No, I didn’t devise that title in case there are any pro-Israel folk out there seeking further proof of my perfidy toward Israel. It happens to have been written by prominent Israeli satirist, film and TV writer Kobi Niv, in a column in today’s Haaretz.
He begins by referring to a tidbit from a Cindy Adams New York Post gossip column confirming Henry Kissinger was heard to say recently that Israel will not exist within ten years. Though Kissinger moves among the circles of the élite, he’s never been known as a fierce pro-Israel advocate. Nor has he ever been known as especially critical of Israel. That makes his comment, if genuine, all the more telling. Though I haven’t heard any further confirmation from other sources about this claim, I haven’t heard a denial from Kissinger.
In a brilliant piece of political satire and analysis Niv suggests it’s not a question of whether Israel will exist in ten years, but what kind of Israel will exist. From his vantage point (that of a member of the secular cultured élite), things aren’t looking well. He suggests that the struggle between secular and religious in Israel is over and the religious nationalists have won (a view I’ve espoused here). The only question that remains to be answered is when will Israel become the sort of place in which secular Israelis will no longer feel welcome: when Israel is 60% religious, 70% or 90%? And how long will it take to reach that threshold?
There is, of course, another option which most Israelis either discount or ignore. What if Israel were to become joined with Palestine as a single state or confederation? Then, it would no longer be a religious state dominated by Haredim and religious Zionists. It would become a Jewish majority forced to grapple with a large Palestinian minority. If this were to happen, then this state would have to become secular and democratic, separating the state from religion; or it would have to figure out a way to integrate the various religions into the framework of such a state. I don’t envy anyone who tries to do the latter. It seems a recipe for confusion and ongoing enmity. I’ve never heard of a state with two national religions, let alone three.
A secular democratic state would also be problematic, since both sides hold fast to their respective religions and would be loath to remove them entirely from the political sphere. But frankly, I can’t see any other way to do it. We’ve succeeded here in America, while religion continues to play a major role in the personal lives of most citizens. Of course, we’ve had a few centuries to perfect this system, while Israel has had only a few decades and done a pretty poor job of it.
We can talk all we want about what we might have liked Israel to be. For decades Diaspora Jews and secular Israelis trumpeted it as a Jewish democratic state. It used to be my “religion” as well. But the contradictions between the two terms ‘Jewish’ and ‘democratic’ have become too onerous to reconcile. So we should forget those dreams. That train’s left the station. We must, if we wish Israel to survive at all, turn to what is possible.
Do we want Israel to turn into a state filled with poor ultra-Orthodox Jews and a Palestinian under-class, a religious theocracy not unlike present-day Iran? Do we want the sort of Italian or Irish diaspora where they outnumber natives by a factor of five or ten to one? That’s what’s likely to happen if the majority of the secular élite leave to pursue their careers and build their families abroad.
Here is Niv’s projection:
Israel will become more religious Zionist, zealous, insular and unrestrained. It will be at constant war with the surrounding countries, with many nations boycotting its products. Its economy, in which inequality will grow, will weaken, and the best of its secular-liberal young men and women will leave it for Canada or Kamchatka.
Can a country like this continue to exist over time? You decide.