This a work of speculative fiction. It is an attempt to describe a future where the current Israeli trend of embracing right-wing politics, and valuing nationalism over democracy, continues unchecked. The purpose behind this stark portrait is not to predict it as an inevitable future, but to illustrate how bad things could get if we are not successful in containing Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman. Following Mya Guarnieri’s Imagining Israel’s Future, this article is the second in a series postulating potential outcomes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The May 25, 2020 story in the New York Jewish Week merited only a link in the lower right-hand corner of the web page.
The headline read “Attendance at AIPAC Conference Hits All-Time Low At 1000.” The reporter went on to say that she believed even that number was inflated.
The crowd was described as “overwhelmingly older and religious,” a mix of Orthodox Jews and fundamentalist Christians, with very few exceptions.
It was an election year, and Israel was at the center of controversy. But ever since AIPAC lost the battle to renew American military aid to Israel, the organization was gasping its last breath.
The American Jewish peace movement, with such groups as J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace and Americans for Peace Now had completely disappeared, buried by the disillusionment and disconnect of the new generation of Jewish leaders with Israel.
Some of those groups merged with broader American peace and justice groups, others just faded away. Everyone wants to know: how did this happen?
Most of us trace the cause back to the beginning of the 21st century. Pollsters were finding that Israel, while still important to most Jews who felt affiliated with some sort of Jewish community, was becoming less of a day-to-day interest.
Younger Jews were split over trying to reconcile their liberal idealism with Israeli policies. Some just didn’t try, backing Israel blindly despite the inherent contradiction. But more and more either wanted Israel to change its behavior, or found the moral mess of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict too complex to deal with.
The massive destruction Israel wrought in Lebanon in 2006, and again in Gaza in 2009 deeply disturbed American Jews. Many tried to accept Israeli government excuses that disproportionate force was necessary because of the kind of enemy it had to fight. However, it was getting harder to square Israeli government policy with American Jewish values.
And then Israel began moving farther and farther to the right. At first, this manifested itself in greater hostility towards non-Jewish Israelis. It did not take long before it was also directed at Jews opposed to the Occupation, and in favor of such typically ‘western’ things as equality for migrant workers and Arab Israelis.
Meanwhile, progressive Israeli organizations found more and more of their sources of funding barred by the government, while leftwing activists faced increasingly heavy fines and longer jail time.
As Palestinian citizens of Israel faced growing discrimination in the cities where they lived, Jews increasingly began moving to exclusively Arab towns such as Sakhnin and Umm-al-Fahmm. As the movement within Israel to avoid doing any business with or buy from Arabs, such municipalities became increasingly poverty-stricken, and susceptible to “good offers” on local properties.
By 2017, Israel’s brain drain reached a critical mass. Secular Israelis departed in droves as the influx of new immigrants came to consist overwhelmingly of Orthodox Jews. The Likud party became the symbol of the moderate center as the right raised an increasingly popular call to ignore American Jewish sensibilities, as Israel had done with the rest of the international community. The Americans, as far as the Israeli right were concerned, had become just as bad as the Europeans.
Israel’s increasingly religious Jewish population saw the country’s economy decline precipitously, as the technology and finance whiz kids who had become the backbone of the country’s private sector left for Europe, the US, and even some parts of the Muslim world, which had embarked on a program to welcome back Jews of Arab descent, whose families had been forced out after the 1948 war. Even Turkey’s Jewish population was growing, for the first time since the Spanish Inquisition.
The Arab world’s increasing moderation, coupled with its much stronger opposition to the Occupation was seen in Israel as the “reconciliation threat.” Jews could remain in the Middle East, and enjoy its cultural familiarity and good climate without the stress of being isolated in Israel. This wasn’t something that Jews returning to Muslim countries bragged about. They just did it, much as the Israeli grandchildren of Holocaust victims obtained second, European passports, and moved en masse to German cities like Berlin.
In 2018, Israel’s international isolation became complete when it formally annexed the West Bank settlements, the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea region. In order to maintain what Israelis saw as a “Jewish democracy,” Israel didn’t formally annex the rest of the West Bank, but the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority forced Israel to take control of the rest of territory there. It granted only residency rights, not citizenship, to the Arabs of the West Bank.
For most of the Jews outside of Israel, including the swelling number of Israeli expatriates living in the Diaspora, this was the last straw. Even among mainstream Jews, the phrase “Zionist apartheid” became the only way to refer to the Israeli system of government. And the organized Jewish community, fearful of anti-Semitism if they should continue to be associated with Israel, appalled at what the Zionist dream had devolved into, began to undertake projects to formally separate themselves from Israel.
In 2019, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 2948 condemning “Zionist apartheid,” calling for immediate citizenship for all “residents of Israel,” opening Jerusalem to all worshippers of all faiths and providing for stern international sanctions if Israel failed to comply.
In a measure of how much things had changed, two-thirds of the US House of Representatives and ninety percent of the Senate voted for concurrent resolutions supporting the Security Council decision. Only those Congressmen heavily supported by the Christian Right voted against it.
Gobal support for Israel is relegated to a small sliver of the Jewish and Christian religious right. Israel itself remains secure from outside attack, due to its nuclear arsenal. It continues to contain the spreading riots of Palestinians, in the “administered territories” as well as within Israel.
But biting sanctions have crippled the Israeli economy. While some Evangelical and Jewish groups have been able to funnel enough money to Israel to stave off mass starvation, everyone knows it is only a matter of time before Israel must comply with the UNSC resolutions or starve to death
The Arab towns in Israel have become impoverished ghettos. The primary line of work for Arabs, as well as many poor Jews, was in the police force, which was the only public sector whose funding was not cut as Israel’s budget shrank.
Administrative detentions were expanded from the West Bank areas and began being applied in Israel, affecting Arabs and Jews from all sides of the political spectrum if they were perceived to be acting against “the interests of the state.” The governing coalition of nationalist and religious political parties compromised to enact laws expanding the role of Jewish law in the legal system as well as more and more “loyalty regulation,” violations of which sometimes carried jail time, but more often simply made it impossible to find work or do business in Israel.
In Europe and the United States, Jews simply turned their backs in disgust.
Jewish history will go on. But without a homeland, Jews everywhere will be left to wonder what might have been if only they could have shared their Zionist dreams with the Palestinians who were already there.
This article is licensed to Souciant courtesy of Babylon Times.