Carl Schmitt (11 July 1888 – 7 April 1985) is alive and well. Thank you for asking. As a matter of fact, he is walking the streets of Jerusalem nowadays, taking notes that confirm his understanding of politics as the realm in which the friend-foe distinction rules. If he were really alive today, he would notice that his distinction permeates everyday life as a series of racial confrontations. Last week, this culminated in an attempted lynching by a mob of Jewish Israeli teenagers of a few Palestinian youth.
On the Friday night of August the 17th, four Palestinian young people from East Jerusalem strolled the city center, trying to enjoy its night life, relaxing after a day of Ramadan fasting. They were attacked by the mob shouting racial slogans, beating them, and leaving one of the Palestinians unconscious and seriously wounded. The attack took place in the open public, viewed passively by hundreds of people. Only a few intervened, saving the lives of the Palestinians. The rest of the crowd feared for their own life, or worse, supported the mob.
The attack is the latest example of escalating racial violence conducted by both sides. In April this year, another mob, fans of the Jerusalem football club Beitar Jerusalem, violently confronted Palestinian workers in a Jerusalem shopping mall. And on November 2010, a group of Jewish students who mistakenly entered the streets of Al-Issawiya, a Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood, were stoned almost to death, narrowly escaping with the help of the police.
The latest attack aroused a public uproar in Israel. Chief of the Israel Police, Yohanan Danino, acted decisively, denouncing the attack, establishing a special investigating team that soon arrested the suspects, who confessed participating, justifying themselves with a racist agenda. Many of them were seen as teenage drop-outs. Also politicians joined in the denunciations, first among them: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, and the Speaker of Parliament Rubi Rivlinwho visited the wounded Palestinian teenager in the hospital.
It seems that the alarming lessons of what happened in Tel Aviv on May 22th, which I analyzed in my last post, has affected the political system. The political leadership uttered the appropriate words, sincerely. Though, as criticized by Eyal Megged, the form of denunciation was not public enough. Netanyahu should have summoned a special address to the nation, condemning the racial violence, pointing out the moral danger we as a nation face. While I think that Meged’s criticism is sound as far as it goes, I don’t think it goes deep enough.
Indeed, speech can act and words have illocutionary power. And yet, words require certain conditions to be able to act, and even then, they are not enough by themselves. The words of denunciation should be accompanied by amending deeds, and not only police enforcement deeds. And amending deeds are nowhere to be seen, to the contrary.
Take the education system as an example. Following week of the mob attack, the Israel education ministry revealed some alarming data concerning the matriculation success rates in Israel in different municipalities. The matriculation results show a growing gap, the strong leaving the weak way behind. Thus, Arab, Haredi (ultra orthodox Jews), and peripheral municipalities are falling behind, with their youth immersed in structural ignorance and poor prospects in advancing their life plans.
This is specifically true in Jerusalem, with its large percentages of Arab and Haredi populations, and with a matriculation success rate of about 42%, less than half of the strongest municipality. This structural ignorance, the result of a gross failure by the State of Israel to allocate resources equally and supervise core curricula, maintains and fuels racism and creates the breeding ground for the escalation of Schmittian racial violence.
And it is not just the general education in the poor municipalities that has such detrimental effects on the Israeli public and Israeli youth (especially the drop-out youth). The civic and democratic education for engaged and pluralist citizenship has suffered a blow under Minister of Education Gideon Saar, who advances Jewish tradition studies at the expense of civic and democratic education. Moreover, in a very controversial decision, supposedly made autonomously by Minister Saar’s Director General Dalit Stauber, the civic supervisor, Adar Cohen, was dismissed.
While the official grounds for dismissing Mr. Cohen were some professional mistakes, unofficial reports disclose a rightist political crusade against him. The right, apparently, considers Mr. Cohen as not sufficiently Zionist, as advancing a too cosmopolitan, pluralist, and critical agenda. Almost replicating the accusations against Socrates, Mr. Cohen is seen as corrupting the minds of the young. (This decision has been suspended for the time being by Minister Saar following the appeal of Mr. Cohen to the Labor Courts.) Under those conditions, it is no wonder that Israeli youth, suffering from structural ignorance and lack of civic and democratic education, is moving from an engaged pluralism into a Schmittian life of racial violence.
Time and again, we have turned to Jerusalem as a source of Western morality, “A Light Unto the Nations.” I grew up in a Jerusalem, thriving with such a potential. I work in such a Jerusalem university, and I believe in her ability to be such a moral light. But as long as Schmitt inhabits her streets, I see no chance of making this dream a reality.