Status of Life in Israel---Spring 1996

Two recent articles on the current state of life in Israel.

Recommended by Stanley and Helen Goldfoot,
13 Dor Vedorshav Street, Jerusalem, 93-117, Israel.
March 8, 1996.


by Mordechai Nisan

The implementation of the "Palestinian Grand strategy" would not have come about were it not for the death of Zionism in Israel.

Ironically, the Zionist ideal was abandoned with its fulfillment in 1948, and treated with growing hostility by the extreme left after 1967. Indeed, for many Israelis, this once uplifting ideology has become a virtual embarrassment, as they yearn for "normalcy" and a cosmopolitan identity. For others, there is uncertainty about the Jews' right to the Promised Land. An insidious fatigue and crippling loss of will now afflicts an otherwise dynamic, successful Jewish national enterprise.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, speaking on the White House lawn on September 13,1993, represented the war-weariness of a people which had made peace the focus of policy. This was not grand strategy, nor even strategy at all. His address was a wailful plea for peace, with past suffering and death providing the leitmotif for his future hopes. Rabin did not radiate strength and his words evinced more melancholy than self-confidence. He said:

We have come from an anguished and grieving land. We have come from a people, a home, a family, that has not known a single year--not a single month--in which mothers have not wept for their sons...
Rabin went on to ask the "Palestinians" to make peace with Israel. The PLO condescended to answer the tired man in the affirmative, and went on to apply the phased strategy for Israel's demise.
The astute Liddell Hart, military historian and student of strategy, has learned much from the fate of nations. He wrote:
The experience of history brings ample evidence that the downfall of civilized states tends to come not from the direct assaults of foes but from internal decay, combined with the consequences of exhaustion in war. A state of suspense is trying--it has often led nations as well as individuals to commit suicide because they were unable to bear it.
Rabin's plaintive "enough of blood and tears" reflected, it would seem, Liddell Hart's notion of "exhaustion in war." After winning every military encounter with the Arabs, after stretching Israel's military reach in war to Damascus and Cairo, Beirut and Baghdad, Israeli politicians have betrayed the victories of a great army and, no less significant, the fortitude of a diligent people.

The Zionist vision was gone. Foreign Minister Peres exemplified this when he used a classic Zionist theme, but applied it to the "Palestinians." In Washington he proclaimed: "We shall offer you our help in making Gaza prosper and Jericho blossom again." Making "Palestinian" history had, for Peres, come to replace making Jewish history in Eretz Yisrael. It was the same Peres who said of the mass aliya of Soviet Jewry to Israel, "We are absorbing as much as we can of the new immigration." This formulation, mean in spirit, was reminiscent of the British mandatory policy towards pre-state Jewish immigration. The Labor government, after coming to power in 1992, in fact reduced funds available for new immigrants. Freezing Jewish settlement construction in Judea and Samaria, along with promoting "Palestinian" economic and social development, was just part of a Labor policy that had abandoned the traditional tenets of Zionism.

For many on the left, Zionism, i.e. modern Jewish nationalism, was a burden, if not worse. Amos Oz wrote in 1983 that "Nationalism is, in my eyes, the curse of mankind." The individual person, rather than the nation, was the centerpiece of his political philosophy. A decade later, and with the Israeli-PLO accord now a fact of history, author David Grossman added his contribution to the ideological shipwreck in the leftist camp. It was high time, he felt, to confront the problematic Law of Return which guarantees the right of all Jews --but only Jews--to come live in the State of Israel. This quintessential Zionist piece of legislation was inconsistent with the principle of equality for all. Grossman considered that in the era of peace, Israel could no longer ignore the claim of its Arab citizens for equality, perhaps cultural autonomy, maybe a state in the Galilee.

The Israeli left had little use for Judaism as the spiritual and ideological faith of the Jewish people and struck harshly at the sanctity of the Torah and Eretz Yisrael. Any sign of reverence for ancient ideas and hallowed ways was regarded as anti-progressive. To realize the final political settlement with the "Palestinians," Israel's current government now prepares to lay Jerusalem on the altar of peace in the new era of mutual recognition of two peoples and their rights to the Holy City.

The Labor government's recognition of the PLO and its withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho, and from significant parts of Judea and Samaria, demonstrated the virtual "Palestinization" of Israeli national policy. Jewish-Arab cooperation, paid for in the currency of one-sided Israeli concessions, was to completely replace Zionism. The left would cooperate with the "Palestinians" to counter the Jewish nationalists who were committed to building the land of Israel and sustaining the Jewish State. This is the strategy of the Left which converges devastatingly with the "Palestinian Grand Strategy."

Thus, the Israeli left not only betrays Israel but lies about its aims. Since the capture of the Arab-inhabited territories in the 1967 war, the left has argued that annexation would ensure that Israel would cease to be a Jewish State within the pre-1967 borders. Without this, they contended, the Zionist vision could not be achieved.

But it is the Israeli left that is the true enemy of Zionism and modern nationalism. A Green Line Jewish State, alongside a Jewish state in Judea, Samaria and Gaza with eastern Jerusalem as its capital, will not last. The secular Israeli left and "Palestinian Grand Strategy" will see to that.

[Mordechai Nisan teaches Middle East studies in the Rothberg School for Overseas Students at Hebrew University, in Jerusalem.]


by Louis Rene Beres

Now that Israel has given official birth to "Palestine" via elections, disappearance of the Jewish State is all but assured. For the Arabs, whose political and geostrategic operations since Oslo assuredly have been brilliant, this disappearance is only a matter of time. For the Israelis, whose guiding government policies have centered only on various nuances of autodestruction, it is effectively a matter of indifference.

Can anything be done to rescue a state that seems determined to embrace its own demolition? Or is it already too late? Israel's current leaders approach national annihilation as a healer. Let us not think too much about existing, they caution. It will only anger our "partners in peace." It will disturb the New Middle East.

Others, however, have yet to surrender. Although their government has now actually spawned another enemy state--the unprecedented gestation of an altogether unique form of Jewish self-hatred-- these particular Israelis resist the soulless herd of Hebrew-speaking gentiles. Animated by more than an awe-inspiring wish to become Los Angeles (who needs Jerusalem if one can become L.A.?), these stubbornly authentic Israelis refuse to accept collective disintegration or to bring everlasting shame upon the memory of so many (so very many) martyred Jews who now sleep in the dust.

But what can they do? For the moment, their efforts seem focused upon the coming elections in Israel (not to be confused with the recent elections making Yasser Arafat the President of "Palestine"). To an extent, such a focus makes perfect sense. After all, the defeat of the current government is an obvious sine qua non for national survival.

Defeat of the Peres government, however necessary, may no longer be sufficient. The problem of survival lies not only in the obvious intellectual and programmatic deficiencies of the opposition parties, and in the substantially irreversible Oslo harms already inflicted upon the nation's security apparatus, but also in something much "deeper," something much more important. It lies in the heart of a nation that no longer believes in itself, that no longer believes in anything that is truly important. Indeed, all that once mattered for Israel, all that was once firm, resolute and incorruptible, has now withered, broken apart, gone to pieces. Small wonder, then, that there is no longer any air to breathe, or that asphyxiation has become the Israeli government's prevailing idea of "peace. "

Israel's Islamic enemies have something that Israel lacks, something altogether vital and commendable. Truly they should be admired. They believe in something important! They believe in the promise of Islam! They believe in themselves. And they understand time.

Israel, however, at least as a collectivity, believes strongly in unbelief. Worshiping only clichés, and adoring only those whose promises are without foundation, it believes largely in what is small, transient and fleeting. To be sure, it believes not at all in the meaning of Judaism. It believes in virtually anything but itself. Above all, in what is perhaps the crowning irony, Israel believes in its enemies.

Israel's leaders fear Jewish rebellion, but their fear is unwarranted. It is a baseless fear for several reasons. Not only is the government's opposition dedicated entirely to peaceful and patriotic political competition, genuine rebellion against political authority could serve absolutely no pertinent security function. The political authority of the Labor government is merely epiphenomenal, a symptom of a much larger pathology. This authority is not the actual disease that afflicts Israel. The only rebellion that can save Israel today from the underlying disease is a far-reaching revolt against that national self-hatred that now cripples each Israeli Jew as a productive citizen and that has already immobilized public safety.

Israel, for the most part, has entered into a Faustian bargain in which "things" are exchanged for the passive acceptance of falsehood. Whether they are confronted with extravagant claims for a new kind of regional common market or for new government policies of territorial concession, fantasy is taken for granted. For Israelis, as for their American models, truth is what is manufactured in the print media and on commercial television. These manufacturers are now the Chief Rabbis of the true state religion in Israel--the acknowledged worship of consumption and commodities.

Where the throne sits on mud, only mud can sit on the throne. To create the conditions of a decent and purposeful foreign policy--one that could give the country at least a small chance to survive-- Israel will first have to transform itself. Otherwise, the so-called Jewish State will be left bloodless, a skeleton, dead also with that rusty death of machinery, more hideous than even the death of an individual person.

There is so little time left for understanding. Amidst the eternal babble of politics, Israel can endure as a nation only where Israelis first learn to take themselves seriously. As long as it remains captivated by the smooth mediocrity and squalid contentment of mass society, Israel will pluck its prime ministers from the flies of the political marketplace and reveal impatience with any one who dares speak the truth.

Let us be frank! Israelis now inhabit a tiny land of enormous spiritual emptiness and intellectual mediocrity--a disappearing land of surface glitter, smug comforts, sham conventionality and wholly irrational optimism. It is a nation where the final arbiters of personal meaning are located in Dizengoff Center and where a great number of citizens have traded a Jewish soul for presumed opportunity in the interrelated worlds of quick pleasure and expanding commerce. In this barren land of Israel, all vital rapport with genuine meaning has been lost. Here, in the land of Jewish learning, real wisdom is not only rejected; it is despised.

You may say, however, that Israel is a happy society. Listen, after all, to the laughter and the persistent merriment along Tel Aviv's beach front. But listen more attentively! Today's sounds of happiness in Israel are largely the canned reverberations of a methodically-rehearsed gaiety, of a dreadfully false communion, of shrill, dried voices calling only for conformity. This triumphant reign of vulgarity flows from an increasingly fearful collection of outerpersons, a mimicking collection that may still call itself a nation, yet is internally decayed, externally weak, soon forced by itself to disappear.

Hope for Israel? It must exist, to be sure, but it must now sing softly, in a calculated undertone. The great emptiness of Israel creates a terrifying noise, but it is still possible to listen for real music. Tuning out the shrieks and mutterings of the politicians, of the generals, of the "experts"--of the whole faceless herd whose well-varnished nonsense about "peace" now passes for insight--we may still find, like an old master violin discovered beneath a layer of dirt, the majestic structure and full broad bowing of the strings. Caught up in a war of extermination against the individual Israeli (a war foreshadowing a Final Solution to the Israel Question) the murdered and murderous sounds ooze on and on, but the original spirit of music need not be destroyed. While life in Israel's dominant herd seeks to strip this music of its most wondrous tones, spoiling, scratching and degrading it, for those who learn to listen even the most ghastly of disguises can give way to life.

How shall Israel listen? To begin, the People of Israel must pay close attention to their private feelings of anxiety, restlessness and despair. For Israel, the time for "science," "progress," "confidence building" and "peace agreements" is over. To listen, and therefore to survive, the individual Israeli must rediscover life by conscious separation from the pitiable herd, by total detachment from contrived optimism, and--above all, by coming face-to-face with the inexpressible prospect of death as a nation. In this spirit of Third Temple impermanence, they may still learn that agony is infinitely more important than economics, that cries of pain are always more revealing than the expansion of celebrated technologies, that anguish counts for much more than recrimination and that tears always have far more substantial roots than public smiles. As for the New Middle East, let us recall, from Thomas More, that utopia means nowhere.

The great existential dangers to Israel cannot be undone or halted entirely by elections, by the coming of a new political leadership. This is, in the first instance, a non-political task that can be accomplished only by Israelis acting as individuals, not as herds. At the most telling level, Israel lacks a future not merely because its people have been selecting the wrong leadership, but more importantly because they have steadfastly refused, as Jews, to become persons. Israel is now kept distant from survival in the world not because its people have eaten of the Tree of Knowledge, but because they have not yet eaten of the Tree of Life.

[Louis Rene Beres is Professor of International Law at Purdue University and a frequent contributor to Outpost.]

From the February 1996 issue of Outpost
The Outpost is the regular newsletter of Americans For a Safe Israel
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