David Landau looks at Israel today and the work of Yachad
27th April, 2012
Mick Davis, the salient figure among today’s Anglo-Jewish leadership, stirred emotions more than a year ago when he warned that Israel would end up like South Africa if the occupation of the Palestinians continued indefinitely.
In some ways, writing on our 64th Independence Day, one feels like South Africa has already arrived.
Not, God forbid, in terms of racism. We are not racists. None of us. Our conflict is not a racist conflict. Our discrimination is not racial discrimination.
Nor – yet – in terms of demographic balance. The Jews of Eretz Yisrael are still ahead, though not by much and the gap is steadily closing.
The feeling of ‘South Africa now’ stems, rather, from the thickening atmosphere of Pompeian denial that pervades our public life.
The conflict itself, much less its resolution, is hugely absent from our public rhetoric. Our prime minister devotes almost all of his considerable power of rhetoric to Iran – I am not among those who condemn him for citing the Holocaust in this context – and almost none of it to peace.
At a reception at the UN on Independence Eve, Ambassador Ron Prossor’s speech was a paean to Israel’s success in so many fields of endeavour, with barely a word about the elusiveness of peace, or indeed about the desperate need for it.
Beyond the existential threat from Iran, the government’s message, domestic and foreign, is suffused with the smugness of faux normalcy and vaunted democracy, with no reference to the selectivity of that democracy. It is a celebration of prosperity, of technological genius, of entrepreneurial resourcefulness. Of all the many good things in Israeli life – and there are indeed many – with a determined downplaying of the poverty and social gaps and a blithe indifference to the ongoing occupation and to what devastation it is doing to Israel’s ethos, its morality, its society, and its name among the nations.
Similar themes – ‘bastion of the West’, ‘island of democracy’, prosperous society, strong economy, quality of life – were prevalent in the public diplomacy of the South African government in the last years of apartheid. They reflected, and concealed, blindness. They helped white South Africans persist in their unrealism and deny reality.
It is in this dangerous milieu – dangerous because the denial is so very poignantly human – that Yachad has powerfully made its mark. This young but mature movement denies denial. It denies the right of Jews, in the Diaspora as much as in Israel, to shut their eyes to the reality closing in on the Jewish state. It insists on their responsibility, their duty, to help Israel take the course that will preserve its democratic character and ultimately its sovereignty.
The work is not easy. Hannah Weisfeld, at the helm of the movement, demonstrates courage, wisdom and tact every day, with ever-increasing recognition and support.
Yachad has already made a deep difference. And as more and more Anglo-Jews, especially young Jews, hear and see its message, its influence will grow. That is a beacon of hope on a troubled horizon.