אורי הייטנר
Uri Heitner
Photo: Ynet
Protesters demonstrating against the restrictions on protests clashing with the police in Tel Aviv

A gulf that will swallow up Israel

Opinion: Conspiracy theories nurtured by both sides of the political spectrum serve to do nothing more but tear Israel apart in the midst of the worst crisis it has ever known, and during times of a real external threat to its very existence

Uri Heitner |
Published: 10.24.20 , 23:39
When Israelis say “we,” to whom are they referring? What exactly is the Israeli collective?
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  • In the past the answer was clear - that collective “we” referred to the State of Israel, Israeli society and the Israeli people.
    עימותים בין משטרה למפגינים בתל אביבעימותים בין משטרה למפגינים בתל אביב
    Protesters demonstrating against the restrictions on protests clashing with the police in Tel Aviv
    (Photo: AFP)
    Even when we faced disputes we knew our foundations were the solid. This was best exemplified in times of crisis, when the people of Israel would come together in a social and national unity.
    In the days of the coronavirus crisis, Israel finds itself in one of the harshest states of emergency it has ever known.
    But unlike previous crises, there is no ideological split over the handling of the virus, a danger that does not differentiate between left and right, secular and ultra-Orthodox or Muslim, Christian and Jew.
    All of us unanimously agree that the end game is defeating the contagion.
    The prevalent disputes in Israel today are about the best way to fight the coronavirus, and are professional in nature. They have no connection whatsoever to any one world view.
    Even so, the divides in Israeli society have only grown during the pandemic, reaching scales we have never seen here before.
    The contagion has brought Israel's greatest threat to the surface - the rent in the fabric of our society that threatens to swallow the concept of “we.”
    מירי רגב מירי רגב
    Transportation Minister Miri Regev has branded anti-government protesters 'radical left-wingers'
    (Photo: Amit Shabi)
    The national “we” has been usurped by the tribal “we": the left stands only with the left, the right only with the right, the ultra-Orthodox only with themselves, and so on.
    This is a disastrous turn of events, especially given that Israel still faces constant existential threats.
    Without the “we,” how do we stand against our numerous external threats?
    When we are split into tribes, the ideological other is not perceived as a partner for dialogue about what is best for the country; when we are divided, the ideological other is perceived as the enemy.
    Individuals follow the vocal extremists in their tribe and on the way lose themselves to the constant demonization of the other. This creates a herd mentality that all but erases singular, individual and critical thinking.
    How is it that so many of us believe a far-fetched conspiracy theory that claims that the police, the state prosecution, the Tax Authority, the attorney general and the courts are all corrupt crime syndicates whose sole aim is to carry out a "government coup” by framing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and thereby removing the right-wing from power?
    הארכת מעצר לחשודים בתקיפת מפגינים בת"אהארכת מעצר לחשודים בתקיפת מפגינים בת"א
    Two men suspected of assaulting protesters in Tel Aviv appear in court
    (Photo: Moti Kimchi)
    How is it that so many buy into the theory that prominent right-wingers such as former police chief Roni Alsheikh and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit - both appointed by the Netanyahu government - are trying to lead a coup to overthrow the right?
    In times of darkness, when the mind of the individual is clouded, many lose their sense of judgment and swallow any propaganda that tarnishes those they perceive as the enemy.
    This is not the fault of any individual camp.
    The conspiracy theory that claims that Netanyahu forced the whole of Israel into closure for no other reason than to establish a dictatorship and to suppress the demonstrations against him is equally absurd.
    This state of mind, this culture which has grown fat on adversity and conflict, is a very real threat to Israel and its people.
    We must stop following the extremists and reconnect to the societal “we” and follow our own individual thinking.
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