Recent events in Israel indicate a form of internal exile for the Jewish people, marking their third experience of displacement, this time within their own country. Throughout history, the Jewish collective had two short periods of independence and sovereignty: the reigns of King Saul and King Solomon in the first millennium BCE, and the Hasmonean state until the first century CE. However, before and after these periods, Israelites experienced a political and social reality characterized by exile.
The exile experienced by the Jewish people displayed two distinct characteristics. In the biblical period, it was marked by tribal and sectoral divisions, causing tensions, conflicts, and alienation within the collective. In the post-destruction of the Second Temple era, the exile took on a different form, with Jews dispersed across many locations, leading to a shift from being a people connected to the land and becoming a people defined by their religious and intellectual pursuits, detached from political power and a geographic connection.
Indisputable-yet-fragmentary evidence in recent years points to the unmistakable signs of a societal shift. The erosion of effective governance, the rise of refusal discourse amid judicial reforms, devaluation of statehood intended to rectify historical struggles, alongside weakened institutions, public outcry, anarchistic tendencies, and the diminishing authority of the state and national agreements—all reflect the crumbling of the Zionist enterprise.
The present phase of Hebrew Jewish exile intertwines two detrimental phenomena observed in previous exiles. Firstly, the prevalence of sectoral mindset and tribalism manifests in the accentuation of internal divisions within Israeli society (Orthodox, secular, Arabs, settlers, etc.). Secondly, a stark anti-statist sentiment emerges, rejecting all aspects associated with statehood, law, governance, institutions, regulations, and norms, as evidenced by the opposition to judicial reform.
Israel in 2023 presents a paradoxical combination of two aspects inherent in the Jewish exile: political fragmentation and a sub-state existence. This unique exile occurs within the context of a defined territory and a national framework. On one hand, Israel possesses the elements that traditionally define a nation (territory, state institutions, military power), yet on the other hand, it exhibits characteristics of exile that challenge the conventional essence of a state. The government lacks control, enforcement institutions are ineffective, and a cohesive common framework is absent.
The current Jewish exile mirrors its historical predecessors. Boundaries absent. Definitions blurred. This inherent paradox aligns with the complexities of the postmodern era, making it challenging to discern and acknowledge the existence of the third exile. It presents a formidable obstacle for the Jewish collective, characterized by a fragmented reality devoid of a shared identity. Alienation towards political authority, central governance, and established laws and rules further compounds this challenge, resulting in a hollowed-out existence for the collective.
The Jews of present-day Israel, who have achieved remarkable feats in the 20th century, now find themselves treading a fractured path previously ventured by their ancestors throughout history. The enduring algorithm of their nomadic journey, embodied by their ancestor Abraham, resurfaces in their collective identity. Its presence is here to stay, entwined with the disorder and tumult of the ongoing exile.
- Dr. Doron Matza is political scientist and an expert in Middle Eastern studies, a lecturer at Achava College