The 'right' bedrock
Hyper-nationalistic sentiments among Jews, unlike the case in India, are rooted in their perennial sufferings and not in any political ideology
A simplistic narrative of unquestioned Israeli political/societal 'unity' during the recent Israeli-Palestinian violence was posited, almost beseeching similar conduct in the Indian democracy. The 'closing of political ranks' in a crisis is normal practice, and the Indian experience has been no different. The Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led opposition Jan Sangh party had wholeheartedly supported the Indira Gandhi-led Congress government in the 1971 Indo-Pak War, and the Sonia Gandhi-led opposition Congress had done exactly the same in the 1999 Kargil War, with the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led BJP in power. Vital clarifications, debates and questioning were dutifully normalised after the crisis had abated, whereafter, the opposition spared no inch and the government answered all queries with the requisite earnestness and diligence – without obfuscations, attributions or innuendoes. Taking cover under the pretext of 'questioning/demoralising the Indian Army', was not the norm, then. This commitment to upholding the democratic traditions transparently was solely due to the dispensations of the day, be it in 1971 or 1999. They generously accommodated the necessary probing, oft-rancorous and provocative opposition queries. Today, a rather convenient hyper-nationalistic mode of firing from the apolitical shoulders of the 'Indian soldier' is done with the rote, 'how can you question?', or with equally deflective whatabouteries that seek to do everything, except address the query.
Even in the Israeli context, the hyper-nationalistic policies of the Benjamin Netanyahu-led Likud government have been accused by its rival parties of diluting transparency and compromising on the democratic spirit by upping the 'nationalism' quotient towards electoral purposes. Mired as Netanyahu is in credible accusations of fraud and bribery, the Prime Minister for 12 years, was expected to hand over the reins to the opposition leader, Yair Lapid after the fourth inconclusive general election. But, the recent violence, attributable directly to Netanyahu's fiery posture of 'iron fist' and disproportionate bombardment, may just offer an invaluable reprieve to Netanyahu's political struggles. Yair Lapid has deftly complimented the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) for the 'high quality, precise and ethical military operation' but slammed Netanyahu by insisting: "Alongside them, however, there was a weak Prime Minister without policies, responsibility or strategy". Lapid's political rhetoric continued: "Netanyahu's failures stretch from Mount Meron to Gaza, from the Temple Mount to Lod. The time has come for him to go". Equally caustic and disapproving was the comment by Gideon Sa'ar from New Hope Party, who questioned the unconditional ceasefire saying: 'Ending the fighting with Hamas unilaterally deals a blow to Israel's deterrence against Hamas'. Yet, it is true that the rightward shift of hyper-nationalistic fervour following the recent ratcheting of tensions has already drawn blood from the anti-Netanyahu camp where the ideologically diverse coalition – amongst which, a rightwing Yamina Party and a conservative Islamist Arab Party, Ra'am, are now finding it untenable to coexist, hence leading to fissures that can only lead to yet another election, with winds again favouring Netanyahu. Serendipitously, such momentum will also drown the dissonance in Netanyahu's Likud, that was tired of the manipulative ways that had seen him overstay his leadership within Likud.
Given the persecution of the Jews since time immemorial, the quest for the 'return to Zion' (homeland; 'Land of Israel') is deeply entrenched in the Jewish consciousness since the destruction of the First Temple and the Babylonian exile. The unhealed wounds and memories of the Holocaust have shaped the emotions of the Jewish diaspora towards the necessity of a Jewish state, affording it powerful 'ambassadors' across the globe to defend Israel. But the new generation is no longer giving it a blanket cover and is increasingly decoupling the Israeli government from the concept of Judaism – reiterating a priceless wisdom, that a political party or a political leader is not the same as the 'idea of nation', and that the two must always differ in a democracy. Many prominent Jews outside of Israel have made damning comments about the recent Israeli conduct.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan quoted the iconic Jewish intellectual, Naom Chomsky, 'You take my water, burn my olive trees, destroy my house, take my job, steal my land, imprison my father, kill my mother, bombard my country, starve us all, humiliate us all but I am to blame: I shot a rocket back'. The man who almost became the first Jewish President of the USA, Senator Bernie Sanders, decried the US administration to be the perennial apologist for Israel, by railing, "Netanyahu has cultivated an increasingly intolerant and authoritarian type of racist nationalism" and added, "We must recognize that Palestinian rights matter. Palestinian lives matter". Leading columnist and commentator of Jewish ancestry, Thomas Friedman, had presciently forewarned about Netanyahu just before the escalation that he is "inflaming the situation so much that his right-wing rivals have to abandon trying to topple him and declare instead that this time is no time for a change in leadership", turned out to be prophetic! Jewish Hollywood superstar, Natalie Portman, who famously refused the Genesis Prize ('Jewish Nobel') earlier, weighed in with more restorative comments aimed at disagreeing with the Israeli belligerence. She had once said: "The mistreatment of those suffering from today's atrocities is simply not in line with my Jewish values"! This is not a new phenomenon, as the highest temple of realpolitik, Henry Kissinger, was wary of an all-out Israeli victory in the Arab-Israeli War 1973 because he was convinced of the detrimental impact of the same, in the region.
Israel is the only functional democracy in the region – however its bloody past and cornered geography do lead to a certain unification of spirit, but that spirit is not vested in a partisan/political identity, but in an emotion that goes far beyond. Criticising the government is no longer equated to 'anti-nationalism' or 'anti-Zionism', as is simplistically posited in the Indian media. Right-wing/nationalist forces always insist on 'unity in crisis', but that call is usually rooted in political considerations as opposed to 'nationalistic' concerns, as that is what all right-wing 'nationalistic' governments would want the masses to believe.
The writer is the former Lt Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands & Puducherry. Views expressed are personal