Prophecies in Israeli Ethno-Religious Reality
If we were to list the countries where religious legitimacy is most influential, Israel would definitely be one of them, if not the first. No other nation can be found which, after almost 2500 years, has reshaped its state after having miraculously preserved its language, traditions, history and faith
By Ermir Gjinishi, Albanian Daily News
In the human sciences, it is estimated that no other source of cultural worldviews has offered as many answers to humanity in the context of identity as religion. And, if we refer to the nature of the nation, as part of a single common identity, in a historical continuity, which creates the elements of a common culture, certainly religion is part of this common identity, of this culture, of this historical continuity. George Moyser says that religion can be the means through which a people expresses its identity and aspirations. But, in some cases, surprisingly, it appears as the only referential source of identity, even of the existence of a people. If we were to list the countries where religious legitimacy is most influential, Israel would definitely be one of them, if not the first. No other nation can be found which, after almost 2500 years, has reshaped its state after having miraculously preserved its language, traditions, history and faith. The children of Israel, as the Bible calls them, an ethno-religious people, have linked their existence to a series of religious prophecies. “Talmudic prophecies” remain the source of aspirations but also of tensions in Israeli society. The existence and end of the Israeli state are two of the most influential in Jewish worldviews, whose contrasting interpretations have constantly created tension since the creation of Israel in 1948.
The Neturei Karta (Aramaic – Guardians of the City), an ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionist group, consider themselves the Jewish religious authority on Zionism and Israel. Founded in 1938, they support the creation of a Palestinian state and do not recognize Israel. They believe that the Jewish people are forbidden to create their own state “outside of the divine will” which starts with the coming of the Messiah (savior). Under the motto “Judaism is not equal to Zionism”, every year at the independence celebrations they burn the flag of Israel, raise the flag of Palestine. They do not hesitate to meet with any leader that Israel considers an enemy, from those of Hamas, Hizbullah, Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Khamenei, to international anti-Semitic extremist groups. In reality, ultra-orthodox Jews do not approve of Israel’s secular governments, nor their liberal policies, but the vast majority of them hate the ideology of Neturei Karta. However, their case shows that futuristic prophecies are enough to fuel sympathizers and detractors, creating a confusing collapse of visions.
Despite the fact that Israel remains a geopolitical and military force in the region and in the world, its internal reality is not so calm. Repeated warnings of “prophecies” by the leaders, rabbis and his elites about the “end” of their state, are increasing internal tensions. But what makes Israelis fear the collapse of their state, despite their military superiority? According to Jewish belief, their first Davidic kingdom was established between 586-516 BC, while the Hasmonean era lasted between 140-37 BC. For this reason, the existence of Israel for more than eight decades contradicts the tradition of Jewish history. The warning prophecies come at a time when external threats against Israel have increased. At a time when internal political and social divisions have advanced. Repeated elections, instead of putting an end to this chaos, may worsen the situation. The vapors of these prophecies have affected the most prominent voices of the political, military and media levels, each according to his own point of view, trying to find internal and external factors in function of the same prophecy.
The first politician to anticipate these prophecies was Benjamin Netanyahu, who in order to increase electoral support in 2017 declared: “I will try to make Israel reach its 100th anniversary,… the Jewish people have never had a state to live more than 80 years”. While the former head of Mossad, Tamir Padro, in a lecture at Netanya College, stated that “the biggest threat comes from the Israelis themselves, with the emergence of the self-destruction mechanism.” The Israeli writer Aryeh Shavit agrees with this approach when he assesses as the greatest threat to Israel the confrontation with internal conflicts and disagreements, and that reunification in a vision is the last chance for the Jewish people. Fears of internal divisions took on the weight of the risk of a “civil war” after the assassination of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995 by a right-wing activist. Since that time, no Israeli government has completed a four-year governing mandate. Escalating threats of divisiveness culminated in threatening messages to the family of the resigned Prime Minister Bennett, with an envelope and bullets inside reminding him of Rabin’s fate.
In an article for Reuters, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, referring to Talmudic history, expressed his fear of the destruction of Israel before the 80th anniversary of its founding. Barak brought examples from the peoples of the world who were hit by the “curse of the eighteenth decade”. According to him, the civil war in the United States broke out in the eighth decade from the time of its founding. Italy became a fascist state in its eighth decade. Germany became a Nazi state in the eighth decade, and in the eighth decade of the communist revolution, the Soviet Union disintegrated and collapsed.
At the beginning of May 2022, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, in a closed session with the MPs of his “Blue and White” party, warned that “there is concern for the future of Israel” due to the demographic growth of the Palestinians, who according to the Israeli institute of statistics make up one fifth of Israel’s population. Thus, the resigned Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, in the speech of June 3, 2022, warning of the danger of collapse, declared before the Israelis that: “The state stands before a real test and a historical crossroads, …. we are all facing a fatal moment… Israel is reaching one of the most difficult moments of decadence it has ever known.”
It is worth saying that the internal disagreements are not limited to just between Labor and Likud, or between the right and the left. They have expanded to include differences between right and far right, between religious and secular people, between eastern and western Israelis, between Arabs and Jews, and the separation of religion and state. In addition to political instability, polls show declining public confidence in the military. According to the Israel Democracy Institute’s 2021 poll, Israelis’ trust in their military reached its lowest level, at 78%, since 2008.
Messianic declarations and warnings in circumstances of political crisis and growing insecurity combine in a common denominator the effect of fear of religious prophecies with internal reasons for discontent, ranging from lack of harmony between groups, poor governance performance, to factors external related to the dangers and existential military threats that surround the country from all sides. However, it is difficult to conclude that Israel enters this discourse voluntarily and talks about predictions based on an intellectual luxury or a purely cultural debate. Even more so when they are released by political, religious and intellectual elites who go beyond the game of political polarization. What remains to be seen is the interaction of these prophecies with existing realities, which may lead to shrinking pessimism, or to solidarity for an existential battle of survival.