Waiting impatiently for sanity to return

By Dow Marmur

Jerusalem (Sept. 4, 2017) – “On one side, you have the universalists, armed with their globalism, liberalism, and concerns for human rights. On the other, you have the nationalists, wielding their exceptionalism, isolationism, and often conservative religious values.”

So wrote Hanna Kozlowska on the Quartz website. It could be about the United States or Israel or many other countries. In fact, it’s about Poland’s new World War II Museum in Gdansk. It tells of how the Polish nationalist government objects to the implied universal message of the museum. It wants it to concentrate on Polish suffering only.

(That’s also why, incidentally, many Poles are trying to make as little as they can of the Holocaust, insisting that they suffered no less, perhaps even, more than the Jews.)

The hardening of political arteries in the Western world is felt in Israel no less than in Poland or the United States.

It’s not a coincidence that Prime Minister Netanyahu found that when he visited Hungary recently, he had so much in common with several East European right-wing leaders. It seems that he was even prepared to turn a blind eye to the anti-Semitism of his “friends” because they had so much else that bound them to each other.

Wie es kristelt es sich so juedelt es sich, they used to say; what happened in Christianity is soon enough to be reflected in Judaism. Today, this too has been secularized. The hardening of political arteries in the Western world is felt in Israel no less than in Poland or the United States. The secular Zionist dream of building a Jewish state that would enable Jews to be like all other nations is becoming real with a vengeance, and with much less secularism than they had envisaged.

Is this a temporary phenomenon soon to be replaced with liberal democratic sanity, or is it here to stay? National Socialism brought about World War II. What will this vaguely religious nationalism bring about? I pray that, in the long run, God will save us from our reactionary leaders and friends.

It won’t be easy. The persistent vilification of every form of internal criticism of the current government of Israel as “evidence” of the machinations of left-wing fifth-columnists in the country, coupled with labelling all critical reporting as “fake news” doesn’t bode well for Israel’s future. The Jewish state may be strong enough to withstand attacks from its traditional enemies, now increasingly dominated by Iran, but will it withstand the poisonous influence of its ostensible friends – Trump of USA, Kaczynski of Poland, Urban of Hungary and the rest of them?

As depressing as the above seems to be, and despite my often expressed pessimism, I refuse to believe that this is the last word as far as Israel is concerned. The current prime minister may have found friends in unlikely places and, defending himself against the many ongoing criminal investigation of him and his wife, may wish to blame the media and the enlightened public, but it’s inconceivable that the sophisticated and culturally alert population of this country will tolerate it in the long run.

Two years before the General Election in Israel is, alas, a long time. The sitting prime minister may have already begun to campaign for his re-election, but there’s reason to hope that there will be enough voters to opt for democracy and freedom, also within Netanyahu’s Likud party, which in its earlier years had a strong liberal component. That component, aided by others, must return.

Rabbi Dow Marmur is Rabbi Emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. He lives in Jerusalem.

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