As much as we may dislike one another, science has proven that curbing Covid-19 requires national solidarity. The inconvenient truth is that the pandemic does not distinguish between left and right, orthodox and secular, Jews and Arabs; we are all equal before the virus. If we stand together, we will defeat it. If we don’t, it will defeat us. This is as true for every country as it is for all of humanity.
A few days ago, Eran Halperin, Professor of Social Psychology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and Ron Gerlitz, CEO at aChord – Social Psychology for Social Change, published an Op-Ed piece in The Jerusalem Post titled “To slow coronavirus, disparate groups in Israel society must come together.” The piece mentions a recent international study where more than 100 researchers from all over the world examined tens of thousands of citizens from 67 countries, among them over 1,200 Israelis, “to understand what would most influence their willingness to obey pandemic-related instructions.” The researchers found “that the key factor motivating people to adhere to distancing and hygiene guidelines is the level of their national-group identification; that is, how connected they feel to their national group and how central they consider it in their identity.” Judging by this conclusion, the fragmentation in the Israeli society is the culprit behind our failure in overcoming the virus, and not the policy of the government or the disobedience of this or that group to instructions. We are witnessing the beginning of a social breakdown in Israel. If we don’t rise above our sense of righteous indignation, we will inflict an unprecedented catastrophe on our country.
The people of Israel emerged from people who belonged to different, often rival tribes and clans from all over the Near and Middle East. These “refugees” left their countryfolk because they believed in the idea of unity above differences. Under Abraham’s leadership, they found a place where they could live out their idea.
Today’s people of Israel are nothing of the kind. We are fragmented once more, divided in every aspect—religion, culture, ethnicity, education, language, politics, and every other aspect you can imagine. Except for our name, we are not a nation anymore. We have returned to being strangers, aliens to one another. If we want to merit our name, “the people of Israel,” we have to start over.
Back then, Abraham’s group continued to develop until, at the foot of Mt. Sinai, having experienced the ordeal of the exile in Egypt, the Hebrews united “as one man with one heart” and established their nationhood. Soon after, clashes and conflicts began to rage within the people and the newly formed nation struggled to maintain its core value: “Hate stirs strife, but love will cover all crimes” (Prov. 10:12).
Two millennia ago, we suffered a bitter defeat to our hatred and were exiled and dispersed all over the world. Wherever we went, we were regarded as outcasts, outsiders.
Even when we returned to Israel and reestablished our sovereignty, we did it only to protect ourselves from the odium of the nations, and not because of the initial value of unity above differences that had fashioned our nationhood. To this day, many Israelis feel out of place in Israel. They see it as temporary residence until they find a calmer place to live in.
But without a sense of belonging to a single nation, Israel will disintegrate. We can already see how a pandemic that we could have curbed had we all participated in defeating it is tearing us apart. It is not because the virus is so terrible; it is because there is no solidarity among citizens and no trust between citizens and government. The lack of affection and trust leads to inaction, which in turn leads to contagion. And contagion leads to loss of lives.
The introduction to the article just mentioned states simply that “the logic underlying the basic individual behaviors required for curbing the contagion … is grounded in belonging to [a] collective.” We have no sense of a collective, and we are paying for it with our lives, the lives of our loved ones, and the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people in our small country.
It doesn’t matter what we believe or who we think is right. If we don’t come together, then we are all wrong, we are all paying, and we will pay much more.