The Israeli crisis as an opportunity

The crisis in Israel and the struggle for democracy that it is manifesting, among Israelis as well as within the Diaspora, has at least the merit of bringing clarity to a situation that until then appeared paralyzed and paralyzing. It forces us to seize an opportunity to take up some fundamental questions that affect the future of Jews as a whole.


The Kairos. Marble from the Museum of Antiquities in Turin, Wikipedia Commons


With the suspension of the Supreme Court reform process, the Israeli political crisis seems to have calmed somewhat. The future obviously remains uncertain, especially as this halt was achieved after an unprecedented mobilisation of entire sections of Israeli society. In the face of adversity, these people have discovered that they are in a majority in their attachment to a political form that has a democratic meaning for them, which the reactionary forces of religious Zionism are undermining. But does this democratic sense in Israel have that general character, recognisable in all liberal democracies that find the strength to defend themselves when illiberal tendencies attack them? In a sense, it is, and Israel is witness to a struggle that is being fought in the same way elsewhere, and which is known to be widely on the agenda. And yet, as we can also see, this fight for democracy has a very particular connotation in this context.

As it grew, the mobilisation, which was absolutely unprecedented in the seventy-five years of the state’s existence, set itself on the path to perceive this other dimension of its own struggle. Whether it sought it or not, something was set in motion, like a piece of music that one relearns to hear in the moment it is played. For democracy in this country has a Jewish meaning, whatever one wants it to mean. As democratic politics, it does not apply indiscriminately and generally, but it does apply insofar as it is animated by an intention of Jewish politics, aimed at the existence of this people in its specificity. Or again: what makes Israel unique is the conjunction of the two attributes of being a democratic and a Jewish state – the one necessarily implying the other, and each of the two terms replaying its own definition in a way because of the conjunction.

What has been experienced on the street, on the political scene and in public debate is that this Jewish meaning has also been affected by what has been emerging, that is, by a capture and monopolisation by religious Zionism and the reactionary right of what the term “Jewish” means as a founding element of the state. Without doubt this dimension was not fully deployed during the mobilisation. It is probably still to be rediscovered, as the invocation of the Declaration of Independence is not sufficient in itself, but must necessarily be accompanied by a self-examination in this respect. The fact remains that a foundation has been touched, and that the Jewish dimension of the sense of state has been objectively revived. It is as if it was suddenly reminded of itself in and by the society that was mobilised – and thus repoliticised – in the way that we have seen. There is no doubt that a real way out of the crisis lies in the understanding that if the Jewish State can, or rather must, transform itself in order to face the challenges of integration of its global population and peaceful international relations, it must do so by returning to the path of its original project and by taking up its guiding intention anew in conditions which are no longer those of three quarters of a century ago.

What is this intention? And how can we approach it in the present, rediscover it in the context of the present?  It is by asking these questions that we are led to underline another remarkable fact of the last few weeks: that the mobilisation for Israel restored to its true meaning was not only Israeli. It has had relays practically in the whole diaspora. Here again, the phenomenon is largely unprecedented. That the American community feels able to make its critical voice heard even in Israel’s internal politics is nothing new – although a threshold seems to have been crossed here. However, the fact that the phenomenon is spreading to other diasporic centres is even more noteworthy. Most of the communities – among them the French community, which, although it is far behind the United States, is nonetheless the third largest in the world and the largest in Europe – showed their support for what did not appear to be a positioning in a partisan struggle, but a reminder of the meaning that is at the foundation of the State. Thus, what was expressed, with variations of intensity, caution and hesitation, was that criticism and re-adhesion are, in the unprecedented situation in which we found ourselves, two sides of the same gesture. This is a very valuable clarification. In this generalisation of the affirmation (for it was indeed an affirmation through an opposition to what the government was threatening to do), of the fact that the Jewish state is democratic, that it is democratic in its own way, and that it must remain so in a singular way, the Jews as a whole people, united in the bipolarity that has structured it since 1948, are at stake.

This movement, perhaps momentarily, but today clearly, has just won a victory. The demolition process has been blocked. If we are caught up for the moment in the impression of relief still marked by anxiety, we must not let slip what the victory allows us to do and to think further ahead. The moment we have experienced is certainly the expression of an existential crisis that concerns Jews living in one pole or the other, in Israel or in the Diaspora. In the two poles it does not have the same meaning, nor can it be described in the same way. However, the situation has indeed produced a remarkable alignment in favour of the affirmative opposition, the blow to the reactionary camp. So we must seize the opportunity – consider it a kairos, an opportune moment to take up some fundamental questions that condition the future of Jews as a whole.

It is to this that we can dedicate ourselves now, without losing sight of the fact that everything can change at any moment. And to begin with, we can reflect, always in the light of the present, on the particular conditions of articulation of Jewish criticism, which certainly varies according to whether it is internal or external to the Jewish State, but which in both cases has its point of balance in the fact that it is conceived as a participation, differentiated but no less active, in the vitality and meaning of such a State. 

Bruno Karsenti


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