Ideologically the old “Jewish and democratic,” non-religious Zionist worldview with its liberal connotations is in full retreat, while a discourse and ideology is taking hold that is reshaping the whole of Israeli culture. The new ideology combines four main elements: a nationalist militarism more or less associated with religious fundamentalism; avowed racism; a die-hard spirit impregnated with messianism; and a willingness to question every democratic norm. Put together, these elements help shape a generalized paranoia, which leads Israelis to view the whole world as an existential threat to Jewish survival in the Middle East or anywhere else.
This new ideology’s first and doubtless most perverse effect is acceptance of the domestic state of siege and normalization of death. Israelis seem to accept the deployment of the army and police on a vast scale and the thousands of security guards at the entrances to all public facilities—restaurants and supermarkets, schools and department stores—without a shadow of a reservation, as if this were a completely normal way of life for individuals and the nation. Sometimes people even seem to accept this state of affairs with pleasure, as if the society finds it easier to live with this reality than with a normality dependent on what the right calls “the risk of peace.”
Even worse, the high toll of Israeli civilian and military victims is also seen as something inevitable. The society seems to have gotten used to it with surprising speed, tolerating a government that has proved incapable of ensuring the safety of its own citizens. Nurit Peled, who lost her daughter to an attack in Jerusalem, borrowed the phrase “the kingdom of death” from Dylan Thomas to denounce this perverse adaptation to the death of innocents.
The mixture of aggressive nationalism and victimization produces a level of violence inside Israeli society that can hardly be gauged from outside. But it is enough to listen to broadcasts of Knesset debates to get a sense of it. One MK promises that Arab MKs will face a firing squad; another describes his fellow MKs of the Zionist party Meretz as “traitors.” It remains to be seen who will submit the most drastic bill aimed not only at “terrorists” but also at any form of dissent inside Israel. The High Court and the media, but also often the police and public prosecutor’s office, are regularly denounced as anti-Jewish or even as a “leftist mafia.” Mutual respect, minimal civility and especially commitment to democratic norms are all nonexistent. Democratic norms in particular are viewed as noxious residues of a regime that it is overdue to be replaced with an authoritarian state that will at last be prepared to take the measures required to guarantee Israel’s security and Jewish character.