The difference is that Greek society has been driven to desperation, while Israeli society is living the good life.
When I read a few days ago that refugees were being beaten by masked, club-wielding goons in Greece, I felt less distressed about what was going on in Israel. If it’s happening in the “cradle of democracy,” why shouldn’t it happen here? Hey, every country, even the most liberal, has had its bouts with racist violence; what’s happening in Israel isn’t anything out of the ordinary, we’re not so bad, we’re no worse than anybody else, so have a little perspective.
But then I remembered – Greece’s economy is in ruins. The whole society is panicking, and for very good reason. Such conditions, of course, have routinely produced xenophobia and strains of fascism in societies, so what’s happening in Greece is actually normal and predictable. Desperation created the poison that’s there now in Greece’s bloodstream; the society is under abnormal, life-threatening pressure.
But what’s Israel’s excuse? Netanyahu is right: Except for the haredim and Arabs, Israel’s economy is in great shape compared to just about every other country in the world. Terror has never been less of a threat; Israelis have never been so safe. The only real danger on the horizon is a war with Iran – which will only happen if we start it ourselves.
No, those international happiness surveys that show Israelis being among the world’s happiest people are telling the truth – the economy’s good, terror has disappeared, the price of cellphones is way down, people are planning summer trips overseas, the restaurants, bars and clubs are full – and we’re ready to murder the African refugees, as well as the human rights activists who help them, and this, of course, is on top of the Arabs who we can’t ever murder enough.
The better our quality of life, the more decisively we triumph over our enemies, the meaner we become.
But this isn’t unique, either. In apartheid South Africa, the whites lived like kings, the blacks and other non-whites didn’t dare give them any trouble, yet white society did nothing but devour the “kaffirs” for decades on end. Same thing with the segregationist American South – life for white folks was good, the blacks did just as they were told, and none of it softened those rednecks’ hearts one bit.
One other thing that today’s Israel has in common with apartheid South Africa and the Jim Crow South – the absence of a liberal opposition that can threaten the white (or Jewish) supremacists’ power. In real democracies, you have liberals and conservatives, a left and a right fighting it out, switching back and forth between the government and the opposition. Not in apartheid South Africa, not in the segregationist South, and not in 21st century Israel, where the hardasses rule without challenge.
I don’t think it was inevitable that Israel would become the rabidly ultra-nationalistic country it is. Until the second intifada in 2000 destroyed the “peace camp,” liberalism was actually a living force in this country, and lots and lots of people who genuinely hated the notion of Jewish supremacism held positions of political power. But while Israel’s moral degradation wasn’t inevitable, I wouldn’t say it was happenstance, either. This is a proudly, officially ethnocentric state, and ethnocentrism can very easily turn ugly if you’re not careful. Israel was not careful – and Israel has turned ugly. Prosperous, secure and ugly.
The only thing that cured apartheid was its dissolution. Same with Jim Crow. Is the only cure for the horrible excesses of Israeli ethnocentrism, i.e. Zionism, the dissolution of Zionism? I still don’t think so – I still think it would lead to endless civil war. But neither do I see any other realistic chance of Israel being cured. When Miri Regev said the Sudanese are a “cancer” in this country, she was wrong about the Sudanese. But about this country having cancer, she was dead on the money.