By Seth J. Frantzman
“For secular Israelis the country is a hostile environment. It’s harder for them to accept the binational aspect of apartheid, the occupation, whose existence the religious Zionist doesn’t recognize at all, the cyclical nature of the violence. In the absence of hope for peace, it’s harder for secular Israelis to shake the despair. In their paradigm, Israel isn’t a country suited to their needs.” -Rogel Alpher, Haaretz, November 1, 2015.
For years the self-appointed secular intellectual elite in Israel has been forecasting the death of “their Israel”, the “good Israel”, the “villa in the jungle”, the one Dudu Topaz called the “beautiful Israel” in 1981. Rogel Alpher has been writing for years on this topic. In August of 2014 he claimed he “could no longer live here,” arguing that the national-religious-Orthodox majority meant his “lifestyle” could not survive. Ari Shavit and his demographic minions all forecast this story, the “Orthodox” and the “Arabs” are gaining, and “our kind” are disappearing. In Alpher’s telling “secular Israelis will meet their end through extinction..their loyalty is shaky…it’s easier for them to leave, to be citizens of the world.”
It’s kind of amazing this narrative of whining that “our country” was taken from “us.” Perhaps never before in history has a group built a country, forged it in battle and removal of the local population (the 700,000 Arabs who were forced out or fled in 1948), and then decided to throw up their hands and whine “extinction” a few decades later. It’s like Shaka Zulu’s kids suddenly deciding that the Zulu nation was being taken over by “religious Zulu extremists” and his “secular Zulu empire” was no longer recognizable, and they must thus emigrate to the Xhosa heartland. It’s like hearing that the grandchild of Lycurgus of Sparta, the legendary law giver, had decided that Sparta had become to “warlike” and their “secular Sparta” was no more and they must move to Athens.
So hear’s to all you whining secular elites in Israel who claim that you are going extinct. You who built Israel. You who came here in the 1920s and 1930s and who told all the local Jews living in Israel that were religious and Sephardie that they were not part of the Zionist movement. You who decided to settle all the land with your little kibbutzim and moshavim. You who told Jews they had to be “new Jews” and invented propaganda posters of strong muscular white Jews “healing the land” and “draining the swamps.” You who slowly bought the land from the Palestinian Arab residents and removed them one by one to build your communities. You who decided that “Hebrew Labor” was the only kind of labor and that there must be no coexistence, but only Jewish-only communities and Jewish-only factories. You who built up a military force and defeated the Arab armies in 1948, and sent 700,000 Palestinian Arabs into refugee camps.
You who decided to nationalize 93 percent of the land in Israel and turn it over to the government. You who glorified secularism and told people that were religious or traditional that they were “primitive” and not part of your Zionism. You whose leaders called Yemenite Jews a “cancer” and who took children from the hands of parents during immigration of Jews from Arab countries. You who put barbed wire around the camps housing Moroccan immigrants and whose doctors decided that the “sickly and ill” should not immigrate to your pure superman secular state. You who dumped hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants in development towns and who called them “human material”. You whose education ministry suggested segregating Ashkenazi secular Jews in Israel from the “primitive” Jews who came from Arab and Muslim countries. You secular elites whose education ministry decided that the “Oriental” Jewish population who was non-European could only be used for low level labor. “Pre-vocational [education] leadership could bring a special blessing to the Oriental population, after all… the Oriental children, at least most of them, do not know how to appreciate simplified learning and cannot derive actual uselessness from non-practical education,” one of yours wrote.
After you put in place discriminatory immigration policies, you organized all settlement in Israel on ethnic and religious lines, so that all your communities had acceptance committees to preserve a secular privileged elite, the “pioneers” and everyone else had to live in little ethnic ghettos, Arab villages for Arabs, development towns for Mizrahim and parts of the cities for Orthodox Jews. When you were done segregating towns, you segregated education in Israel, schools only for secular Jews like yourself from kibbutzim, and then other schools for Mizrahim and Arabs. You put the Arabs under a curfew system with laws similar to those pass laws in South Africa. You kept the best army units for yourselves and used them to funnel people to the best professions. In short, you designed a multi-tiered state with secular elite “pioneers” on top, the “fighting Zionist Israelis” who had “defeated the Arabs”, and then you put Arabs, Haredim and Mizrahim below. They were to be used as “human material” to build your buildings and do the menial labor for your state.
You sent the army to shoot people at Kfar Kassem, to massacre Arabs coming back from work. You removed a million dunams from Arab villages and gave them to your secular friends. You strangled the lives of little minority villages, like the Armenians at Sheikh Bureaik, until they moved away, and their lands were given to kibbutzim. Villages like Jisr al-Zarqa you ringed with roads and barriers to keep it small, so you could have the landscape and beaches around it. In the Negev, for it to “bloom” you gave hundreds of thousands of dunams to your fellow-travellers and dumped the majority of people in tenement houses to work for you. You deprived the bedouin of their lands and treated them like foreigners in their own country.
You conquered the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan and Sinai and sent your friends to build kibbutzim on the new territories. Those were the “good settlers” in the Jordan valley and the Golan and Sinai. All the Arabs and Circassians and others you removed from the Golan. You denied rights to the Arabs in the conquered territories. You went and bulldozed Amwas and other Arab villages near Latrun to make way for a highway. When the Arabs rose up in 1987 your defense minister Yitzhak Rabin ordered “beatings” for them. Break their bones was the policy. Secular Israel beat and crushed the Palestinian Arabs and denied them rights, as it had Arabs in Israel in the 1950s.
And then in 2015 you say your Israel is becoming extinct? Becoming extinct? You build the edifice and now complain that you’re going extinct? Because demographically you can’t control the thing you built? Secular Israel isn’t going extinct, every bit of the DNA of Israel is a reflection of the secular imprint on the country. The monstrous inequalities, the racial and religious segregation, the segregated schools, the segregated communities. It’s like hearing whites in the Old South claim they are “going extinct.” Extinct from a system that they created.
Demographically, yes, the secular elite are less than they were in 1948. The dream was to carve out a small European Zionist state in the Middle East. The dream succeeded, but then those who made it complain that the Frankenstein they created isn’t following their orders. This is the tragedy of democracy and demographics they say. Since there can be no coup to remove their political foes, the concept is to run away and abandon the ship they built.
Is it a big surprise when you lock people into tenements in development towns and call them “primitive”, when you tell 80% of Israelis they don’t belong in Israel and that they are a “demographic threat,” that you set up a self-fulfilling prophecy where “your Israel” is becoming extinct. What if the secular elite had built an inclusive Israel? What if it had built communities where everyone could belong and an integrated education system? What if it had built a society of social mobility, where anyone could succeed, not reserved sectors for “only people like us”? What if communities were diverse and people weren’t judged by the color of their skin or religion or country of origin?