Divided We Fall

If a sense of alienation spreads among the national religious camp, it can do inestimable damage to the state’s ability to meet the dangers and challenges facing it.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on October 12, 2008.)

United we stand, divided we fall. This old adage about the advantages of being united is almost self-evident. And yet it requires some elaboration when applied to a democratic society, where uniformity of opinion is not the general rule, and is not even to be desired. The life-blood of a democracy are differences of opinion between different elements of the society that are debated and resolved in democratic elections.

So what is the meaning of being united in a democratic society? And especially in Israel, a heterogeneous society, faced by enemies, problems, and challenges. Being united means that the different segments of Israeli society do not feel alienated from the state and its institutions. And although Israel can be given high marks for having forged in the 60 years of its existence a considerable degree of this sort of unity among various elements that make up Israeli society, we still have a long way to go when measured against this yardstick.

Naturally, the first measure we take is the degree of alienation among Israel’s minority population from the Jewish state, the State of Israel. Here at the top of the list come the Arab residents of East Jerusalem. Years of neglect by successive Israeli governments and Jerusalem municipalities have simply left them out in the cold. They neither participate in the Jerusalem municipal elections nor in the elections to the Knesset. That, more than anything, expresses alienation from the State of Israel and its institutions. This sense of alienation cannot but lead to hostility and the possibility of violent reactions.

Next come the 150,000 Bedouin in the Negev. Years of government neglect and erratic measures to urbanize these nomadic people are turning them into an increasingly alienated and hostile element, easy prey to the subversive Islamic Movement from the north that in recent years has been penetrating Bedouin towns and encampments in the Negev, spreading vicious anti-Israel propaganda.

And so on down the line till we come to the one success story – the Druze community in Israel, whose integration into Israeli society is primarily due the service of its young men in the IDF.

Israel’s much maligned proportional representation system of elections to the Knesset has, nevertheless, given most segments of Israeli society representation on the Israeli political scene and a feeling of participation in the political process where their grievances can be heard and sometimes even rectified, an important bulwark against feelings of alienation from the state.

Whereas the sense of alienation from the state and its institutions among a good part of Israel’s non-Jewish minorities is in no small measure the result of governmental neglect throughout the years, a lack of a clear policy to address their grievances and further their integration into Israeli society, it is a different story when we examine the subject as regards some of the Jewish segments of Israeli society.

The ultra-Orthodox, far from being integrated into Israeli society, primarily due to their young men not serving in the IDF, seem at this time to be satisfied by the representation in the Knesset achieved as a result of the proportional election system and the leverage this provides them to pursue their particularistic goals. The community of immigrants from the former Soviet Union is also well represented in the Knesset, although here one must note the stubborn refusal of the Orthodox establishment to encourage conversions of the many immigrants who consider themselves Jews. This situation is likely to breed a sense of alienation among a large group of Israeli citizens.

Most unusual – and possibly most threatening – is the situation of the national religious camp. For many years an integral part of Israeli society, contributing significantly toward the achievements of Israel’s national goals, in recent years the government’s actions are gradually pushing increasing numbers from that community to the sidelines, and toward a feeling of alienation from the state and its institutions. The uprooting of settlers in Gush Katif, and especially the use of the IDF for this operation, is perceived as a declaration of war by the state against the settlers and the hundreds of thousands who support them, a support that encompasses most of the religious camp and many among the secular public.

The invectives hurled against them by government leaders of being hallucinated and lawless extreme right-wingers, the persistent threats of further uprooting operations of settlements in Judea and Samaria – the prime minster’s latest outburst only adding insult to injury – cannot but begin to spread a sense of alienation from the state and its institutions among this significant and important segment of Israel’s society. And the initial signs are already there. The outrageous attack against Professor Ze’ev Sternhell may or may not have been the result of this trend on the margins of this society, but the lawless behavior of some of the younger settlers in Judea and Samaria is clearly a reflection of a feeling of frustration and anger that is straining against the restraints of law and order.

If a sense of alienation spreads among this important part of Israeli society it can do inestimable damage to the state’s ability to meet the dangers and challenges facing it. Maintaining unity among Israel’s citizens – Arab and Jew, religious and secular – is a goal of greatest importance. Divided we fall.

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