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Israeli apocalypse now?

The current coronavirus crisis is very real and has genuine far-reaching implications. But apocalyptic prophecies by hysterical pundits are not the answer.

Israelis protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem on Aug. 1, 2020. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Israelis protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem on Aug. 1, 2020. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Dan Schueftan
Dan Schueftan

To all those joining the trend of whining over the fate of the State of Israel, remember the epidemiological lessons learned from two earlier outbreaks of the same pandemic from half a century ago: during the recession before the 1967 Six-Day War and after the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

In both very difficult periods, it became clear that the number of terminal cases was lower than initially feared, that those on “ventilators” among the whiners were mainly from the “top cliché-tile,” and Israeli society recovered and returned to its usual routine–growing stronger and establishing a good life with all its traits, according to its citizens who are positioned at the top of the “happiness scale,” ahead of the United States, Britain, France and Germany.

Let it be clear: The current crisis is real. The harm to the state’s resilience is tangible; distrust in the leadership is mostly understandable; the economic fear of millions of providers and family members is justified; many of the failures in the economic and health arenas could have been avoided; rules of government that were thought to be stable have become controversial; public discourse is violent and demagogic; the political system was failing even before the pandemic, and didn’t wake up to effectively treat its victims; and the recovery process will last for years.

But the hysterical cries and peculiar apocalyptic prophecies are not the answer. Some express fake despair, such as “there goes the country,” or “this is the end of democracy,” coming from people who would behave completely differently if they really meant the trendy clichés that they were uttering. Some are bland comparisons to dark regimes, horrific phenomena and disgusting events, coming from educated people who have subordinated their discretion and public responsibility to their desire for attention.

Such people didn’t win the public’s trust in the voting booth, though they were led by an Israel Prize laureate who studied the phenomenon, and who say that Israel is headed towards fascism–despite the fact that it does not display even a single characteristic of this type of regime. The opponents of Israel’s presence in the territories and of applying sovereignty in parts of them speak of “apartheid,” even when it is emphasized that their residents will be offered citizenship if implemented. Government oppositionists wave black flags, just like the anarchists at the end of the 19th century, even though they don’t call, of course, for the abandoning of the basic social and political “rules of the game.”

They protest for democracy, yet invite Ayman Odeh, an Assad apologist, to help remove the threat to it. The chairman of the Committee of University Heads determines that “Turkey is here” and hopes to “ignite the fire of rebellion” among academic staff and students.

The deputy chief of staff expresses concern, justifiably, from rioters who support Elor Azaria, and on Holocaust Remembrance Day “identifies processes” that took place in Germany in the 1930s. Amir Haskel describes the forceful removal of protesters’ belongings at Balfour as a “pogrom.”

The prime minister himself describes a “Last Supper” protest exhibit as a “shameful threat of crucifixion.”

The ultra-Orthodox contribute to all this by educating their young to scream “Nazis” at police who come to block the spread of disease among them.

To deal with all this, two things are needed: calming and warning.

First, the calming. There is no fascism at the core of Israel’s system and society, no apartheid, no Erdoğan, no pogroms, no Nazis, no crucifixion, not even a danger to the foundation of the democratic regime. Disgusting expressions on the crazy fringes do not threaten to take over the public mainstream or government institutions. These exaggerations are intended to muster support in a political camp by delegitimizing its rival. Whoever examines fairly the idyll of the past will quickly learn that even nostalgia is no longer what it was: Israel is more democratic, open and pluralistic with every passing decade.

As for the warning: The fact that all these do not exist in its core does not negate dangerous trends. In order to be wary of them, it is important to isolate them and describe them without baseless exaggeration, which harms their trustworthiness and pushes them outside of the awareness of the majority.

Here’s the paradox: The more extreme the expression, the more it gains short-term attention from the media and less trust and willingness from the public to step up and fix what needs fixing. This is not only morally wrong; it’s politically ineffective.

Dan Schueftan is the director of the International Graduate Program in National Security Studies at the University of Haifa’s National Security Studies Center.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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