Reprinted from Gush Shalom
ISRAELI DEMOCRACY is sliding downwards. Sliding slowly, comfortably, but unmistakably.
Sliding where? Everybody knows that: towards an ultra-nationalist, racist, religious society.
Who is leading the ride?
Why, the government, of course. This group of noisy nobodies which came to power at the last elections, led by Binyamin Netanyahu.
Not really. Take all these big-mouthed little demagogues, the ministers of this or that (I can't quite remember who is supposed to be minister for what) and shut them up somewhere, and nothing will change. In 10 years from now, nobody will remember the name of any of them.
If the government does not lead, who does? Perhaps the right-wing mob? Those people we see on TV, with faces contorted by hatred, shouting "Death to the Arabs!" at soccer matches until they are hoarse, or demonstrating after each violent incident in the mixed Jewish-Arab towns "All Arabs are Terrorists! Kill them all!"
This mob can hold the same demonstrations tomorrow against somebody else: gays, judges, feminists, whoever. It is not consistent. It cannot build a new system.
No, there is only one group in the country that is strong enough, cohesive enough, determined enough to take over the state: the settlers.
IN THE middle of last century, a towering historian, Arnold Toynbee, wrote a monumental work. His central thesis was that civilizations are like human beings: they are born, grow up, mature, age and die. This was not really new -- the German historian Oswald Spengler said something similar before him ("The Decline of the West"). But Toynbee, being British, was much less metaphysical than his German predecessor, and tried to draw practical conclusions.
Among Toynbee's many insights, there was one that should interest us now. It concerns the process by which border districts attain power and take over the state.
Take for example, German history. German civilization grew and matured in the South, next to France and Austria. A rich and cultured upper class spread across the country. In the towns, the patrician bourgeoisie patronized writers and composers. Germans saw themselves as a "people of poets and thinkers."
But in the course of centuries, the young and the energetic from the rich areas, especially second sons who did not inherit anything, longed to carve out for themselves new domains. They went to the Eastern border, conquered new lands from the Slavic inhabitants and carved out new estates for themselves.
The Eastern land was called Mark Brandenburg. "Mark" means marches, borderland. Under a line of able princes, they enlarged their state until Brandenburg became a leading power. Not satisfied with that, one of the princes married a woman who brought as her dowry a little Eastern kingdom called Prussia. So the prince became a king, Brandenburg was joined to Prussia and enlarged itself by war and diplomacy until Prussia ruled half of Germany.
The Prussian state, located in the middle of Europe, surrounded by strong neighbors, had no natural borders -- neither wide seas, nor high mountains, nor broad rivers. It was just flat land. So the Prussian kings created an artificial border: a mighty army. Count Mirabeau, the French statesman, famously said: "Other states have armies. In Prussia, the army has a state." The Prussians themselves coined the phrase: "The soldier is the first man in the state."
Unlike most other countries, in Prussia the word "state" assumed an almost sacred status. Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism and a great admirer of Prussia, adopted this ideal, calling his future creation "Der Judenstaat" -- the Jew-State.