Lately, there has been much despondency and grinding of teeth regarding the direction that many in Israel feel the country is moving.
Various groups in Israel including traditional observant Jews as well as the secular community believe that the country is moving towards religious radicalization. Hence the term Israelstan.
It should however be noted that the word ‘stan’ is a suffix used in the names of several countries located in Central Asia and South Asia. It comes from the Persian language and means ‘land of’ or ‘place of’. Therefore, Pakistan means ‘land of the Pariks’ and Afghanistan means ‘land of the Afghans’. Other examples include Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan.
Given the above explanation, it may well be that Israel should be called Israelstan, meaning the ‘land of Israel’ or the ‘land of the Jews’.
Maybe the term ‘Israelstan’ was created as a reference to the historical and cultural ties between the Jewish people and Central Asia, or as a hypothetical scenario in which Israel would have a strong influence or presence in the region.
To many in Israel and around the world the suffix ‘stan’ conjures up an Islam country dominated by hard-right ultra-consecutive Mullahs, for example, Afghanistan. And although not a ‘stan’ others of course cite Iran.
And with this hard-right ultra-consecutive direction comes the chilling spectrum of religious radicalization.
In broad terms religious radicalization is the process by which individuals adopt extreme religious beliefs and practices, often leading to a willingness to use violence to achieve their goals. It involves a significant departure from mainstream religious beliefs and often leads to the rejection of other cultures, religions, or political systems.
Just four examples of religious radicalization:
Islamic extremism is the most commonly known form of religious radicalization. It involves the use of violence to achieve the goal of creating a global Islamic state or caliphate. Groups such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Boko Haram are examples of Islamic extremist organizations.
Christian extremism involves the use of religious beliefs to justify violence or discrimination against people who do not adhere to their particular interpretation of Christianity. Groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and anti-abortion extremists are examples of Christian extremist organizations.
Hindu extremism involves the use of religious beliefs to justify violence or discrimination against Muslims and other minority groups in India. Groups such as the Vishva Hindu Parishad and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh are examples of Hindu extremist organizations.
And of course, Jewish extremism which involves the use of religious beliefs to justify violence or discrimination against non-Jewish people, particularly Arabs or Palestinians (both Muslim and Christain), as well as others. Groups such as Kahane Chai and the Jewish Defense League are examples of Jewish extremist organizations.
It should be noted that Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir of the far-right Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit political parties are openly disciples of Meir Kahane.
Note, not all religious individuals or organizations that hold strong beliefs are radical or extreme. Radicalization is a specific process that involves a departure from mainstream beliefs and the willingness to use violence to achieve one's goals.
Modern Israel came into being on May 14, 1948, establishing the first Jewish state in 2,000 years.
This year Israel will celebrate its 75th birthday. Many are skeptical regarding Israel’s future as a forward-thinking, liberal democratic country.
Modern Israel has its origins in the Zionism movement, established in the late 19th century by Jews in the Russian Empire who called for the establishment of a territorial Jewish state after enduring persecution. In 1896, Jewish-Austrian journalist Theodor Herzl published an influential political pamphlet called The Jewish State, which argued that the establishment of a Jewish state was the only way of protecting Jews from anti-Semitism.
I arrived in Israel in November 1968, just a mere 20 years after its founding. With its socialist position, domestically the country was relatively poor, with many of its citizens living in difficult conditions. At the same time, Israel was driving forward to establish itself internationally.
While I was aware of religious Israelis, including the Hardim, their numbers were minimal, or at least that is how I recall those years.
By contrast, in 2023, Israel is a developed and prosperous nation. Its economy is one of the most advanced in the world, driven by high-tech industries such as software development, cybersecurity, and biotechnology. Israel is also home to many world-class universities and research institutions.
The running point to a more militant Hardie community came in the later 1980s with the establishment of the ultra-orthodox Shas political party, as representatives of Sephardic and Mizrahi Israelis. Many in the Sephardic and Mizrahi felt that they were treated as second-class citizens by the ‘elite’ Askenarzi Isarels. Sadly, several generations on, this feeling still resounds amongst many in the community.
In addition to the Shas party, militant Judaism can, in my opinion, be traced to the election of Meir Khana to the Knesset.
In broad terms, the population of Israel as of December 31, 2022, stood at 9.7M according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.
In terms of religion, the approximate percentage breakdown of the population is as follows:
Jews (all sectors): 74.2%
Others (including Baháʼí, Samaritans, and those with no religion): approximately 1.1%.
The population increase in 2022 dwarfed the 1.8% growth in 2021, with the difference being attributed in part to a larger number of immigrants both from Western Europe and the US and an influx due to the Ukraine/Russia conflict.
In terms of sectors, the Jewish population of Israel is frequently broken down into three main groups:
Secular Jews: These are Jews who do not practice religion or follow traditional Jewish customs and are estimated to make up around 40% of the Jewish population in Israel.
Religious Jews: These are Jews who follow traditional Jewish practices and customs and are estimated to make up around 20% of the Jewish population in Israel. This group is often further divided into subgroups such as Modern Orthodox, National Religious, and others.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews (Haredim): These are Jews who adhere to a strict interpretation of Jewish law and often maintain a separate lifestyle from the rest of Israeli society. They are estimated to make up around 13% of the Jewish population in Israel.
A crystal ball is not required to understand that the Haredi population in Israel has been growing at a faster rate than the general population, and it is projected to continue growing in the coming years.
By 2025, it is projected that the Haredi population will grow to around 1.5 million, which would represent approximately 16% of the total population.
2025 is just around the corner. Let’s fast forward to 2050, which in real terms is not that far away.
By 2050 it is predicted that 1-in-4 of Israel's citizens, that’s 25% will be Haredi.
Put another way, the National Economic Council says Haredi Jews will make up 3.8 million of the projected 16 million Israelis in 2050 years, thanks to the community’s high birth rates.
How are future generations of secular Israeli Jews to fare in 2050 with the dominance of the Haridim, and their desire to ‘fight until Zionism is defeated’ while at the same time ‘resisting the army draft with all your soul’.
Who is going to defend the country?
It is no secret that there is a lack of respect in certain sections of the Haredi community for Israel.
We don’t need to wait for our enemies to come calling, we have our fifth column alive and well in our midst.
Countries must evolve if they are to grow and meet the deems of their citizens.
The evaluation of a country typically refers to the process of assessing the performance, progress, or effectiveness of a country in achieving certain goals or objectives. The evaluation can be conducted in various areas, such as economics, social welfare, health, education, and political stability.
Here are three examples of the evaluation of a country:
Economic evaluation: This involves analyzing a country's economic indicators to determine its economic performance. For instance, evaluating a country's gross domestic product (GDP), inflation rate, employment rate, trade balance, and foreign exchange reserves can indicate the country's economic health. Other factors that can be assessed in the economic evaluation include income distribution, poverty rates, and the overall standard of living.
Social welfare evaluation: This involves assessing the quality of life of the citizens in a country, including their access to necessities such as food, water, and shelter, as well as their access to healthcare, education, and other essential services. The evaluation of social welfare can also include indicators such as crime rates, income inequality, and social mobility.
Political stability evaluation: This involves assessing a country's political environment, including its level of democracy, human rights, and governance. The evaluation can include factors such as the rule of law, corruption, press freedom, and the protection of civil liberties. A stable political environment is crucial for a country's economic and social development.
Currently, it would appear that political stability has gone out the window.
Benjamin Netanyahu sees himself as a ‘benevolent dictator’. He alone knows what is best for Israel and how to achieve those goals regardless of the cost to the country or its people.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The expression ‘benevolent dictator’ refers to a leader who exercises absolute power over a country or organization but uses that power for the good of the people, rather than for personal gain or to maintain a dictatorship. A benevolent dictator is someone who is seen as being kind, compassionate, and genuinely interested in the welfare of the people under their rule.
Does that sound like Benjamin Netanyahu? It does not to me.
Here are three examples of ‘benevolent dictators’, compare them to Benjamin Netanyahu.
Lee Kuan Yew: was the founding father of modern Singapore and served as the country's Prime Minister for over three decades. Lee was widely credited with transforming Singapore from a third-world country to a developed nation within a single generation, and he was known for his firm and authoritarian leadership style.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk: was the founder of modern Turkey and served as the country's first President. Atatürk is credited with introducing numerous reforms that modernized Turkey and transformed it into a secular and democratic nation.
Josip Broz Tito: was the President of Yugoslavia from 1953 to 1980 and is widely regarded as a benevolent dictator. Tito was known for his efforts to maintain the unity and stability of Yugoslavia and for his commitment to social justice and economic development. He also maintained a balanced foreign policy, which enabled Yugoslavia to play a leading role in the Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War.
We should perhaps compare Benjamin Netanyahu of 2023 to Spain’s Franco, Portugal’s Salazar, Chile’s Pinochet, and Peron of Argentina, to name just a few malevolent ultra-nationist dictators.