"Jerusalem Syndrome" was defined in a paper in the British Journal of Psychology as "a unique, acute, psychotic state, induced by proximity to the holy places of Jerusalem." For many of us living in Tel Aviv, while watching recent events in Jerusalem (merely one hour's drive away), we cannot help but wonder if too many of the residents of our capital city have been seized by this syndrome.
It has been thought that Jerusalem Syndrome only effected tourists, those who reached the holy city and became overwhelmed by the scents and sights of the sacred sites. Now its seems clear that permanent residents of the city may be effected as well. Furthermore, it does not seem to matter whether the resident is Jew or Arab, both seem to be equally affected by this illness.
Let's start with some of the Arab residents ... (those who have decided to engage in murderous terrorist killings in the last few weeks.) Do these people really think that Israelis (who successfully lived through the terrible bombings of the second intifada in the early 2000s are suddenly going to crumble and decide to withdraw from parts of Jerusalem because they are suddenly and randomly being struck by cars or brutally knifed? Do any Arab residents truly think that going on a murderous rampage killing middle-aged rabbis, as they were praying is going to bring them any closer to achieving a Palestinian state? If you repeatedly attempt the same plan of action –time and time again and it has consistently lead to the opposite results of what you want ... Would you try that strategy yet again? Is it sane to murder – just to try to make a point – and moreover, murder in such a way that you are guaranteed to die as well? I believe there is no greater insanity.
Now let's look at the Israeli side ... There are those on the right who claim that the Israeli left were detached from reality when they thought that "if we only give up land we can achieve peace". However, among those same right-wingers there is a small core group who is spending time and money developing architectural plans for rebuilding the third Temple – (i.e. a third Temple in the midst of Islam's third holiest site); Islam that has 1 billion followers worldwide, many of whom still believe that a Danish cartoonist who had the temerity to insult the prophet Mohamed should be assassinated. To even imagine such a scenario is clearly an example of insanity. Even those Jew who want less, (e.g. just change the status quo that has been in existence since 1967), at the moment seem to be a little out of their minds.
Now we come to the so-called "sane" people- like our Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. With a Middle East in turmoil, with Israel facing a growing movement to delegitimize it, and being wrongly accused of being an apartheid state, Netanyahu throws his support behind a racist law declaring Israel (to be singularly), the national home of the Jewish people. A substantial portion of Netanyahu's cabinet oppose this law, as nearly everyone agrees it has no practical value, it only stands to cause harm. At first blush, it would seem the Prime Minister has been infected with the Jerusalem Syndrome disease. It is possible that too many years of living in the Prime Minister’s residence on Jerusalem's Balfour street, instead of his at his seaside home in Ceasaria have caused him to become infected.
However, on closer examination it does not take too long realize that Netanyahu has not been affected by the Jerusalem syndrome. Rather, is contaminated with the same bug that has overcome too many leaders – (i.e. believing that their own political survival is more important than absolutely anything else.) As such, Prime Minister Netanyahu (who is facing primaries in his Likud party this January and possible elections in the coming year) has decided to burnish his right-wing credentials, in a party that has been partially taken over by residents of the settlements in the West Bank. All one needs to do to understand the actions of the Prime Minister in the last week around the issue of the law on "the Jewish nature of the state" is to think "Primary Elections". As a matter of fact, for those of you in the US, think "Iowa Caucuses", since the Likud primaries do resemble the Iowa caucuses. In the last Likud primaries 80,000 people (out of the total Israeli population of 8,000,000) determined Israel's leadership. So, similarly to the Iowa caucuses, candidates – and in this case that includes Prime Minister Netanyahu – do all they can to appeal to their party's base – which in this case, is far to the right of most Israelis. So a Prime Minister concerned about his reelection campaign takes actions, and makes statements that would normally be considered symptoms of Jerusalem Syndrome, when they are just symptoms of a more prosaic political disease – (i.e. my re-election is the only thing that counts).
Finally, it would seem that Jerusalem Syndrome has an even more powerful pull. So much so, that in a world that appears to be coming apart at the seams, the New York Times thought it was appropriate to devote an editorial in today's paper to an Israeli cabinet decision; a decision that all Israeli observors believe will not become law. Though it seems Jerusalem has such a spell on people that even the Editorial Board of the NYT had to voice its opposition.
I hope someone is working on a cure for Jerusalem syndrome; not to mention discovering a remedy to the worldwide malady that causes politicians to believe they are more important than the people they lead.