Reprinted from Gush Shalom
"THE BEST lack all convictions, while the worst -- Are full of passionate intensity!"
Is there a better description of what is happening in Israel now?
Yet these words were written, almost a hundred years ago, by the Irish poet W. B. Yeats.
YEATS WAS writing shortly after the terrible slaughter and destruction of World War I. He believed that the world was coming to an end, and expected the second coming of the Messiah.
As part of the chaos, he foresaw in the same poem that "the center cannot hold." I believe he took this metaphor from the battlefields of former ages, when the opposing armies were arrayed in two lines facing each other, with the main force in the center, and the two flanks protecting it.
In a classic battle, each side tried to destroy one of the flanks of the enemy in order to encircle the center and attack it. As long as the center held, the battle was undecided.
In Israel, as in most modern democracies, the center is composed of two or more establishment parties, slightly left and slightly right. The leftist is the classic Labor party, now hiding behind the name "Zionist Camp" (which automatically excludes the Arab minority, some 20% of the electorate.) The rightist is the Likud, the present incarnation of the old "Revisionist" party founded nearly 100 years ago by Vladimir Jabotinsky, a liberal nationalist, in the Italian Risorgimento style.
This was the Israeli center, supported by some conjuncture-born parties.
It ruled Israel since the day of its founding. One party constituted the government, the other acted as the loyal opposition, and they swapped roles every few years, as they should in a decent democracy.
On the "flanks" there were the Arab Parties (now united under duress), the small but principled Meretz on the left, and several religious and proto-Fascist parties on the right.
It was a "normal" set-up, like that in many other democratic countries.
ON THE center-left, a mood of resignation and defeat prevails. The old party has fallen into the hands of a number of political dwarfs, whose quarrels among themselves obliterate all its other functions.
The present leader, Yitzhak Herzog, the scion of a good family, carries by law the glorious title of "Leader of the Opposition," but doesn't even know what opposition is. Some call his party "Likud 2." On all the vital subjects -- such as peace with the Palestinian people and the Arab world, social justice, human rights, democracy, separation between state and religion, corruption -- the party is mute. For all practical purposes, it is moribund or worse.
"The best lack all conviction," as Yeats lamented. The best elements of Israeli society are dispirited, defeated, mute.