Tomer Persico, The Duality of Israeli Existence

Tomer Persico, The Duality of Israeli Existence

The following is a translation of a Facebook post, Dr. Tomer Persico published today. In the eight hours since it was published, it received over 1,700 likes. By the time you read it, it will have many more. Persico is a Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, and teaches at the department for Comparative Religion in Tel-Aviv University. But more than that, he is an astute observer of Israeli reality.

Translator: Maya Haber

The story over the last few weeks is the collapse of the delicate duality the Israeli government has been trying to preserve for years. It is the duality of occupation at home and democracy for abroad, religious coercion at home and a booming high-tech industry abroad, the stabbing at a Jerusalem Pride parade and pinkwashing for abroad. This is a strategic duality. It allows Israel to play a part in the community of enlightened nations. It has enormous benefits like trade agreements, the ability to purchase advanced weaponry (and silent permission to possess nuclear weapons) and the right to participate in the coalition of the virtuous allies fighting against jihadist Islam.

Netanyahu understands well the value of this duality. He proudly speaks of values Israel shares with Europe. He hints that the US and Israel share the status of God’s chosen. He speaks of LGBT rights in Israel. But most often Netanyahu mentions that Israel is “the only democracy in the Middle East.” These statements are a first-rate foreign-relations tool. This is what Israel has to sell. As Amos Kenan said once, no one will weep for the death of a Jewish Effendi. If Israel’s values resembled its neighbors, it would be thrown to the dogs just like them.

The last few weeks have therefore been a nightmare for Israeli foreign relations: Israel’s brutalization won over Israeli Hasbara (PR or public diplomacy). A day after the attacks in Brussels, which killed 31 people, Israel’s transportation minister, Yisrael Katz joked on state radio that Belgians should stop eating chocolate and instead focus on Muslims in their communities who are involved in terrorism. Israel’s Science and Technology minister, Ofir Akunis mocked EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini for crying at a press conference, after getting word of the deadly terror attacks in Brussels. Some of the online responses of so many Israelis who ridiculed the Belgians and rejoiced at their misfortunes were translated and circulated around the world.

We can add to the Hasbara disaster of the last few weeks the government’s surrender to the ultra-orthodox and passed bills that bar Conservative and Reform converts from using public Israeli Mikveh (ritual baths) and opposing a separate and egalitarian prayer area at the Kotel. Both these issues illustrate to American Jewry (yet another strategic asset of Israel) how flawed Israel’s religious liberty is.

The highlight of the collapse of this delicate duality came when an Israeli soldier was filmed shooting dead a wounded Palestinian man. But worse yet were the recorded nonchalant responses of the soldiers surrounding him. This is an Israeli PR disaster. It is an expression of the penetration of public brutalization of Israeli society into the army. Anyone who watched the fiery criticism of the IDF’s Chief of Staff for saying that he would not “want a soldier to empty a magazine on a girl with scissors” is not surprised to see soldiers act like mobsters and not like army soldiers.

We can add to the collapse of the fragile duality various “loyalty citizenship” bills. “The anti-Boycott Law” which penalizes persons or organizations that call for an economic, cultural, or academic boycott of Israel or the settlements. “The NGO law” outs leftwing organizations criticizing the government and the occupation and make them suspect of being foreign agents. And “the Jewish Nation-State Law” institutionalizes the discrimination against Arabs by allowing preferential funding of education, local authorities, third sector organizations and Jewish religious institutions which foster Jewish national heritage. None of these bills won Israel points as “the only democracy in the middle east.

Slowly but surely Israel fails to conceal the process in which it gradually sheds its democratic characteristics in favor of ethnocratic characteristics.  This is the process in which (nationalist Orthodox) Judaism replaces citizenship as the organizing principle of the state’s politics and ethics. This is an internally destructive process and it will cause the isolation of Israel from its allies in the world.

Another tragedy of the time is the absence of opposition to this process. On the contrary, except Meretz, representatives of the Israeli opposition are excited to join in the pathetic effort to curry favor with the brutalizing masses. The Labor Party will go down in history for this shame.




  1. Daniel Mandell March 25, 2016 at 12:07 pm - Reply

    Re: Professor Persico’s mention of “pinkwashing”: that’s become a common epithet in the U.S. which is becoming a problem for Jewish university students and faculty. But my perception from this side of the Atlantic/Mediterranean is that applause for LBGT rights in Israel is usually combined with criticism of the occupation. Those attacking LBGT rights in Israel tend to applaud incorporating the West Bank and even expelling Palestinians. So where’s the washing? Seriously, give me examples or a (serious) study of the problem.

  2. Edward goldstein March 26, 2016 at 8:06 am - Reply

    One must add that Israeli leaders have also commented that now, if Europeans realize “what we go thru every day,” they’ll stop focusing on settlement expansion. I need not explain to those who read this space the moral and intellectual falsciousness of that line of argument.

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