Something is happening in Israel today that fills its citizens with trepidation

By Stephen Schulman

I sleep ill at night, my slumber is restless and I do not breathe easy. I sleep ill because I am worried. I worry about my beloved country. I worry about our children and our grandchildren. I worry for their future here and how this country will be, for what I see at the present leaves me deeply unsettled.

Over half a century ago, I left South Africa the land of my birth and came to live in Israel. Like many of my friends and fellow graduates of a Zionist youth movement, who came too, I was imbued with an idealism to help contribute to a Jewish state that was both liberal and democratic. After completing our studies, we left our families and came alone. We were not cockeyed optimists. We were perfectly aware that Israel was a young state born in especially difficult circumstances, coping with many problems. There was much to be done, but we wished to do our part. With the passing of time, we worked in our professions, did our army service, married and raised families. We are part of the country and feel pride in its achievements. However, something has changed, bad things have been happening and I am filled with trepidation.

Proud to Picture. The same man Itzik Zarka (left) –  whom prime minister Netanyahu is proud to pose with for a selfie during a Likud Party faction meeting at the Knesset in 2018 is in 2023 calling anti-judicial overhaul protesters “whores” and saying that he wishes “another six million would burn,” a reference to the Holocaust. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

”Ashkenazim may you burn in hell.”  “Not for nothing did six million die. I’m proud.  If only six million more would burn.”  Words that would make Goebbels, Streicher and all their despicable followers, knowing that their vicious antisemitism was alive and flourishing, beam with happiness and satisfaction. If anyone in his/her naiveté thinks that these foul utterances issued from the mouth of a most extreme neo-Nazi, they err gravely.  They were said by forty-nine-year-old Yitzhak Zarka, a Jew from Ma’ale Efrayim, a settlement in the State of Israel, who was relating to the anti-judicial overhaul protestors.

Zarka, in spewing his vicious and venomous hatred desecrates the memory of the six million martyrs, man, woman and child who were murdered in the Holocaust. It also deeply insults and defiles all the Holocaust survivors both from Europe and the Arab countries that fell under the yoke of Nazism. It insults the memory of my late father-in-law Meir who lost his entire family and my late mother-in- law Tsilla who while surviving the war, lost her father and a brother. It insults the memory of my dear friends: Yehuda whose family was persecuted in Libya and Uri who hailed from Iraq.

This individual’s sick jubilation over the Holocaust and his fervent desire for another one to occur to all the Jews of Ashkenzi (European) descent living in Israel and in the Diaspora does not suffice. In a feverish mind stoked and warped by a consuming and blind hatred, all logic and decency has long been defenestrated. In a twisted, perverted line of thought defying all comprehension, he curses them, for in his eyes, not only were the six million who perished deserving victims but they and all their descendants are of the same ilk as their murderers.

Never Again! Israel comes to a standstill on Yom HaShoah remembering the mass murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust while in 2023, a “proud” Likud activist Itzik Zarka, desecrates their memory by referencing the anti-judicial overhaul protestors as “Ashkenazim” whom he hopes “If only six million more would burn.” 

In any enlightened country, and as is happening in Europe, such pronouncements are considered a clear contravention of the law and would arouse public opprobrium. It goes without saying that the speaker or writer of them would be speedily hauled into court and prosecuted.

The Holocaust and the persecution and expulsion of Jews from the Arab countries is seared in Israel’s conscience. Zarka’s vituperative statement is clearly a criminal offense and it would be expected that the arm of the law swiftly reach out for him. It would be expected that he be publicly condemned by members of the government for his harmful statements.

Shockingly and shamefully, not so in present day Israel!

We have yet to hear of his prosecution, and silence reigns supreme. It is a silence both disgraceful and ominous and the reason is quite simple. Zarka is not just (like most of us) another common garden variety citizen. Zarka is a member of the Likud Party. Zarka is not a simple party member either. Zarka is a  faithful, veteran Likud activist who is highly esteemed by fellow members and greatly valued for his efficacy in garnering votes mainly among his fellow Sephardic (Jews who have come mainly from the Arab countries) citizens . Zarka is even more highly esteemed by quite a few Likud ministers in the present government for giving them his vital support in obtaining them a high placing in party elections. There is a well known adage: “Never bite the hand that feeds you votes!” Therefore this influential gentleman must be assiduously cultivated, his affection and loyalty secured and scrupulous care taken not antagonize him and earn his enmity. So, when he has a celebration like a birthday party, there is always an impressive bevy of fawning Likud party notables, including the Speaker of the Knesset and assorted ministers, bearing gifts, bowing and scraping, waiting patiently in the long line to congratulate, flatter, embrace and be photographed with the man of the moment.  Not for nothing is there a picture of him hugging and bussing our prime minister.

Darker side of Zarka. Itzik Zarka (centre) at a rally in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is today supporting the moral decline of the Jewish state by his ugly dangerous rhetoric.(Photo Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Bibi Netanyahu in his usual spin declared that the miscreant would be expelled from the party – which Zarka’s wife promptly denied and said would never happen. And, as to be expected, on the morn, he mumbled some lame excuse and claimed his grandfather was a Holocaust survivor. What difference does that make?

I sleep ill for there is a bad smell in the air. It is the stench of moral and ethical putrefaction. It is the stench caused by politicians, choosing to turn a blind eye and prefer self interest over moral obligation to their citizens. It is amoral Realpolitik at its ugliest. Not one Likud member of the Knesset, not one single minister from the same party, to their everlasting shame, has opened his/her mouth. It is not only the silence of assent. It is the silence that condones an egregious act that deeply offends so many citizens and harms the country’s social cohesion. It is the official stamp of silence that makes such behaviour the norm.

To add insult to injury, there are many of the party faithful who see no wrong, view it as a trifling incident and justify such behaviour. “I do not remember any other party that expelled any of its members for excessive anger,” was one mealy mouthed pronouncement.

Is this the ‘Face’ of Israel 2023? A prime minister (right) that is allowing the hard-fought Jewish state to unravel and Itzik Zarka, a spewer of hatred against fellow Jews, who is a veteran and highly respected Likud activist. (photo: Mark Israel Sellem)

Growing up in South Africa, antisemitism was par for the course and I experienced it in various ways. Nevertheless, never in my darkest dreams did I think that I would have to live in Israel in July 2023 to encounter it in its vilest and most toxic form and see its purveyor speak with impunity. Never in my darkest dreams, did I think that I would see such abominable behaviour accepted with equanimity by members of his party. Never did I imagine that not one minister in the coalition government (and our small country is gifted with 31 of them!), to their everlasting shame, would open his/her mouth in condemnation and disassociate him/her self from the speaker.

South Africa has Julius Malema, notorious for his abhorrent racism. It appears that we might have his doppelganger living here. How many of his repulsive clones walk around in our country?

Tragically, this sick behaviour is not an aberration. It is symptomatic of this culture of public and political discourse that is now eroding the very foundations of our society and has become a norm. Civility, politeness, mutual respect and common decency have long gone the way of the dinosaurs with rudeness, vulgarity, intolerance, insults and disrespect superseding them. Verbal violence: bullying, threats and intimidation is becoming commonplace.

South African ‘export’ that Israel can do without. Is this South African politician, Julius Malema, notorious for his abhorrent racism who some Israelis would be proud to emulate?

Is this an exaggeration? Look no further than the floor of the Knesset and the behaviour of certain ministers. A few days ago, our Minister of Transport’s car was stopped at gates of an army base by a security guard. As she felt that her entrance was unnecessarily delayed and her pride hurt, in her arrogance and rage she ordered her driver to proceed regardless. Ignoring his pleas that he would run over personnel, she repeatedly shouted at him:

Drive, drive, drive!”

With such an example it is no wonder that violence is no longer limited to being verbal and has become part and parcel of daily life.

My sleep is troubled. This is not the country I envisaged and I worry for the quality of its future. It took many generations to build but is being rapidly destroyed. What shall it be like for our grandchildren?

About the writer:

Stephen Schulman is a graduate of the South African Jewish socialist youth movement Habonim, who immigrated to Israel in 1969 and retired in 2012 after over 40 years of English teaching. He was for many years a senior examiner for the English matriculation and co-authored two English textbooks for the upper grades in high school. Now happily retired, he spends his time between his family, his hobbies and reading to try to catch up on his ignorance.

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