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To be Israeli today

It`s nice to know that the economy`s good, or relatively good, and that the hi-tech sector is a miracle, that we`re the `start-up nation.` There`s a lot of economic opportunity in this country for well-educated, shrewd, hard-working people (or well-educated, shrewd, hard-working Jews, anyway). There`s great wealth in Israel, a whole class of rich people.

That`s a change, and a good one. I can`t say I`m inspired by it, because there doesn`t seem to be a whole lot of trickle-down from all thatwealth, but prosperity, even if it`s spread narrowly, is a good thing. A positive thing.

Other than the economy - the rise of the nouveau-riche and the staving off of recession - everything else in national life, everything else that comes to mind when you think `Israel` or `being Israeli` - is negative.

Being Israeli today is about being against. Against Palestinians. Against people who criticize the way we treat Palestinians. Against Muslims in general.

That`s it. That`s what it means to be Israeli, ever since the intifada started a decade ago and we concluded that no Arab could be trusted. Except for its hi-tech image, this is allIsrael stands for anymore - being against this one, against that one and against anyone who isn`t against them, too.

THAT DOESN`T leave many people whom we`re with. We`re with Republicans. We`re with right-wing Evangelical Christians. And that`s about all. Everybody else is against us, or they don`t know anything about us, so they`re neutral.

Like the Eskimos. And maybe those Shakers.

To be Israeli today is to organize your thinking around the enemy. Without the enemy, you can`t understand the world or your place in it. Without the enemy, you don`t know what you want - except more money, which is the default goal of the whole human race.

What else do Israelis want? We want security! We want those bastards to leave us alone! We want the enemy to go away! Fear and aggression toward the enemy - that`s all that drives us anymore, that and the desire for more money.

And even if we make more money, what do we want to do with it? Invest it in improving the country, in improving the world? Is that what the start-up nation stands for?

When we think of the economy, we think of `me.` But when we think of `us,` we think first and last of `them.` Of course, there are loads and loads of generous, public-spirited Israelis doing great things individually or in groups. But when we`re all together as a nation, all we see is the enemy. Stopping the enemy is the only national project we have left. It`s the only issue that gets people`s attention for more than a day.

As for the Jewish part of being Israeli, Judaism in this country is overwhelmingly tribal, to the point of belligerency. Israeli-style Judaism feeds this us-against-them mentality like nothing else except, maybe, the national cult of the military.

NONE OF this hard-assedness is new; it was always here. But until this past decade, it had competition from a less fearful, more open-minded, positive view of what it meant to be Israeli. There were people here who talked about building something besides West Bank settlements, fundamentalist yeshivot and border walls. They wanted to stop being obsessed with the enemy, they wanted to go out into the world, and they didn`t freak out every time somebody said we were treating the Palestinians badly, because they knew the critic had a point.

There were a lot of Israelis like this. They had huge demonstrations, political parties, leaders, ideas. Until this decade, there was a `peace camp,` too, not just a `national camp.` The two camps fought to determine thiscountry`s direction, and it made for a great deal of creative tension in national life.

Until this decade, national life was interesting. Now it`s deadening. I go back to Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy`s quote from a couple of years ago: `There was a time when you`d ask two Israelis a question and you`d get three opinions. Now you only get one.`

When I try to explain Israel to Americans, I ask them to imagine that 80 percent of their fellow citizens were Republicans. Israel has become a one-party country - the war party.

We`re at war with the Middle East, with Europe, with liberal Jews in the Diaspora and with a pathetically small handful of dissenters at home. We trust no one. We see anti-Semites everywhere. We`d like to build an Iron Dome over this wholecountry to keep the world out.

There`s very little oxygen around here; everyone is breathing the air that everyone else has exhaled. This country has been stagnating for a decade. And we`ve never achieved such unity.
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