According to experts, violent internal conflict is more likely than most people would like to think.
The phrase “civil war” is likely the one that Israelis use the most frequently today, and it is not just a figure of speech. It is a manifestation of intense anxiety that Israelis have never before felt, one that is unprecedented and overpowering.
In a nation that takes pride in its internal solidarity to the point that people refer to one another as “brother,” the term “brothers’ war” instead of “civil war” sounds even more menacing in Hebrew. However, for many Israelis, that sense of brotherhood has since vanished and has been openly replaced by hatred, contempt, and outright horror.
What started out as “civil disobedience” against a contentious judicial overhaul has grown into something much bigger. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been participating in weekly protests and strikes against the changes to the judiciary, which the government considers “reforms” and opponents consider “coups.”
The plan, which is being promoted by the right-wing, ultranationalist government of the country, has the potential to effectively weaken the government’s checks and balances and permit the nation to move further toward authoritarianism. However, while the protests do not deter the government, resentment on both sides grows.
Politicians, a former intelligence chief, pundits, and even the state’s arch-foes are beginning to raise the “civil war” alarm. Whoever started it has already started the blame game. Even though talking about it is dangerous enough, no one knows for sure if or when this scenario will occur.
Israel’s current toxic atmosphere has existed for longer than many are willing to admit. After the fourth round of non-conclusive parliamentary elections in less than two years, a popular satirical show called “Eretz Nehederet” aired a jaw-dropping comedy sketch in March 2021. In it, a street-savvy Israeli proposes a way out of the political impasse.
“That’s the last straw”, says the person named Shauli. “This nation lacks chemistry among its citizens, so it does not work. Shauli explained, “Let’s put an end to it.”
Civil war is the only option. Ashkenazi Jews versus Sephardi Jews, the left versus the right, the wealthy versus the poor, and religious versus secular. It matters not. However, not the Arabs. If they so choose, let them fight the winner later. “It’s not hard. You don’t even have to declare war, and we have everything we need. Everyone here served in the military and has a few weapons left at home.”
In those days the discourse reverberated with Israeli crowds since they thought that it is entertaining. But now that I listen to it, the sketch makes me feel like a creepy prediction is coming true. A warning was recently issued by Yuval Diskin, the former head of Israel’s Shin Bet internal intelligence service.
Diskin published an article titled “On the brink of civil war” in the Yediot Ahronot daily in October of the previous year, just days before the election that brought the current ultranationalist government to power.
He based his prediction on the breakdown of internal social cohesion, which he argued was already taking place.
Many were stunned by his straightforwardness at that point and hurried to reprimand him and attempt to refute him.
One third of Israelis, according to polls six months later, now support him.
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