ESR 7 Blog August/September 2023: Noa Mamrud

Throughout my Phd studies, I frequently traveled back to my home country, Israel. In an ironic yet comforting way, my studies provided me with an informative foundation and analytical framework through which I could observe the deteriorating social and political conditions there. I had never imagined that the political developments in Israel would hit such a low when I was about to relocate to Germany, which at the time felt like a painful unrooting. Today, it seems like every other citizen in Israel is frantically trying to get a hold of a non-Israeli passport as a last resort in case living here gets intolerable. In a strange manner, they are rekindling their relationship with the nomadism that is cynically ingrained in our Jewishness by researching the origins and travel routes of their ancestors in the hopes of discovering a troubled residence in Spain or Poland. They comment about my relocation, “good for you, seems like everything eventually is for the best” but I am doubting they imagine the immigratory day-to-day scenarios that follow a one-way flight.

But I want to write not about those who think about leaving but about those who fight to stay. My recent arrival in Israel coincided with the 37th week of the massive protest, which is fighting to defend Israel’s democracy while simultaneously contemplating a new social contract. There are so many tensions and conflicts that the protest must navigate: ethnic diversity, the religious-secular divide, socio-economic disparities, and, of course, the Palestinian question. How did we get here, and why did Israel’s decline happen so quickly?

What appears to be a head-first jump into the depths of fascism did not happen in a day. The antecedent to the rise of the current far-right government was a political crisis that started in 2019 and lasted for nearly four years, during which five rounds of elections were held. This was a result of the inability of any of the political leaders to form and sustain a stable government. With each election round, citizens’ frustration grew as it became clear that the population is sharply split between left and right on the issue of the occupation, with no discernible differences between the various parties on either side of the divide (post-democracy, anyone?). The public’s rising dissatisfaction with a broken political system and failed attempts to unite parties on both sides of the left-right divide contributed to the last round of elections being notably different from the rest. In the last round, one could distinguish considerably more distinctive and radical political platforms. The platform of the far-right party ‘The Jewish National Front’, for example, that, in addition to a clear statement of intent, launched a minimalist yet effective campaign that involved posting signs across the country with the question: ‘Who owns the house?’ This implied a twofold message about their power. The first acknowledges their ability to end the political crisis, and the second recognises their commitment to actualise Jewish supremacy within and beyond Israeli territory. All conditions were ripe for this campaign to be successful, not just among the demographics already supportive of their messianic and racist political agenda, but also among people who would usually vote centre but were too fed up with a stagnant state budget, the unpredictability of the country’s future, and endless election rounds.

What is happening in Israel is not unique to Israel alone. Despite the security concerns that frequently lead researchers to view Israel’s political situation as unique and incomparable, recent events are a part of a larger populist wave that is also sweeping through Europe. The following fundamental assumption forms the basis of this: the extreme is the authentic. That is, in the condition of a plurality of generic political options, combined with a Western linear worldview that does not recognise a spectrum of political views as a range but as a continuum that assigns a moderate view to its most extreme appearance, the radical is perceived as more genuine. It makes sense that people would gravitate toward the extremes in such circumstances, as was the case with ‘undecided’ voters who in the fifth round of voting evenly debated between moderate and messianic far-right parties without realising the vast ideological chasm between them.

The right-wing government that came to power in Israel in 2022 is the most extreme in the nation’s history. The affordance it gave for incitement, polarisation, racism, and fraud under the protection of the law makes it doubtful whether it will be possible to construct a renewed perception of the structure of the Israeli political system (as we know it today) as inherently balanced. The structural changes that the current government is trying to enact – which would deprive the judicial authority of its power and adapt its measures to those of Netanyahu, who seeks to emerge unscathed from his corruption charges – make it clear that the prevailing understanding of the political system is utilitarian and exclusive for the benefit of the populations in power, while all the others are left stranded to adapt without civil rights. Similar to how democracy is understood to a lesser extent as the majority’s will for the good of all, peace has become a dated idea, because what worth do compromise and broad consensus have in times where the shift is only between extremes?

The images below were taken during a recent gathering of protest organisers, artists, intellectuals, producers, and academic workers, at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art to discuss the role and importance of art in moments of legal, political, and social upheaval. We discussed ways to create our nonviolent presence in the public realm and talked about how we can disrupt, provoke, and spread ideas that we hope will one day become widely accepted. We discussed the necessity for unity, the need of feeling the effects of our actions, and how relevant we are to the current situation. We questioned how long we could sustain our resistance and what values would guide our attempt to establish a new hegemony.

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