Israel’s Civil War

November 22, 2011 by J-Wire
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In Yehuda Avner’s book ‘The Prime Ministers’ the author recounts watching Menachim Begin deliver a speech in a dilapidated cinema shortly after the State of Israel came into being…writes Raffe Gold.

Raffe Gold

Begin spoke of how he believed that his terrorist group, the Irgun, had helped push the British out of Mandate Palestine but that there were times in which he and David Ben-Gurion, his ideological opponent and the first Prime Minister of Israel, had come close to civil war. When Begin could see that there was a possibility of civil war he ordered his men to back down. Begin proclaimed in the old cinema that “I live by an iron rule: a Jew must never lift a finger against a fellow Jew. NEVER. A Jew must never shed the blood of another Jew, NEVER. Twenty centuries ago we faced the bitter experience of the destruction of our Second Temple….and why? Because of our senseless hatred of each other, a hatred that led to civil war and to our utter ruin….I took a solemn oath….I would never ever be a party to a civil war”.

Despite his extremist views, I believe that at this point in Israel’s history, we need to think very carefully about Begin’s refusal to participate in a war of Jew against Jew; Israel is heading towards a civil war and it will not be pretty.


This is a civil war that is simmering under the surface but in the last decade it has all the hallmarks of boiling over. We have seen it in the protesting ultra-Orthodox Jews who riot when a car park opens on Shabbat or who scream at young school girls for wearing dresses which show their arms and legs. And we have seen it in the settlers who ambush IDF troops. We have seen it in the defacement of Rabin’s memorial and the price tag attacks on the offices of Peace Now. We have seen it in the way in which the IDF is increasingly called on to act in a placating role that bends over backwards not to offend ultra-Orthodox soldiers at the expense of its proud history of gender equality’s politics. We have seen it in the  un-Israeli and undemocratic bills that are appearing now before the Knesset by the militant right-wing coalition; the loyalty oath and the nakba laws to name a few, bills which not just make Israel into a pariah with the rest of the world, but are antipathetic to those principles of equity, participation and democracy which were the very core of our foundation as a state and a moral light to the rest of the world.

We have seen it in the decision by Jerusalem’s mayor to sack his female colleague just to win more votes, for demanding that the ultra-Orthodox obey the law of the land. We are seeing it more and more every day and it is not a fight that the left can win. In fact it does not seem that the left can even maintain an effective defense.


Earlier this year, for a fleeting moment, there was hope for a change in this country. A young girl, long before the hipsters occupied wall street, set up a tent on Rothschild Boulevard in protest at the cost of living of Tel Aviv. Over the course of a few days the tents multiplied in number until they spread throughout the country. Hundreds of thousands, myself included, marched and protested and sang. We saw an Israel that we had not seen before. An Israel that was crying out for change from the path of self-destruction that she is heading down. This was the moment in which the country was screaming for the social justice that we, as human beings, deserved. Israel needs these protesters to cry out louder and harder. It needs them to scream that the occupation must end and a just separation of Church and State, one of the founding principles of democracy, must be enforced.


The civil war will be anarchic. The left will fight the right and the ultra-Orthodox will fight everyone else. The pro-Settler coalition will smile and pass more and more bills which legalize an occupation that should have ended years ago. The government will lie through its teeth, again, and complain that there is no partner for peace whilst, against the wishes of the security services, withhold more money from the PA. We will bear the brunt of more Iranian-made rockets from the North and the South and peace will be further from our grasp. Eventually we will not be the Israel of Begin or Ben-Gurion but the Israel of Likudniks and Lieberman. A sad excuse for a country that has burnt its bridges in the international community and in return is receiving international condemnation. The left, once those who safeguarded the human rights of all, will shake its head and sigh, from their apartments in Manhattan and Marble Arch, Sydney and Seattle, at the Israel they vacated out of desperation.


Israel’s civil war will be bloodless. It will take years to resolve, and it threatens to destroy this country. It will see Israel, once the beacon of light in a sea of medieval Semitic darkness, descend into a theocratic regime or one so right wing that no centrist European or American government will want to maintain a relationship. It will be the country that Jews leave in order to be safe. The founders of Israel would weep at what they see today and their tears would be well justified.


The destruction of the Israel that the founders worked for, will be brought about not by Arabia, but by Israel itself. After facing down Arab armies on multiple occasions, defeating them in as little as six days, Israel is at risk of withering and perishing at the bayonet of its own extremist citizens. The Israel that we knew, and loved, will die in the stranglehold of right-wing extremism. In those final hours who will remain to say kaddish for the late State of Israel? Will it be the Diaspora, looking at the ruination of all their hopes and dreams, and wondering why Israel did this to itself? Or will it be those moderate Jews, living in the rubble of what they and their forefathers had tried to build, and wondering where it all went so horribly wrong.


Raffe Gold is political science graduate and an Israeli immigrant from Australia. He can be contacted at

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