''I don't believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings,'' Yuval Diskin, the former head of the Israeli Secret Service said this past week. The gathering was to celebrate Israeli’s Independence Day in the Tel Aviv suburb of Kfar Saba. He was speaking in code.
One cannot use the word “messianic” in Israel today and mean it purely metaphorically. Diskin did not just mean that Netanyahu was acting zealously or with an arguably exaggerated sense of mission. His criticism reportedly focused on what he took to be Prime Minister Netanyahu's threats against Iran. But he also expressed concern about a government that apparently has “no interest” in negotiations with the Palestinians, and he stressed concern about relations with Washington.
The problem—which Diskin’s double entendre conveyed perfectly—is that Israel’s current leadership either believes, or has made itself hostage to people who believe, that a messianic era really has been at hand since the 1967 war: that a sacred land has been liberated for Jews to “return” to and the country is protected by something like a divine plan. These ideas, praise God, are finally starting to drive more nearly educated Israelis—centrists, even peace skeptics—a little nuts.
Diskin has spent his adult life commanding forces responsible for the occupation—that is, developing collaborator networks and coddling settlers—for two generations. His language suggests what polls show, that the settlers have not been so unpopular since the days following the Rabin assassination.
Unpopular, I mean, not just among the 40% of Jews who are often called “leftist” but who are really the secular, worldly core of the population, often the descendants of the original Zionist revolution in its Hebrew culturalist ethos—the kind of people who now tell pollsters that they identify more as “Israelis” than as “Jews” and, crucially, deny that “a Jew who doesn't follow the commandments endangers the Jewish People.”
Bernard Avishai is Adjunct Professor of Business at the Hebrew University, and Visiting Professor of Government at Dartmouth College.
The above article was published in thedailybeast.com on April 30th, 2012.