The end of illusions

by Brian on August 27, 2023

in Judicial coup

Dr. Micah Goodman, the Israeli philosopher and founder of the Ein Prat pre-army preparatory program (mechina), has a surprisingly optimistic assessment of the future of Israel, even in the midst of the breakdown of unity that the judicial coup has fostered since it landed on our radar earlier this year.

Dr. Micah Goodman

Goodman was speaking to Amanda Borschel-Dan, whose What Matters Now? podcast is fast becoming one of my go-to favorites.

Goodman is opposed to the judicial overhaul. He’s under no illusions that, as long as this coalition remains in power, the coming years will likely be an ongoing hellscape of unilateral attempts at grabbing power and abusing minority rights, countered by continued civil insurrection.

But, Goodman says, when this coalition is out of power – and that day will come, if not tomorrow, then when elections are called again – the Israel that emerges will be profoundly changed.

Just not for the reasons we’re so afraid of.

Rather, the processes that have fueled our outrage will lead to a new age of realism. 

The era of illusions is coming to an end.

The Right, Goodman explains, is about to go through a very similar experience that led to the collapse of the Left following the deadly years of the Second Intifada.

“This very extreme government, was, for many years, a fantasy among circles of the right,” Goodman tells Borschel-Dan. “This fantasy has a name in Hebrew, memshelet yamin al-male. Basically, a pure right-wing government. And this fantasy was very helpful for the Right because it was a great answer to a question, ‘You’re in government for 40 years – why isn’t Israel the paradise you promised us it’s going to be? Why is there still a lack of security, traffic jams, security issues, economic issues?’”

The Right’s answer, Goodman posits: “’Well, we were never really in power. We always had a centrist or a liberal there to neutralize our power, to block us, to stop us from doing what we think we should do. [But] one day we’ll get what we want. We’ll have a massive majority. We won’t have to join with any centrist in the coalition. We’ll have a pure right-wing government, and then you’ll see what Israel will look like.’”

Well, we finally have that long-sought-after fully right-wing government. 

How has it gone?

Most Israelis would agree – including many on the Right – that it’s been a complete and total disaster.

The way changes to the judiciary have been pushed through without compromise or conversation; the hateful statements emanating from coalition leaders’ mouths on a daily basis; the branding of Israel’s most patriotic citizens as traitors, refuseniks and anarchists; the growing police brutality; the economic and diplomatic devastation – all of these, Goodman says, show what a “fully right-wing” government is really like.

And we don’t want it anymore. 

Fifty-four percent of Israelis say they oppose the recently-passed law canceling the court’s ability to apply a reasonableness standard. That may seem like a slim majority, but it’s twenty points higher than those who support it. 

Going forward, just 16% of Israelis want the government to “legislate without an agreement.” 

The mask has been ripped off and the fantasy has been shown to be untenable. This, Goodman says, is not unlike the 1990s when a similar fantasy – that of the Left – had us believing we’d soon be driving to Damascus for hummus.

“The best way to destroy a fantasy is to implement it,” Goodman says. “And now we’re living the fantasy, we’re living the dream. And many people…including on the Right, including religious Zionists, including Likud voters…[for them] this does not look to them like a utopia. This looks to them like a dystopia.”

And what happens “the day after this government is over,” Goodman asks? “The idea of a pure extreme right-wing government will not be a fantasy. It will be a bad memory.”

Wouldn’t it be better to get to that point without having to create a “balance of trauma” in the meantime? Of course. But the Left has long been eviscerated. For healing to occur, the fantasies of the extreme Right must share the same fate. Only out of such mutual disillusionment can a true center arise. 

“Many people on the Right will not want to replicate this experiment,” Goodman asserts.

The current coalition can still cause a lot of damage along the way. But I want to believe Goodman is on to something. It’s a glimmer of hope we desperately need now.

Goodman isn’t dismissing the idealism of either the Left or the Right. But “when you fall in love with an idea, you become blind to reality. You love the ideology. You really want it to become a reality. So, you don’t listen to reality itself.”

Does this mean the Right will soon disappear like the Left in this country? Not quite, Goodman says. What will be off the table in the future, though, is “a coalition with the extreme Right.” (Ditto for the extreme Left, not that it has any power these days.)

The goal is to somehow tap into what the Israeli public agrees on, not what they’re fighting over. 

“We needed judicial reform,” writes Daniel Gordis on his Substack page. “Almost everyone knows that.” (Polls have shown that some 60% to 70% of Israelis are in favor of some sort of change to the judiciary.) “But we needed unity more than that. We could have had both.”

“Sustaining mass mobilization, particularly in the face of intensifying repression,” writes Maria J. Stephan, who co-authored the book Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, “requires investment in organizing infrastructure, training, and a commitment to nonviolent discipline.” 

Getting there won’t be easy. But for the first time in weeks, months really, I feel just the teensiest bit better about the future of Israel.

I first tried to give an optimistic spin to what’s happening in Israel at The Jerusalem Post.

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