You can take the Jews out of exile, but you can’t take the exile out of the Israeli right

Gershom Gorenberg

My Yom Ha’atzma’ut column is up at Haaretz:

I’m sitting in a cafe in Jerusalem almost on the eve of Independence Day, listening to the Ashkenazi and the Ethiopian waiters joking in Hebrew, in circumstances that existentially are a billion miles from anywhere that my great-grandfather in the Ukraine could have imagined a descendant living, and I’m thinking about the speeches that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will give over the next couple of days – and thinking that he actually does not get that we are independent. Not that I mean to pick on Netanyahu, except as a personification of the Israeli right, which for all that it sees itself as strutting in Jabotinskian pride and glory, does not understand what it means to be here – physically, culturally or morally.

It’s a reasonable bet that in one or more speeches Netanyahu will mention Iran, the perfidy of Western nations, our isolation, and our potential extermination. Last week on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Netanyahu gave a speech that was more about Iran and fear of a new Holocaust than honoring the memories of those who died in the actual Holocaust. Netanyahu’s entire public career consists of pronouncements that it is, right now, 1938, if not August 1939. His forecasts are detached from the physical universe but are wired directly into the neurons of enough of the electorate to win him elections.

For the literarily or religiously inclined, the words that best portray his constant mood are, “The life you face shall be precarious; you shall be in terror, night and day, with no assurance of survival.” The thing is, that’s a line from Deuteronomy defining how the people of Israel will feel in Exile.

Listening to the panicky spokespeople of the right, you’d never know that we have the strongest army in the Middle East, that we enjoy the back of the world’s only superpower, that Europe has not abandoned us but rather buys our products and sells us arms, that we are safe enough to stop being afraid of the dark. This is not the messianic age or even the first-flowering of redemption; if it were, we wouldn’t need any of those things. The lost tribes have not returned from beyond the River Sambatyon. But we do live at the existential far pole from my great-grandfather’s village.

The right’s attitude that we are still in exile dictates its domestic fears as well – the fear of non-Jews among us, of Arabs, of the African refugees whom Likud MK Miri Regev called “a cancer,” of assimilation. …

Read the rest here.