More than a century and a half after the end of the American Civil War, historians still debate the reasons for the Northern defeat of the South. President Abraham Lincoln’s effective leadership? General Ulysses Grant’s winning military strategies? The failure of the Confederacy of the eleven states of the South to win support from Britain and France?
But there is a general consensus among researchers that in many ways, the Union’s victory in the war was preordained that the agrarian economy of the South was no match for the industrial capacity of the North that helped it to manufacture its arms and build its transportation infrastructure.
On another level, the conflict between the South and the North amounted to a struggle between the past and the future, between a world built on an agricultural economy based on the exploitation of slave labor and a rising universe of manufacturing industries and commercial centers; between those who fancied themselves as the romantic knights of Walter Scott’s novels and an emerging urban population whose values reflected those of the Enlightenment.
From that perspective, the kind of civilizational clash is evident in the current evolving cold civil war in Israel. Although it may be seen as a struggle over judicial reform, it is really one between the future—the demonstrators who represent Israel’s Westernized economic and cultural elites—and the forces of the past—the ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students and ultra-right West Bank settlers.
Israeli pundits have proposed that the conflict is between two opposing forces: “Judea,” the Jewish settlers who seek to annex the occupied Palestinian territories and establish in Israel an apartheid system joined by ultra-Orthodox theocrats whose sons don’t serve in the military and don’t study basic math; and “Israel,” the high-tech entrepreneurs of the celebrated start-up nation, retired air force pilots, and other members of the nation’s productive economic sector.
It's a struggle whose outcome would determine Israel’s future. Will Israel remain a progressive liberal democracy and an advanced industrial and high-tech economy? Or will it be transformed into a backward theocracy with a third-world economy, a binational state, and eventually a Middle Eastern community like Lebanon with never-ending fights between ethnic groups, religious sects, and tribal factions?
Not unlike the leaders of the southern Confederacy during the American Civil War, those who lead “Judea” live in a fantasy in which they would be able to rule forever on another nation, in which the United States needs Israel more than Israel needs the United States, and if the world refuses to abide their dictates they would lead a fight to the end a la Masada, this time with nuclear weapons added to the mix.
But more likely than not, the war between Judea and Israel would not end in an apocalyptic nightmare. Instead, with the situation deteriorating, Israel’s best and brightest young would emigrate from a collapsing Jewish state to Silicon Valley, to Wall Street, to London and Berlin.
After all, why should they risk their lives to defend young healthy men who refuse to serve in the military and help subsidize the ultra-Orthodox Jewish parasitic economy and the West Bank settlements that threaten the long-term chances for peace? Why should they live in a country where women and LGBTQ people are discriminated against and Arabs are treated as second-class citizens?
Policymakers and lawmakers in Washington need to take into consideration these dramatically changing political realities in Israel and recognize that the country’s pragmatic political and military elite may soon be swept away and replaced by politicians whose values and interests don’t align with those of the United States.
To put it differently, if there was a time when Americans were worried that irrational ayatollahs in Tehran would have access to nuclear weapons, they should now find themselves worrying about what would happen if a Masada-obsessed Jewish fanatic would have control over Israel’s nuclear arsenal. Unless that is, the lessons of the American Civil War are applied and Israel defeats Judea.
Dr. Leon Hadar, a contributing editor at The National Interest, has taught international relations at American University and was a research fellow with the Cato Institute. A former UN correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, he currently covers Washington for the Business Times of Singapore and is a columnist/blogger with Israel’s Haaretz.
Image: Noa Ratinsky / Shutterstock.com