P.J. Vakiotis , a famed Greek-American Middle East scholar, in a talk to students in the late 60’s at the American University of Beirut opined that the enmity between the Arab Staes and Israel was not only beneficial but necessary for the two warring sides. He explained to the perplexed students that the hostility on the part for the Arabs was useful for the rulers of the Arab states because politically there was nothing else to hold together the myth of Arab unity. For the Israelis this animus was critical because Israel was a centrifugal society and the continual Arab and Islamic pressure on it kept the Israeli state from flying apart.
By using the term centrifugal Vatikiotis was referring to the diverse and often conflicting political, religious, and ethnic forces within the state of Israel. I was thinking of this as I see the political chaos that has afflicted Israel for the past two years and seems to be boiling over with the election of Bibi Netanyahu as Prime Minister of Israel. The losing political parties, especially the socialist labor party, seems too be unable to accept the defeat and many followers have taken to the streets streets to “rage” and protest against a plan to reconstruct the supreme judiciary body in Israel, which according to the Likud party leadership, has shown itself to be be very leftist in their rulings. However their main objective is to overturn the results of the election.
But the problems are much deeper than mere politics; it has more to do with some basic building blocks of the Israeli society. Leaving aside the issue of the Arab citizens living within Israel (about 20% of the total population) who for the most part are a fifth column inside Israel ( with many exceptions among the Christian and Druze Arabs). Despite the long history of Israeli efforts to establish some cordial relations or at least tolerance between the two peoples it has not happened.The Palestinian Israeli citizens do face discrimination…no doubt about that…but to some degree it is their own fault as they refuse to integrate or assimilate into the Israeli society. In my travels in the Arab areas of northern Israeli I found that the local Arabs act as if they live in an autonomous region and do not accept the Israeli state as a reality.
The most pressing problem however is not the Palestinian Arab problem. The Israelis have learned to to live with it. The real problem is Israeli vs Judaism. Israel was founded by socialist European Jews, who were nationalists first and Jews secondly. They were a minority among the world-wide Jewish community as most Jews at the time were against a state for Jews in Palestine, some for religious reasons ( Jewish nationalism was a secular movement) and others because they were quite comfortable where they were, ironically especially in Germany . This was not true for the Jews eastern Europe but most were too poor to leave Russia until later. The movie “Fiddler on the Roof,” is a fairly good representation of their lot in life. In fact the Western Jews referred to the Russian Jews in derogatory terms.
This brings us to another big divide…i.e. Oriental vs. Western Jews. The Oriental Jews, came from Middle Eastern countries, and spoke Arabic, Farsi or Aramaic rather than Hebrew. The Sephardim are also non European Jews who resided In Spain for hundreds of years until evicted by Queen Isabella, under the inquisition, (or faked conversion to Catholicism)1 Most went to the Ottoman Empire.Many spoke a language known as Ladino…a mixture of Spanish and Hebrew. Mizrahi Jews are also Eastern origin Jews but are often included within the Sephardim category.
The Western Jews known as Ashkenazi came primarily from Germany and other Western countries and many spoke Yiddish, a combination of German and Hebrew. They founded the State of Israel…….or I should say a small minority did so because until the beginnings of the holocaust in Germany, Jewish immigration was a trickle. In this regard it should also be mentioned that the British government, tried desperately to limit Jewish immigration to Palestine in order to maintain good relations with the Arab world, owners of the Suez Canal and oil.
With the forcible eviction of Jews from the Middle Eastern and Islamic world after 1967…a torrent of oriental Jews came to Israel. They came with basically the shirts on their backs. From Egypt, Iraq and all Arab countries they came by the thousands. Many were once wealthy and would have happily stayed where they were but were violently evicted. The Yemeni Jews were a separate entity…one of the most primitive of the Jewish immigrant groups coming to Israel. In the 70’s the Israelis began bringing in Falashas or Ethiopian Jews to Israel. When I was traveling in Ethiopia in the sixties, the urban Ethiopians considered them as the most primitive people in the country. Their Jewishness dates from the time of the Queen of Sheba.
At this point I will not get into the “who owns the Land.” It is the subject of a zillion books and a futile question to pursue at this time. Far too much time and effort is spent on that subject. I will only say that, unlike most of Western academia, I do not consider it the major issue in the Middle East or Islamic world.
So in this swirling mass of languages and ethnicities and race and ideologies, the Israelis have near miraculously created a state and revived a near dead language, Hebrew. But like the America fallacy of a “melting pot” this myth bedevils the society of Israel. The European Jews are still predominate among the establishment elite. There is intermarriage between the Sephardim and Ashkenazi, and a common bond exists as Jews, nailed together by their common history of persecution in most of the world,2 and the forever Arab/ Islamic threat.
Generally the Western Jews are more liberal and secular and constitute the bulk of the Labor party while the Eastern Jews are more conservative and more religious and form the the core of the Likud Party.There are many exceptions and gradations within these parameters but this holds true almost always.
The new danger as I see it is simply this. Too many of the mostly Western Jews of Israel act and live as if they live in Europe or the United States. They do not not. They live in one of the most volatile, unpredictable, violent regions of the world, surrounded by implacable hostile peoples outside their borders and a considerable number within. They cannot afford the infantile antics of a “woke” society, making issues out of gender roles, constantly undermining authority, and demanding concessions for every cause or movement that abounds in the West.
Moreover the support Israel once enjoyed from the world wide Jewish community has dwindled, especially in the United States. I remember visiting Brookln NY in the 50’s and seeing the banners strung across the streets urging the purchase of Israeli war bonds. But no more. Now one is more likely to see anti semitic graffiti scrawled on the walls. The America Jews who rushed to Israel to help defend it in the 67 war are now more likely to be involved in anti-Israeli protests at the spearhead of “woke” mobs.
The United States is huge and has no enemy on its border and can (hopefully) get through this period of abysmally weak government, managerial rule by an establishment elite isolated from the indigenous Americans, the prostitution / erasure of history, the institution of rights without duties, and confusing freedom with license. Israel does not have that margin of comfort.
1.They were called conversos. It is interesting to note that among the grave markers of the Spanish conquistadors of the American southwest some had the Star of David engraved.
2. It is often assumed, sometimes among the Oriental Jews themselves, that because of their heritage and language they could serve as a bridge between the Israelis And the Arab world. This is a chimera. While is is true ( probably) that the lives of the Jews were more secure under the Muslims than the Europeans, lives of the Jews under Islamic rule was one of a second class citizen, frequently punctuated by periods of blood libel conspiracies and pogroms.
Dear Tex, it’s me, Connie. I loved this article. You are an astute and knowledgeable writer with decades of life experience. DID I TELL YOU I AM NOW LIVING IN ENGLAND?
Thanks Connie. I did not know you were in England. I remember you were trying for a job there. Well congrats on your job. Keep me posted on your doings. I wish you all the best