January 28, 2009


Israel's warring tribes: The greatest threat Israel faces is from within (John Lloyd, February 2009, Prospect)

One genuine and growing concern was that the ultra orthodox sects, a rising proportion of the Israeli population, are becoming increasingly detached from Israeli society. One evening, we were given a kind of “religious guided tour” through one of the main ultra-orthodox areas of Jerusalem, Mea Shearim, an area in which men and boys in 18th century shtetl dress strode about the streets or spoke animatedly with each other, and women were rarely visible. Most of these people play little role in Israeli life: their children are exempt from military service; they live, in part, on state handouts and they often have contempt for Israeli society. On the tour, our guide pointed to their expansion into the neighbouring districts.

The ultra-orthodox Jews, along with the Israeli Arabs (of whom Adam LeBor writes about in this month's Prospect), are the fastest growing parts of Israel’s population. The first wish to play little part in the society; the second are increasingly hostile to it.

And there are many other “tribes” in this fractured state; not least the settlers, whose tenacious grip on parts of the West Bank presents a continuing headache for the Israeli government. Only a few days before the seminar there had been violent riots in Hebron, where settlers had attacked both Israeli soldiers and Palestinians, calling the IDF [Israeli Defence Force] Nazis, and shouting that “the morals of the state of Israel are no different from those of gentiles of western culture.”

Speaking about the incident, David Ohana, a Moroccan-Jewish professor at the University of the Negev, said; “This is the politics of political despair, of breaking away from the Israeli project.”

Yet another tribe viewed by many attendees as socially destructive—if less apocalyptically so—was my own: the media. Yossi Shain, who teaches at Tel Aviv and Georgetown universities, said, to much agreement, that “this is the epoch of sensationalism in Israel. The media have developed a language of hyperbole. The indictment of political figures by the media on corruption allegations has become so pronounced that it may be that this is more dangerous to politics than actual corruption.”

Amalgams of tribes are not governable democratically, if at all.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 28, 2009 3:33 PM
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