Lisa Goldman writes: The vast majority of Israeli Jews support the military operation, called Protective Edge, but leftist Jews and the Arab minority organized anti-war protests, primarily in liberal Tel Aviv and then in Haifa, a mixed Arab-Jewish city.
There’s nothing new in seeing a minority of Israelis protest a popular war. It is not unprecedented for that minority to be met by counter-protestors who wrap themselves in the flag and call out insults like “traitor.” But this time something new and worrying happened: Peaceful, unarmed demonstrators in Israel’s two most liberal cities were physically attacked by ultra-nationalists wielding stones and bottles. In Haifa, nationalist thugs assaulted the Arab deputy mayor, slamming the middle-aged man down on the pavement. In Tel Aviv, they chased anti-war protestors into a cafe and smashed a chair over the head of one of them, even as municipal sirens wailed to announce an incoming rocket from Gaza. The police were ineffective in stopping the violence. Later, it emerged that the ultra-nationalist attackers had organized via a Facebook group managed by a well-known rap artist – a tattooed, muscular fellow who goes by the name The Shadow.
Something has broken down in Israeli society. Friends who always said they would never leave because they were too deeply rooted in the place, its language and their families are deeply worried and even despairing over the radical rightward shift of the mainstream political discourse. Several have said they were looking for opportunities abroad because they couldn’t see themselves raising their children in a country where dissent was slowly but surely being suppressed even as the national discourse hardened rightward.
Israel has always been a flawed democracy with many festering internal divisions. Its policies toward the Arab minority reflect the unresolved tension of a conflicted identity: Should Israel aspire to be a liberal democracy or a democracy for Jews? But in the five years since Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister and formed a governing coalition composed of far-right, racist and anti-democratic parties, something very fundamental has changed in Israeli society. It feels as though the majority is willing to suspend essential elements of democracy in favor of Jewish nationalism. There doesn’t seem to be a place for dissent anymore.