At this time in its history, Israel closely resembles Roman Palestine.  The Jewish people were divided into numerous sects, which in turn were often subdivided into factions.  The temple elite, the Sadducees, were perfectly happy to collaborate with the Romans; the Pharisees were the mainstream Jews led by the urban and rural cohanim and rabbis (teachers); the Essenes and the Nazarenes wandered around in and inhabited the wilderness; the Zealots opposed Roman rule and utilized the Sicarii (daggermen) to do their dirty work, killing mostly fellow Jews perceived as collaborators and traitors.  During the years leading up to the great revolt of 66-70ce, two high priests were murdered in the temple itself.  In the year six of the common era the Romans ordered a census, which was strictly forbidden under Jewish law and much to the surprise of the Romans, the Jews rebelled under a leader named Judah the Galilean.  This rebellion was put down but was followed by an uprising among the Jewish diaspora, which was also put down.  Finally the great Jewish revolt broke out in 66 and led to the destruction of the temple after the Romans had crushed the rebellion  by the year 70.

At present, the population of Israel is again divided into numerous political and religious sects, parties and factions.  In the Knesset itself there are the following elements:  (1)  the two major parties, Likud and Labor, which between them have 54 out of 120 seats (30 Likud and 24 Labor).  (2)  two fringe groups:  the United Arab Front, made up of three predominantly Arab-Israeli parties and the Haredi or ultra-Orthodox parties, divided into the Ashkenazi ultras originating in central and eastern Europe and the Sephardic ultras, originating in North Africa and the Middle East.  Between them they have 26 of the 120 seats and are characterized by being non-Zionist; that is, not nationalist, patriotic parties.  (3)  The remaining forty Knesset seats are divided among five smaller parties, one each of the left and the right and three centrist.  These groupings are as varied and contentious as the factions at the dawn of the first millennium ce and by no means exempt from violence.  Three Haredi thugs that beat up an Israeli army major recently belong to a group that calls itself the “sicarii” (so far they use fists and clubs rather than daggers).  Under the circumstances, and eliminating from the calculation the anti-Zionists, the remaining .94 Knesset members cannot form a lasting coalition unless and until the two main parties are willing to join a “grand coalition” a la Germany.  Together, along with one or two of the smaller parties, they can form a government with some chance of living out its term.

Unlike the Sadducees, Pharisees, etc. etc. much of the sturm und drang going on in political Israel is taking place against a backdrop of a strong, indeed vibrant and dynamic economy and amazing technological and scientific advances.  As Europe and the U.S. lose influence and become less pro-Israeli, the Asians are becoming ever more-so, as they come to realize that Israel is second only to Silicon Valley in advanced technologies in all areas, including not just communications and bio-tech, but medical, agricultural, defense and security technology.  With abundant water and natural gas, Israel can bind to itself more and more closely its two most significant neighbors, Egypt and Jordan.  With the states of the Arabian peninsula, terrified of Iran, informal ties of security and defense between them and Israel become stronger.

Thus civil society may trump politics in Israel, a development that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the whole MENA region, and uncommon enough in much of the rest of the world.  That did not happen in the first century c.e. and the result was disaster.

Norman A. Bailey

Norman A Bailey is the author of numerous books and articles and recipient of several honorary degrees, medals and awards and two orders of knighthood. He also teaches economic statecraft at The Institute of World Politics and has experience on the staff of the National Security Council at the White House, in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and in business, consulting and finance. He is professor emeritus in the National Security Studies Center, University of Haifa, and a columnist...

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