned that Mr. Netanyahu’s proposal imperils efforts to “preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.” American Jewish leaders are cheering on the protests. Earlier this month, Alan Solow, the former head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said he and other American Jewish notables “share the concerns of tens of thousands of Israelis determined to protect their democracy.” In a public declaration, Mr. Solow and 168 other influential American Jews warned that “the new government’s direction mirrors anti-democratic trends that we see arising elsewhere.”
And in the background, while Israelis fight Israelis; there has always been another deep divide in the land that is now called Israel. The rift between Israeli Jews and Palestinians (both Christian and Muslim).
This imminent head-on collision between the two ‘Israeli’ worlds – doesn’t include Palestinians. Strangely, the people most threatened by Mr. Netanyahu’s authoritarianism aren’t part of the movement against it. The demonstrations include very few Palestinians. In fact, Palestinian politicians have criticized them for having, in the words of former Knesset member Sami Abu Shehadeh, “nothing to do with the main problem in the region — justice and equality for all the people living here.” It’s not a movement for equal rights. It’s a movement to preserve the political system that existed before Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition took power, which was not, for Palestinians, a genuine liberal democracy in the first place. It’s a movement to save liberal democracy for Israeli Jews.
Nobody knows which tectonic plate in Israel’s fault line will win, and which will crumble. The worldviews of these blocs are radically opposed; their communities are so separate they hardly ever meet in daily life. The essential pillars of democracy in Israel are deeply cracked. The country’s constitution is collapsing. This is not new, since even at its founding, amidst disagreements between religious or secular sources of the law; the first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, chafed at constraints on his (or his party’s) power.
While there have been differences among Jews both inside and outside Israel, everyone agrees that Israel must exist. But at the same time, hypocritically, despite deep differences about democracy inside Israel, no one wants equality or Israeli democracy to include Arabs. Israel effectively operates like an apartheid state.
Beyond domestic fissures, there is also another dynamic at play. Israeli behavior outside Israel (especially since Netanyahu became Prime Minister) has caused many ‘traditional’ supporters outside Israel to pause. Dual national Israel-Americans, Israeli-Brits, French Israelis etc. do have substantial influence in controlling the information diet in the ‘West’ and have carefully reduced negative news on Israel from leaking out. But in this age of mass internet communications, information has slipped through that is deeply troubling about what can only be characterized as “rogue” behavior by Israelis on a global scale.
It turns out an Israeli-dual agent Paula Broadwell (nee Kunsch) was sleeping with the head of the CIA and obtained access to his (code) black book. And then it turned out that another Israeli-dual agent (Goldberg) was involved in managing the release of information involving Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinski. At one point, before the information leaked out, Netanyahu, turned to Clinton during the Wye Mills ‘negotiations’ with the Palestinians and suggested he had this information if Clinton pressed to hard for Israeli concessions. And then most recently, the Epstein/Maxwell (pedophilia entrapment of major political and business leaders) saga exploded, with careful omission of both Epstein and Maxwell’s deep links to Israeli Intelligence. Also troubling, has been Israeli Pegasus spying software on US state department employee cell phones. Clearly, Netanyahu approved of all these operations and has no qualms about it. In his mind, he is brilliant and shrewd.
Other Israeli misdeeds include catastrophic outcomes to Nuclear weapon tests in the Indian ocean – that have been quickly brushed under the carpet. Direct Israeli influence within the Whitehouse (via the Kushners) or within the US state-department with key players like Victoria Nuland (who precipitated the Ukraine war, via Israeli-Ukranians like Zelensky) cannot be ignored. Let’s not for a second forget the massive growth in Israeli LNG (Natural Gas) exports to Europe now that Russia’s pipelines have been (conveniently) destroyed at 4 times the price of Russian Natural Gas. Whether or not Israeli Americans work in government (in the US), their loyalties are always primarily to Israel i.e. Israeli security and Israeli national interests.
Israel’s actions on the global and local scale have exceeded a simple need for a democratic homeland at peace with the world, and at peace with all its residents and neighbors. Israel is split – there are those that seek peace and others that seek a permanent state of conflict and expansion. It has split its citizens; it has also split its supporters. Like a decaying empire, Netanyahu’s right-wing leadership has overreached both domestically and internationally. For many Israelis, the rule of law and democracy still matter. Among an important segment of Israel’s devout Jews, human rights are compatible with their religious observance. Many of these people are disgusted by Netanyahu’s corruption, sheer brazen flaunting of domestic and international law. Netanyahu’s personal ratings have sunk to the lowest point in recent memory – but he still has a minority cult following of supporters (like Trump).
No Israeli should be under the delusion that other nations or leaders around the world are blind to this behavior (and its outcomes). The fact that people are silent and fear the back clash from Israeli lobbyists inside their countries should not be viewed as tacit acceptance. Having criminals at the helm of any nation is not a recipe for a sustainable future. Israeli interference and involvement in political affairs outside Israel are not healthy and could have very dire consequences and blow back.
If Israel is to survive another 75 years, it must recommit to democracy, international law and above else peace with all this residents and neighbors. Israel’s greatest enemy are Israeli’s themselves. The path Israel is currently on is not good for Israel. Most Israelis know this. There is a reason there is net migration outside Israel today; and has been for several years. People are voting with their feet.
Israeli contribution to the greatness of mankind – to science, music, art, literature, culture, etc. – has been well documented. Current songs rising in the charts in Israel reflect the better side of this nation. It would be tragic for the world if negative aspects of this nation lead to its extinction, of its own making.