Photo: Moshe Shai/FLASH90

Have the reserve soldiers in Gaza discovered the secret to making Israel a better, more decent place?

This is a segment from The “Gaza of Good & Evil” Edition.

Transcript:

And now it is time for our second discussion.

So Don, for more than a year, maybe much more, we’ve been struggling to find ourselves.

Now an article based on a forthcoming book by Micha Goodman suggests maybe Dorothy was right all along. – If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard.

Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.

Is that right? – That’s all it is. – But that’s so easy. – Where in our own backyard are the reserve units fighting in the mud of Han Yunis.

Does Micha Goodman have a point? – Well, a remarkable essay appeared in the most recent weekend edition of the right and religious leading paper, “Makor Rishon.”

The piece was called, “Reserve Soldiers Are Building the New Ideal Israeli Society.”

Its author is Micha Goodman, a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, whom the Jerusalem Post called one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world after he became famously associated with the notion of shrinking the conflict, a middle ground between left and right that says, quote, “Maybe we can’t reach peace with Palestinians now, but we can at least make things better in a way that improves people’s lives and makes it more likely that down the road, we will be able to reach peace with Palestinians,” unquote.

In his new essay, Goodman writes, “In 2023, a new and up-to-date version of an ideal society was created in Israel, the army reserve companies.

These communities are not the very model of socialist ideology like the kibbutzim, nor are they the very model of capitalist ideology like the high-tech companies.

These are ideal communities that exemplify the possibility of overcoming ideologies.”

The reason why overcoming ideologies is so important to Micha Goodman’s way of seeing things is that we live in a time when more than in the past, people hate people because of their political opinions.

“There were always disagreements about politics,” Goodman writes, “but back in the day, you could hold different views, vote for different parties, and still be friends.

These days,” Goodman says, “mostly because of social media, we tend to hate the people we disagree with and see them as wicked, debauched, degenerate, and dangerous.”

Goodman writes, “The alchemy that occurs in the consciousness of people in a partisan society is simple and cruel.

Whatever they feel about a given ideology transmutes into what the people personally think about the people who hold that ideology.

We despise them.

We don’t want our kids to marry them.

We don’t want to have our Passover Seder with them.

All this is not an Israeli problem alone,” Goodman is careful to add.

“It exists around the world, and it only seems to be getting worse around the world, and no one has figured out anything effective to do to solve the problem.

However, rather by accident, the war against Hamas that started on October 7th may offer a path towards a solution and may take us a good deal of the way down that path.

The war threw together almost 400,000 people as reservists in the army.

These people came from every part of Israeli society, left, right, religious, secular, Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, brown, black, white, men, women, Jews, Bedouin, Christians, Muslims, core of the country and periphery, and all the other points of division.

Through a kind of lucky accident, those actually fighting in Gaza go long periods without their smartphones, without their social media that riled people up. 5% of the country has spent months talking to each other, working at common cause, protecting each other’s lives and learning to respect one another.

The result,” Goodman writes, “is that the hatred drained right out of those people, and now that they are returning to civilian life, a lot of them, for a spell anyway, they’re demanding that the rest of us stop being so hatefully petty.

And we are, a bit anyway.”

Goodman writes, “When we admire someone, we change.

A society that admires rich people tends toward materialism.

A society that admires athletes tends toward the ruggedly sporting.

A society that admires intellectuals is apparently a highly literate one.

A society that admires generals tends to be militarist.

The object of our admiration changes us.

Something of its quality seeps within us.

What does a society look like that views with amazement and admiration the Army Reserve companies?

When we admire the sacrifice of the reservists, we breathe in some of their solidarity and unity.”

Allison, is all this pretty talk just pretty talk, or is Micha Goodman onto something here? – I mean, breathe in?

Come on, I mean, first of all, okay, the feminist in me of these military reservists, amazing things with the women in the Army now and, you know, the contribution in Gaza, et cetera.

But these X thousands of military reservists, like what percentage of them are dudes?

Like probably. – 95. – Exactly.

So, you know, first of all, we’re talking about that sector.

Second of all, are we really talking about something new because there’s always been, you know, in combat units of the IDF, this amazing thing that happens, the melting pot, the brotherhood, and it’s mostly brotherhood, the solidarity.

So the fact that it’s military reservists that are going in and we’re talking about people who are in their, you know, later 20s, 30s, and 40s, and not, you know, in the formative years of 18 to 22, so that makes it unique and different. – Well, I don’t want to interrupt you, but should I tell you the difference that I think that Goodman is talking about, which matters is that the, for one thing, this is a much bigger group than has ever served together. – Okay. – And they’re serving for much longer.

And it is the first time that people have been separated from their telephones for so long. – Okay, that’s nice, but breathe it in and admire them.

And, you know, how is that exactly going to change us?

I mean, I would broaden it out way more than Goodman.

This whole, like, we as a greater society are pulling together, not just the military reservists.

Look at the volunteer efforts.

Look at the, you know, protest groups that turned into aid, helping the people who have been taken out of their homes in the North and the South.

And the rate of responsiveness to military reserve duty when we were in a cynical, the fact that we have come back into taking care of each other, communitarian, over a much more individualist trend, yes, I think it’s very good for Israeli society.

And I do think it’s valuable and maybe can be tapped.

Specifically, the military reservists, you know, this group, what can we all absorb and gain from them, doesn’t really, you know, doesn’t really hit me and doesn’t really speak to me.

And, you know, all it takes, in my opinion, you know, is the event that happened this week of, you know, members of our coalition holding a convention, convention, it was really a rally/demonstration of, yay, let’s return to Gaza and put all the settlements back up, you know, sort of the radical religion and then the pushback against it and things like smearing the husband of Shikma Bresler of the protest movement.

I mean, this is all great, but when we get back into the nuts and bolts of why are we fighting in Gaza, what are we there for, what is our end game, what is our vision, all of this, yeah, pretty talk and good feelings are wonderful and great and helpful, but is it really going to somehow dissipate the sharp divisions between these guys in the military reserve unit who come from a small settlement deep in the territories and have a hardcore ideology and those who, you know, just like left demonstrating on Kaplan to go into the military reserves and serve together.

It’s wonderful that they’ve got this joint mission and that we’ve got these good vibes coming from their solidarity, but is it enough to overcome the actual, meaningful, problematic divisions in how we see this country moving forward and what our vision for it is?

I don’t necessarily think so and sorry to be the bummer and the downer, but that’s kind of how I feel. – Oh, yeah, no, you probably, the smart money says that you’re probably right, but I think that there’s a little more of interest in what Goodman is saying than it seems at first.

And one of the things really does, I think he puts way too much emphasis on this, but one of the things really does have to do with technology.

Like one of the things he’s saying is that social media is so toxic and this is the first, he does not say this, I’m saying this, the first large-scale human experiment on a societal level of doing away for a period in a big group of people with social media.

And I was talking to my boy after reading this article and he said something that shocked me.

He said, “Well, we had discussions of politics all the time and I was more left-wing than most everyone else, but everyone really liked me and they really listened to me.”

And I said, “Was that like what it was like in the army when you were actually in the army?”

And he said, “No, it was very, very different than in the army.”

Like in the army, I was like the leftist and people were like me, okay, or whatever, but they still, you could feel the way, the degree that the right-wing people looked down on me.

And here for the very first time in the army, I didn’t feel that something was different.

And I think that this, like I think that this being intensively together in a group of people, the average age of which was probably like closer to 30 than it was to 18, you know, in the army reserves, people who all have lives, who spent, that they were all risking and that they were all putting in the hands of everyone around them, spending three months just talking to one another and not looking at social media.

I think that it, I think it was a demonstration for the people who went through this, which is, you know, 5% of the, I don’t know, 4% of the whole country, a big group of people, it was a demonstration of them that that discourse could be different.

And that’s a really big group to come back into society.

And like that, like what I was quoting that Idan Amedi said in his press conference, there are people who like came back and said, “This stuff has really got to be different.

And we know now that it can be different.”

So first I want to say, it’s not just social media they weren’t watching, they weren’t watching any media.

And I think that’s important because the mainstream media is also part of the problem and also drives this toxic discourse.

And you can watch Channel 14 and get fed one ideology or watch the other channels and get something that’s more balanced, but ultimately also takes a position in everything.

You know, I think part of it is, you know, his insight about the unprecedented nature of hatred that we’re experiencing because of our political ideologies I think is really important.

Now, keep it a little in perspective ’cause politics was always very passionate in this country.

It was always very heated.

And it wasn’t like people didn’t used to hate each other, you know, 30 years ago because of their political views or 50 years ago because of their political views. – People hated Begin and the Beginists hated Ben-Gurion. – And there were life and death issues and conflicts and people weren’t so happy.

They were marrying into the other camp.

And then either, so I think he’s a little bit exaggerating on all of that stuff.

On the other hand, despite this being such a tiny country, we are getting, like the United States, more siloed.

We are living, tending to distribute ourselves to live closer to people who are more like us, have less contact with people who are less like us.

I mean, depending what kind of job you have, you know, I deal with all kinds of religious schools, non-religious schools, Jews, Arabs.

So some of us are exposed to all kinds of people, but ultimately you’re socializing mostly with people like you or your daily interactions.

I think that is part of the problem.

That’s one of the things that this, what he’s calling this experiment, you know, is countering.

So I think, you know, hallevi, I wish that this was the model for where we could go.

And I wish that there would be a way to detox the society and we could build on this experience as all these reservists are being released, hopefully for the long term and not temporarily.

All of that being said, what always drives me crazy about Michael Goodman, and especially his book “Catch-67” is a sort of phony even-handedness where I just feel like he’s disingenuous.

It’s like, I don’t think you can ignore that a lot of the hatred is being pushed by one camp much more than the other as a tactic.

Yeah.

You know, and that, you know, I don’t want to get into that discussion ’cause we’re trying to get- We might disagree about that.

Exactly.

No, I’m not saying that the other camp doesn’t also hate people and doesn’t promote and hasn’t responded, but I think there’s a difference of degree.

I mean, as much as I disagreed, and, you know, with the whole notion of settlement enterprise in greater Israel ever since I learned about it, you know, and certainly since I’ve lived here for 30 years, I never accused anyone on the other side of being a traitor.

I never thought that they were not committed to the country or the people, and I have not stopped being accused of being a traitor ’cause I don’t agree with them.

I don’t, you know, so I think there’s an imbalance which Goodman always chooses to ignore, but that’s not the focus of the discussion here.

I hope there’s some way to build on this experience, and, you know, social media and regular media are not going away, so if there’s some way we can find for that to become a more positive constructive force, maybe, or maybe it’s what we said.

You just gotta turn it off.

You gotta turn it off and start talking to the people in front of you. – That’s it, the media’s the problem. – Well, social media is different than the media.

That’s not saying- – The social media’s designed- – To say Facebook is a problem is not the same as saying the media is the problem. – No, no, but you, you know, I think encourage people to encounter each other.

I think that is a model.

How you do that, that’s not gonna come from the media.

That’s not gonna come from the government. – ‘Cause Israelis got along so well when it was all done in person. – No, no, no, we’ve always been fighting, but we didn’t hate each other’s guts the way I think people have in recent decades. – And I also think that there’s a lot of evidence that social media has really goosed up and increased partisanship in a really ugly way, Allison.

So it’s not- – It’s design.

It’s in its design.

It sends you to people who share your views and it keeps you away from people who think the opposite views.

And the mainstream media doesn’t do that.

The mainstream media, the responsible mainstream media, like Alison’s, tries to be much more complete. – I’m not gonna bash my own industry. – But it’s also biased. – I’m not gonna bash my own industry.

It’s not a question of biased or not biased.

It’s a question of, you know, Noah could probably do a better analysis than I could.

It’s capitalism.

It’s capitalism.

It’s wanting to keep people’s eyeballs on the screen, whether you’re talking about social media or mainstream media, and the way that you keep eyeballs on the screen is not by appealing to your intellect.

It’s appealing to your emotions and to your gut.

So unless you want to, again, I am no Marx angles, but like, unless you want to find a way to disassemble the incentive to keep more people on their screens and on the platforms for as much time as possible, which you want to do, because that’s the business model of these places, you’re not gonna be able to say like, “Oh, look how great everything was “when we didn’t have the social media “as a reserve soldiers in the field.”

So when we go back into the real world, we’re not gonna be on social media.

We’re gonna tell other people not to be on social media.

I mean, I’m just looking. – Well, Goodman is arguing, maybe you just don’t buy it, and you might well be right if you just don’t buy it.

Goodman is arguing that having experienced this changed people in some important way that might not go away, and the chances that it could somehow persist go up if we recognize it and try to support it.

That’s what he’s saying.

He’s not saying that we’re not gonna go back to social media.

He’s saying having experienced this, we are like slightly different people morally and socially than we are. – The 4%.

He’s saying those whatever percent who have done it have experienced it and changed, and we are somehow by breathing the same air as them, and by admiring them, and by watching their experiment, we’re gonna learn something and change. – No, by living with them, by having them be the people that we love, and yeah. – And that’s a lot of people to take part in any kind of social experiment.

That’s a large percentage of the population, you know, much more larger than you usually get.

I’m gonna bring the example of my apartment building.

So we are friends mostly with our upstairs neighbors who’s a nationally religious family, all the kids, not all the kids, a lot of the kids in settlements, and they get McCoy ReShown.

We get Haaretz, and our neighbor across the hall who’s Iranian originally, you know, reads Yadiot.

And so, you know, but we know these people.

We’re involved with our lives.

I mean, there’s other people in the building I know much, we know much less, but we know them.

So we don’t talk politics usually, certainly not with our national religious neighbors, though Shiraz is very close to the woman there.

And we will argue a little bit with our neighbor across the hall ’cause we feel like the gap isn’t as big.

But, you know, you see real people in front of you, you can put this aside, and when you don’t see them, or you don’t interact with them, it’s just so much easier to pull back into your stereotypes and your anger, you know, or watch this crazy conference to resettle Gaza this week, and go, you know, start pulling your hair out. – Yeah, just before you go, Alison, I think that you, one of the things you said at the beginning is super important about the like gender-ness of this.

And I feel like, we talked about this a little on the podcast, I feel like we are about to reach a new high watermark of, I don’t know, you know, patriarchy or masculinism in Israeli society, watching the war cabinet, which is only men, and basically women have almost disappeared from politics, almost entirely, and having the heroes be these people in the army who are almost entirely men, and whatever.

So I think that that’s an important thing that’s clearly relevant before you start talking about how the army is an ideal society, which is, you’re like crazy making it all sorts of ways. – I always joke whenever there’s a security incident and you watch television, it’s like a magic trick, watch all the women disappear, all of a sudden, you know, with the exception of, you know, this woman who has this full-time anchor job on this show, you know, stays on the screen, but aside from that, boom, everything changes gender-wise. – So we need to set up social reserve companies now, not connected to the army, to bring people together from different groups, women and men, and maybe some women by themselves, without the men who are off in the army, to save the country. – Yes, well, that’s what civil society looked like for most of the last three months, actually.

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