Last January, I was in Israel visiting friends and family when the judicial crisis broke. The friends we were staying with attended protests from the very first week. We shook our heads at the possibility of this vote passing, certain that Israel, of all places, would never turn its back on its democratic foundations.
Clearly, we were wrong. All hell has broken loose in Israel and it feels impossible to know how the situation will ever be rectified. This crisis has divided the population into two distinct parts, rather similar to what has happened in America between Republicans and Democrats. Or in Israel during the rule of Antiochus, the Seleucid Greek king.
While I was in Israel, I took a trip to the city of Modiin to visit their brand-new museum about the Maccabees, in the city where the Hanukkah story reportedly began. My next novel will focus on the literal civil war that broke out between the devout Maccabees, who wanted to maintain their religion at all costs, and the liberal Hellenizers, who wished to adopt Greek ways as a path to embrace the “modern” world. Their animosity grew to the point that the two slaughtered one another. No, this is not the “Hanukkah story” that we all grew up with. The Maccabees were not always the heroes we consider them. Actual history is grittier and more appalling than that.
The museum was amazing, especially the guide who came and spent more than an hour with us, explaining the history, the social issues, and the recent archeological discoveries. It was from him that I first learned the concept of “sinat chinam” – baseless hatred. “The sages say,” the guide told us, “that the First Temple fell because of idol worship and godlessness. The Second Temple, however, was destroyed due to this hatred among the Jewish population.
In other words, we were our own worst enemies. As we are now.
There’s a reassuring video making its way around the Internet, of one side of the current conflict traveling down an escalator and the other side traveling up. And in between, people reached out their hands to touch one another in a show of solidarity and human feeling despite the divide. One can only hope that this is a harbinger of a better future.
But I am desperately afraid that it isn’t. That Israel’s population, which has always been divided between highly religious and the secular, progressive populations, is facing just as brutal a civil war as occurred back in the days of the Maccabees. And while ancient Judea survived that war – at least until the Romans came along – one can only imagine the rancor that remained.
This morning, I read a report of how police brutality against the protesters has risen sharply. How the “reasonableness” law against judicial restraint is merely a first step toward a xenophobic, misogynistic Israel.
This was not the country my grandmother, great aunts and uncles, who settled the country both before and after the Holocaust, envisioned as they reclaimed the land from swamp and desert. This is not the country my many cousins died for during Israel’s wars to defend itself. Or the one that my mother brought us to when I was 15. And not the country I love from afar.
Does history have to repeat itself? Do we have to return to an age of vicious civil war between conservative and liberal, devout and secular?
Can something not stop this catastrophe before it goes further than it has?