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October 2009. The Egyptian Minister of Health announces that Israeli doctors will not be welcome at a breast cancer awareness conference in Cairo and hails the conference as a wonderful example of regional cooperation. A few days later the Dallas-based Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation announces on its website that doctors from Israel will be attending. The foundation, its website proclaims, had launched intensive diplomatic efforts to that effect. Welcome to the new Middle East!
Same as the old one, it seems. And the Western world wants Israel to negotiate a peace treaty with Palestinians that would give the Jewish country a terrorist state on its eastern and southern borders with a corridor running through it. Perhaps the American president is thinking of the day when Fatah will host a conference in Ramallah on how to blow up Jews without incurring democratic displeasure. Of course, Jewish psychologists previously invited to attend the conference will have their visas rescinded at the last moment, because Palestinian intellectuals protested at even that semblance of normalization. And lest the reader think I am exaggerating, he or she would do well to scrutinize the recent brouhaha in the Egyptian press about the treason of translating Israeli literature into Arabic. The best the defenders of that policy could bring to the argument was: know thine enemy. In Jordan, another country that has signed a peace treaty with Israel, any professional establishing ties with his Israeli counterpart is immediately blackballed by the anti-normalization committee. So much for peace treaties; and so much for education as a path to peace.
Who in his or her right mind could actually believe that the Arabs want peace with Israel? Who could actually believe that a Palestinians state would be anything other than a springboard to liquidating the Jewish state and slaughtering its inhabitants? Apparently, plenty of people, including half the population of Israel; including the people who know it would happen.
Meir Shalev, an Israeli author, once wrote a book called Esau. In it he described an imagined scene from the Arab riots of 1929 which had all the earmarks of veracity. An Arab shepherd comes from the mosque, the very same Al-Aqsa mosque from which the very same cry still resounds 'death to the Jews' and lops off one of the legendary breasts of his faithful customer, Miriam, and cripples her baby son in her courtyard. I have no doubt that what the character Ibrahim did in this story the many Ibrahims of today would do again if they could only invade Tel Aviv itself. But Meir Shalev has placed himself in the peace camp. Ein brera, we have no choice, he would argue, or the Jews will become as violent as their enemies, trying to hold on to land that does not belong to them. But the land does belong to them, has belonged to them ever since Abraham walked it and bought that cave in Hebron for an inflated price so that he could bury his wife there.
The Palestinians, and the entire Arab Muslim world to their back, do not recognize that at all. Hebron, they say, has never been Jewish and under Arafat they destroyed as many of the Jewish holy sites in the West Bank as they could. Jerusalem, too, they argue, does not belong to the Jews and never has, the Jewish presence in that city being but a lie no less monstrous than the Holocaust itself. And in their ongoing perversion of history, the Palestinians, the Arabs and the Muslims continue to accuse the Israelis of wishing to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque in order to take over the Temple Mount and there rebuild the Temple, which, they say, never existed in the first place. Jerusalem denial, Temple denial, Holocaust denial, they are all of a piece, part of the century-old hostility to the Zionist movement which was always accompanied by the cry, 'death to the Jews', and followed soon enough by riot, murder and terrorism, the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim triple weapon of choice.
Let us not forget that the leader of the Palestinian cause, Haj Amin al-Husseini, was in league with Hitler, as was the head of the Iraq insurgency in 1941, Rashid Ali, whom the British had to depose by force. The Holocaust the Arabs are quick to lay at the doorstep of Europe had its accomplices throughout the Arab world, and the expropriation, murder and expulsion of 850,000 Jews from Arab Muslim countries after the State of Israel was established in 1948 was but the continuation of that policy. So today. The textbooks used in the schools of the Palestinian Authority have wiped Israel off their maps in anticipation of the day when their people will carry out this dreamed of extermination for real. And these are the neighbors with whom successive Israeli governments, backed by a majority of Jews world wide, seek to make peace.
Arabs in Ramallah celebrating their massacre of two army reservists
The folly of such a policy ought to be apparent to a five-year-old. Indeed, it probably is apparent to a five-year-old, but not to grown adults, Jew and non-Jew, throughout the Western world, who not only cannot imagine what alternative there is, but continue to indulge the Arabs in their never-ending mendacity. And yet the solution is simple, as simple as it always has been when one is faced with an implacable and hateful enemy to whom compromise and peace are anathema. The Palestinians have to be defeated militarily, a goal perfectly within Israel's capability. Once that is done, with Judea, Samaria and Gaza under IDF control, Israel should move to annex those territories, declare martial law and make life difficult enough so that their Arab Muslim inhabitants will leave. If the Israelis do not know how to do that, they could consult with the Kuwaitis, who expelled 350,000 Palestinians after they supported Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War, or with the Palestinians themselves, who have reduced the once majority Christian population of Bethlehem to a small minority. And to make it clear to the Muslim Arab nation, which has consistently supported the Palestinians in their aim of liquidating Israel, that the sovereign Jewish state is here to stay, Israel should at least close down the Al-Aqsa mosque and its neighbor, at best demolish them, and upon their ruins rebuild the Temple.
But the Arab and Muslim world will scream, people will say. Yes, they will scream, and then they will calm down. Hizbullah will shake in its boots and silence their guns. Iran will understand that if they threaten Israel their fate will be worse than that of the Palestinians, without Israel's having to bomb any nuclear facility. Even Saudi Arabia might think of opening up diplomatic relations with Israel, for a country that can demolish the Al-Aqsa would surely be ready to inflict a similar punishment on Mecca. One thing is for sure; no Arab or Muslim country will allow its resettled Palestinians to wage war against Israel from within its borders, because if there is one thing the Arab Muslim world respects, it is the firm exercise of authority. The Ottoman Empire, so Shalev suggested in his book, kept the peace within the borders of its many and far-flung provinces by having a mobile gallows do the rounds every year. Thus did the sick man of Europe live far longer than any could have imagined.
The world will never let us get away with it, the Jews will say, once again placing themselves in the sandals of their ancestors who went to scout out the land of Canaan when Moses urged them to conquer it. In the report they brought back they said the land was inhabited by giants in whose eyes they felt like grasshoppers. Two temples, two exiles and two returns later, the Jews still feel like grasshoppers in the eyes of the world, sending emails around the globe listing their many Nobel prizes in order to persuade themselves and the goyim that they are really entitled to the land, that they are the good guys worthy of protection. But the world does not care, nor would it care more than a day once Israel finished off its enemies and reasserted sovereignty over the land promised to the Jews by God and the Balfour Declaration. Deep down the problem is not the world, but the Court Jew mentality with which Jews have been approaching their existence ever since Mordecai. And beyond that, their fundamental ambiguity about the covenant to which they signed on back at Sinai, when they said we will do and we will listen and then proceeded to break the first three Commandments before Moses had even had time to engrave them in stone.
I am my brother's keeper, the Jews proudly pound their chests, and ask where the Palestinians would go if Israel annexed Gaza, Judea and Samaria and cleaned them out. What about the innocent Palestinians, they ask, not understanding that both Fatah and Hamas have so criminalized Palestinian society there are no innocents left. Their women protect their gangsters and their mothers raise their sons to be suicide bombers. Where, it may be asked, are the Palestinian counterparts of Amos Oz and David Grossman? Where are their liberal voices demanding that the Palestinians understand the Jewish narrative? Dead silent, they are, and it matters little whether they are silent out of complicity or intimidation. There are no ten just men in Ramallah just as there were none in Sodom and Gomorrah. And that is because Palestinian society is nothing more than organized child abuse. Moloch worship, as the Bible says. And the only thing to do with the Moloch worshippers is to tear down their groves, smash their idols and uproot them from the country down to the last man, woman and child. So Moses explained to the Jews in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. They didn't listen then and they don't listen now. And so they perish, just as Moses said they would. Eldad Regev. Ehud Goldwasser. Gilad Shalit. Their families. All of us. The fallen and the fallen-to-come. And all the Holocaust memorials with their vows of never again are nothing but hollow and impotent protest, mocking the dead and the living.
ONE CAN, OF COURSE, EXPLAIN THIS AS THE BLIND SPOT OF DEMOCRACY. For not only do the Swedes indulge the Palestinians, not only do Barack Hussein Obama and his Jewish advisers, but so do the Israelis right across the political spectrum. Even Netanyahu promotes the lie that a Palestinian state is feasible and desirable, while Yossi Beilin, the architect of the Oslo accords, refuses to admit they were a colossal mistake. There is no conflict without a solution, he continued to trumpet even after the collapse of the Clinton Camp David talks, even after Arafat and Co. launched wave after wave of suicide bombers into Israeli cities. To Jerusalem they were marching, a frenzied Arafat intoned over and over to his frenzied audience, and Beilin responded with his quip that after all, we are all human beings. Which Olmert confirmed when he looked into Abbas's eyes and declared he saw a good soul, though that same good soul felt impelled to telephone Samir Kuntar, the terrorist released from Israeli jails in 2007 in exchange for two dead soldiers, and wish him happy birthday. In 1979 Kuntar had shot a Jewish father in front of his daughter before clubbing her to death. But Abbas is a moderate man, the intellectuals of the Western world assure us. As Fatah is moderate when compared to Hamas, the media, unable to count by more than twos, assure us on the evening news. And now even Hamas is moderate, since there is always one more militant group waiting in the wings to assume the mantle of terrorist.
Yes, this is how democracy works. Unlike traditional society, modern society is not organized according to the difference of status. People are not legitimate only if they are born into the aristocracy and filled with blue blood. Everyone is held to be equal, even if in fact we are all different. But this difference is no longer used as the self-evident truth according to which society runs. No, it is exactly the opposite. We hold these truths to be self-evident, the American Declaration of Independence asserts, and so in modern society government is not the property of those who count as opposed to those who do not, but rule of the people, by the people, for the people. This too is not quite fact, but it does serve the function of providing a formula that justifies the way modernity works in the political sphere, keeping the government on its toes because the people can always throw the incumbents of office out by voting for the opposition. The media help them to clarify their choices by framing political questions, always complex, into binary choices: yes or no, for or against, moderate or extremist. This too is functional for democracies, because even for complex questions a decision has to be made, and a decision is always yes or no.
In the end, in the long run, overall, as historians would say, we tend to say yes in modern society: yes to peace, yes to progress, yes to reform and yes to compromise. In the end, in the long run, overall, we say yes to women's rights, yes to abortion, yes to gay marriage, yes to health insurance, yes to global border crossings of goods and people, even if so much yes also brings its share of grief. And we do so because we believe that people everywhere are, deep down, the same, want the same things, dream the same dreams, peace and love as the Beatles sang it. This too is mental sleight of hand, to which the rising divorce rates testify, but we continue to believe this nonetheless because it too is functional for democracy. The belief is part of the structure of expectations democracy generates, even if we do not see it that way. Indeed, we tend to think such expectations are simply a fact of human nature. Deep down people are basically good, and if they are not, then that is because other people, bad people people with illegitimate wealth, power or privilege, we think are doing something to distort their basic goodness. No one can seriously believe that Palestinians actually want to be martyrs, actually hate Israelis and want to destroy them. After all, they are people too, are they not, victims of disappointment? Surely, there is something that can be done to wean them from their violence, give them a stake in hope, prosperity and democracy. Surely they too, deep down, want to compromise. Surely, in short, they are like us, virtual if not actual citizens of democracy.
Only we do not say it quite like that. We do not add the kicker that indicates they would be like that if they lived under a democracy, because we do not demand that they democratize. No, we stop short of that because we frame our expectations as universal expectations about people, regardless of the society in which they live. We presume they are people like us because democracies, unlike traditional societies, do not exclude whole swaths of people from membership in society. Paradoxically, as a result, society hides from its members, and differences are now seen as differences between people, not between societies. Thus we cannot imagine there are societies in which child sacrifice, beheading, stoning, honor killings are part of the normal conduct of business, part of the structure of expectations which helps organize those societies and conditions the behavior of their members. During a feud in the Jordanian parliament one member bit off the ear of another; a third member shrugged it off as an incident that happens in parliaments around the world. And we shrug off his shrug, just as we shrug off the horrible slanders that circulate in the Palestinian press.
And so we do not hold the Palestinians to account. In spite of all the road maps demanding an end to incitement of violence against Jews, we do not insist they put that into effect before beginning negotiations. In spite of what history has shown, that democracies do not go to war against each other, we do not insist that they have a functioning democracy before they have a state. No, instead we keep deluding them and us that they can have it all: Jew hatred, terror, violence and blood lust on the one hand, and negotiations, peace and a state of their own on Israel's borders on the other. After all, we are all people, are we not? We would all respond to a cleric's call for 'death to the Jews' and lop off a woman's breast in front of her child, would we not? We would all, like Samir Kuntar, kill a father in front of his daughter and then club her to death, only to return thirty years later to a hero's welcome, would we not?
Of course we would not, we say, but we do not see that the reason why we would not is because we live in a democracy. Only democracies, and the modern society of which they are the political formulation, have taught us to bridle our human passions. We are taught that not only in sermons and schools. We learn that every day: in the market place, in political parties, in courts, in the movies, to the point that we expect people to be decent, to compromise over the most deeply held convictions, to refrain from murder even when every fiber of our being calls out for it. It used to be that it was legally okay to kill your spouse and/or your spouse's lover if you found him or her, but especially her, in bed with someone else. Today crimes of passion are outlawed, and if you kill your spouse and/or your spouse's lover you go to jail. You may still want to, most probably do want to, for human nature has not changed, not since Cain and Abel or Joseph and his brothers, but the legal system has, because society has. Which just goes to show that society is not made up of people. It is composed of structures of expectation, backed by ways of organizing difference. And that is the one thing democracies do not see. And because they do not see that, cannot see that, democracies keep getting taken to the cleaners by societies that are organized on different and hostile principles.
So the Nobel Prize for literature laureate, José Saramago, who wrote a book called Blindness in which he explores the moral consequences of being cognitively blind, does not himself understand what he wrote, having had the stupidity to compare the Israeli presence in Judea, Samaria and Gaza to Auschwitz. So too all those who call Islam a religion of peace when it is anything but that and worry about discrimination against adherents to a religion which openly calls for war against anyone who resists the faith. The Palestinians stage-manage the death of the lad who became the poster boy of the second Intifada, but the media of the Western world that were quick to pick up and disseminate this blood libel never recanted their error and never made a big deal about telling the world about it. For they too do not understand that lying is a way of life in the Arab and Muslim world. Even George W, Bush, whose gut instinct was more right than all the analysis of the intellectuals who derided him, could not bring himself to label the enemy as Islam. To him too all religions are peaceful, since under conditions of democracy they are. But Islam does not operate under conditions of democracy and makes no bones about its open hostility to democracy and the modern world it harbingers. To Islam, America is the devil incarnate, and its way of life is nothing more than an ever steep slide into lap-dancing, homosexuality, prostitution and AIDS. When denying Israeli doctors attendance at that medical conference in Egypt, the head of the Egyptian Medical Syndicate justified his country's decision by accusing Israeli doctors of participating in the torture of Palestinians and stealing the organs of Palestinian prisoners, a charge repeatedly made in the moderate Palestinian press. What does one do in the face of such patent lies? Laugh them off? Call the accusers crazy, as one calls Ahmadinejad crazy for his Holocaust denial? As one called Hitler crazy? Or take these people at their word and call them on it, understand that there is indeed a clash of civilizations that has to be dealt with?
The irony is that Western civilization, the only part of the globe that is truly modern, no longer sees itself as a civilization. All the other ones Huntington identified in his book of that title were and still are defined by religion Buddhist, Confucian, Islamic, Russian and Greek Orthodox, Spanish Catholic, even Animist. Not the West, which used to see itself as Judeo-Christian, but no longer does. Instead it is proudly secular and proudly multicultural, which means it is paradoxically unable to measure the threat against it. It is critical of its own tradition, but tolerant of all others and especially of others that would do it in. The Western reaction to the Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammad is an eloquent case in point. Indeed, modern society is the only swath of societies in today's world that does not see itself as a civilization and the only one that appreciates the global reach of modern history. With its face resolutely turned toward the future, it engenders a mental framework that understands everything in terms of the world to come. Islam is peaceful because when the Islamic world finally goes democratic, Islam too will become peaceful. And when Russia finally embraces democracy, it will no longer act as an empire. And when China democratizes, the Dalai Lama will be welcomed in Tibet. In the meantime we treat them as though all we hope has already come to pass, because how could it not? History is on our side, is it not? The new Middle East is already here, however bloody its birth pangs, however much Jewish blood must again flow to make it a reality. Peace in our time, once again.
SO LOP-SIDED AND CRAZY HAS THE 'SITUATION' BECOME, as Israelis refer to their predicament, that words are no longer useful, though without words there are no thoughts and without thoughts there are no actions. Does it matter if one can explain why so many educated people so misread the Middle East? Will a thousand gruesome details and examples of Arab and Muslim perfidy, historical and contemporary, suffice to make a dent in the mindset of Western governments and their intellectual classes? After all, if their blindness is rooted in the very functioning of democracy itself, how is one little essay going to overcome that? One would have thought history would have taught democracies a lesson, but it seems their blind spot prevents even that, an outcome all the more surprising given that modern society rewards people for learning from experience. The British spent eleven millions pounds during World War One to help their so-called Arab allies rise up against the Turks, and all they got for it was a bad movie called Lawrence of Arabia. There is a paradox at work here, and a paradox can only be unraveled, not resolved. Which means we can expect more of the same: twice the number of Palestinians terrorists released from Israeli jails in exchange for one Israeli soldier, building freezes from Israeli governments in exchange for more adamant Palestinian refusals to negotiate a binding peace treaty, calls from European governments for more concessions to Palestinians that would mortally endanger the Jewish state and pressure from an American administration to yield to Palestinian terrorists what America would deny their terrorist cousins in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan. If one wanted to be perfectly consistent, Israel could go the full hog and give the Europeans what they secretly dream of: another Holocaust to justify the first one.
No one has an interest in preventing that but the Jews themselves. And now that they have a state, they are obliged to see to it that Jewish blood is no longer spilled simply because it runs in Jewish veins. This, after all, was the raison d'être of Zionism: a Jewish state to normalize the Jewish condition, to bring the Jews in line with the modernity their Holy Book inaugurated so long ago. For make no mistake about it. The rise of the West would have been unthinkable without the leaven of interpretation which the Hebrew Bible first introduced into European culture via the Mediterranean. That book was the first book of difference, just as ancient Israel was the first multicultural society in the ancient world. Thou shalt not kill thy children, the story of Abraham proclaims in dramatic paradox, but the land his children shall inherit shall apply the law equally to the stranger that sojourns within it, as long as the stranger does not worship the idols that require the children be cast into the fire. Already an unpardonable difference, which spelled a war to the death with the ambient culture, then as now.
The Jews would therefore do well to look to their Bible to defend their Jewish state. There they would read the simple truth God explained to Moses and Moses to the children of Israel. You will leave Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, because Egypt is your antithesis, and I, the Lord, intend to carve out a new nation from amidst the old one, a holy nation made holy by the Law and not by he cult of the dead. And when you come into the land you shall throw the Moloch worshippers out, for if you do not they will surely pollute the land and contaminate your lives and I shall be forced to drive you out of the land from which you shrunk to drive them out.
It was true then and it is true now, but the Jews still have not learned their lesson. Reluctant to keep the covenant, they were ever reluctant to be a political people and assume the mantle of sovereignty, which first and foremost requires the monopoly on the legitimate use of force and the willingness to exercise it. God understood what Freud understood but Herzl did not: all nations are founded on crime. What distinguishes the Jews is not the crime, but the kind of nation they will build upon it. Yet the Jews still think they can leapfrog over the initial moment and enter directly into the realm of justice. In short, the Jews still think they can outsmart God. The irony is they cannot even outsmart the Palestinians.
To put an end to their own paradox the Jews have to act, simply, brutally, and eloquently. They have to realize the still unfulfilled Zionist dream and assert sovereignty over their homeland, which includes Judea and Samaria and now requires Gaza as well. The Palestinians shall have to go, and with them their allies from the world's premier anti-Semitic organization, the United Nations. To the Americans of whom they are all so needlessly afraid they shall have to say loud and clear that Israel and the United States are allies, each founded on an exodus, each devoted to freedom, each a way of life whose tolerance is cemented by the bedrock of religion. And then Israel shall have to remind America that allies support each other, not pressure each other into appeasement. The United States could have spared itself its turmoil in Iraq and Afghanistan simply by making it clear to the Muslim world that it was backing Israel to the hilt, that Saddam Hussein's support of Palestinian terrorism made him and his country into international outlaws, and that the shirts off the backs of Iraqis he promised to give to Palestinian terrorists were literally going to come off. The United States should long ago have moved its embassy to Jerusalem, thereby announcing to the Arab Muslim world that they were responsible for their defeat in a century-old war they had started and re-started, and that there were consequences for their actions. And what they could have made clear to Saddam and the Palestinians at little cost to themselves, the Americans can now make clear to Syria and Egypt and Saudi Arabia at great savings to themselves. But if the Jews do not see that, how will the Americans, whose academics and diplomats and presidential advisers think of Israel not as an ally, but as a lobby?
It is shocking and depressing that after everything that has happened to the Jews, after everything we have done and not done, we are still at the same point of departure, and with us Western civilization to which we were so inextricably linked. But we do have a land, and nothing in God's universe requires that we again commit national suicide, or that we pay needlessly to see this does not happen. Every day the world thinks of something new to undermine the legitimacy of the Jewish state, and every day we try and respond to the false and malicious accusations, unaware that the undermining takes its toll. What was the Goldstone Report after all, but a warning to Israel not to try to defend itself? Yet what did we do in Gaza, but enter and leave with Shalit still a prisoner and Hamas still in power? What self-respecting sovereign power does that? What self-respecting power forbids its citizens to reside in lands that are rightfully theirs? What self-respecting power allows its own citizens to commit treason and protects them with parliamentary immunity? And what will we say to our children when they ask us why we did all that if we had finally gone home? Purim? Hanukkah? Haggadah and Kaddish? A shame. A terrible shame. More than that, a sin, for which all the breast-beatings on all the Yom Kippurs to come will not be able to atone.
PUT NOT YOUR TRUST IN PRINCES, THE PSALMIST WARNS US. Once again the old Hebrew Scriptures show themselves to be presciently modern. The man who wrote them being a king, the one Jews sing is still alive, still alive, he knew of what he wrote. But Jews prefer to trust in princes rather than a system designed to hold them to account, again betraying their inbred hostility to statecraft. The modern Israeli electoral system, based as it is on an extreme form of proportional representation, guarantees that no election will ever yield a majority government. Any government that is formed will involve horse-trading between parties of all kinds, parties whose policies, if not raison d'être, are quite opposed. The upshot is a government whose members themselves are in constant opposition, using their support for the prime minister to bolster their power over matters most dear to their hearts. Such a system increases tremendously the power of party bosses and personalizes power to an unprecedented extent when compared with democracies based on a first past the post system. It also means that no government can ever be held accountable for its policies, since every party to the government, big and small, can always blame its coalition partners for its failure. When things go wrong, as they inevitably do, the public, and those whose function is to help public opinion discover itself, resort to criticism in highly personal terms, focusing on the leaders and their moral failings, even, in the last resort, flailing away at the crumbling of the moral fabric. Healing is then sought in a return to the 'old values' from which everyone is running as fast as he or she can, as usually happens in a modern society. What people do not see, of course, is that the 'old values' are precisely what the Jews have been indulging in for millennia.
Time and again the Jews wandering in the desert challenged Moses's leadership. From the incident of the Golden Calf to the Great Rebellion of Korach and his cousins, the Jews showed themselves thoroughly ungrateful to the man who had led them out of Egypt and impervious to his statesmanship. Hundreds of years later, ensconced in the land of Israel, their descendants turned no less ferociously on the prophet Samuel. And when the kingdom had finally been established, it quickly crumbled into civil war, extinction and exile. Nor did the Jews learn their lesson from the First Return. The glorious Hasmonean dynasty ended up rent by strife between religious and civil power and succumbed to Roman servitude. The upshot was the most devastating revolt the Roman Empire had ever had to endure, followed by the destruction of the Second Temple and the Second Exile of the Jews, which Zionism came to repair two thousand years later. And in between let us not forget the Hassidic movement, whose founder's pious reform of Judaism through song and dance and good works turned into a multitude of sects, each with its courtly dynasty.
Today Israel continues to govern itself as if it were a synagogue. In no other country are cabinet meetings reported in the next day's newspapers, replete with details and carping. Leaders are selected and then vilified, just as rabbis are hired and then criticized for doing what they were hired to do. As for the leaders, everyone thinks he has a better idea and runs with it, heedless of rules that are supposed to bind participants to a decision. When the Likud repudiated Sharon for breaking his election campaign pledge and disengaging from Gaza, he did not retire as Lady Thatcher did when she suffered a similar and even greater rebuke. Instead he founded another party and kept on running the country. The best his critics could do to unseat him was circulate rumors of corruption. When God punished him for his sins, his successor showed himself no less adroit at reversing himself on all previous stands and taking up the Oslo mentality which had proved so disastrous to the country. Yet he too was hounded from office not for his policy, but for alleged corruption.
Corruption is a convenient slogan which is then extended to the body politic itself. Those who continue to argue that Israel must offer the Arabs painful concessions, a policy inaugurated by the current Defense Minister when he was Prime Minister, and withdraw even further, justify their choice on the grounds that the current situation is only undermining the country's moral fabric. The corruption of the highest office holders in the land, it is held, is but a mirror to the rot in the fabric of society, symbolized by violence in the home, on the road, in the shops, cutting across the religious and secular divide. Yet never does it cross the minds of these critics that the problem lies in the failure of the electoral system to provide accountable governments, in its systemic incapacity to furnish a clear government majority and an equally clear opposition, whose conduct and policies can then be judged at the subsequent election. Thus does Barak resurface, eight years after being condemned to political oblivion, as leader of a shrunken Labor Party and yet a key member of a government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, the man who belatedly quit Sharon's government over the Gaza withdrawal and now imposes a construction freeze on Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria. Alice in Wonderland has found a home!
Such shenanigans belie a far deeper and older national trait embedded in our founding text. Even as the Hebrew family morphed into the Hebrew nation, its ways of settling disputes remained characteristically familial. Korach's revolt was but a replay of the lament of Joseph's brothers, the fall of the House of David was also the result of family intrigue, and even the collapse of the Hasmonean dynasty, ostensibly a conflict between temple and state, had its roots in family passions. Even today the question of negotiating Gilad Shalit's release is posed in familial terms. Everyone in Israel considers Gilad as a member of his or her family. How could the government not do anything that would bring him home, even if this means releasing hundreds of terrorists? But the people who argue thus ignore that other sons and daughters are put at risk every time they have to go out and arrest future terrorists, including those who would be released in exchange for Shalit when they recidivate, as they certainly shall. This slippery slope down which Israel has already proceeded, in marked contrast to its previous policy symbolized by the rescue at Entebbe, obscures policy alternatives at Israel's disposal. Israel could have kept up its military campaign against Gaza until Shalit was released. It could stop all flow of electricity to Gaza until Shalit is released. It could close the Al-Aqsa mosque until Shalit is released. But Israel does not do this because that would require Israel's flexing its political and military muscle, and what country does that which understands power in personal and familial terms?
Instead Jews complain, at home and abroad, the way Jacob's children
did their whole lives long. They complain and tell stories, and think
their stories will ensure their survival. Yoram Kaniuk, an Israeli
novelist, wrote a book called Ahavat David (David's Love), based,
despite its disclaimers, on the life of Moshe Dayan. The book is a
searing indictment of modern life, modern love, modern Israel, in
which Ben-Gurion plays a minor but significant role, although he is
never referred to by name. The novelist calls him the Leader,
suggesting his faults, like Moses's, are central to understanding the
inextricable mess in which we find ourselves. But again one might
suggest that the writer should read what he has written in another
light, in the light of a character in another of his novels, His
Daughter, a German Jew who escaped the Nazis and now lives in Israel.
The woman proclaims that she and her neighbors now live by the shores
of the Mediterranean, yet they all still cry at night. Her lament is
an eloquent summary of the situation in which Jews find themselves all
over the planet. We have our country and we all still cry at night as
we watch it become, once again, the Pariah Jew; watch its government
react with the same impotence as our forefathers in exile, unable to
reform even its electoral system as a first, modest step to putting
its house in order. Little wonder the government is afraid to touch
the Al-Aqsa mosque. It fears the civil and religious strife it could
unleash when all parties lay claim to what should be the national
synagogue of the Jewish people.
EMIL FACKENHEIM, THE JEWISH PHILOSOPHER WHO MADE ALIYAH TO ISRAEL, wrote that since the Holocaust Jews have one more commandment to add to the 613 ones in the Torah: the obligation to survive. An obligation he would impose on the Jewish state itself. To which I would add the obligation to survive without the needless shedding of Jewish blood as the price for survival. The list of Yom Hazikaron should be closed as once the rabbis closed the Tanach. Why else does Hanoch Bartov write his wonderful books, like the novel Regel Ahat Bahutz (One Foot Outside) of the lad and his Yishuv coming of age in the nineteen thirties and forties? Why else, when reading it, do my eyes well up with tears at the unspeakable crime done to my people and my heart with longing for the time when Hatikva and Hagana heralded the promise of the Promised Land, that time before the poet Amichai wrote that this is the life of promises and this land the land of promises? And when I read his biography of a Lithuanian Jewish family, Mehutz Laofek, Meever Larehov (Beyond the Horizon, Across the Street), that endured the unspeakable horror of the Nazis only to lose a son in the War of Independence, a war that the Jews had to fight because even half a loaf to the Jews was too much for the Arabs, my rage knows no bounds. I rage against the Arabs, who never had the mercy to tell the British to open Palestine's doors to the slaughtered but today clamor for justice, and I rage against the Nazis and their European allies whose descendants today call the Jews Nazis. And my rage is swallowed up in the sorrow and disbelief that it is all happening again.
Europe, I readily understand, is dead. It got rid of its Jews and now it is paying for its crime. Along with Europe goes Western civilization. There is yet America and Australia, but their cultural classes, to a large extent, are struck by the same blindness as their European cohorts. Even Israel is not immune to this development, which makes one wonder whether the much vaunted start-up nation has not also lost its way. The rabbis and others are fond of saying that history has already written the Jews off many times before. We have outlasted it all, and in the long perspective of history, they say, Jews have never been so well off, backed by a country of their own, however much under siege. True enough, but what kind of country is it when every day is Yom Kippur for its citizens? What kind of homeland do we have when Jewish children shake in their boots because their parents want to make aliya? What return is it when our intellectuals long to return to the Europe that cremated their grandparents? Will we, in short, survive our survival?
Words, you will say, like Hamlet. Words, words, words. Bur words produce stories, and stories are what's left when we are bereft of everything but hope. Now there is no hope left, none that allows us to think that the future will be better, that the sacrifices were not in vain, that the enemy is defeated once and for all, this enemy that others already fought against. World War Two, current affairs suggest, might as well not have been fought, though I am glad it was and that the good guys won. But all illusions are gone that the cause for which so many perished has triumphed. No such luck. No such hope. Western recidivism with respect to the Jews has trumped modernity and the stories it told.
The difference which the Jews gave to humanity as a blessing will continue to evolve, but the culture which it spawned is beyond redemption. The Jews too are beyond redemption, which is, of course, no reason for their extinction. After all, we can still be proud of the beauty of our gift, still make it our business to survive if only because we bore that gift, we and no others. For that alone Israel ought to act in its defense as decisively as the Lord once commanded the Israelites of old to act, that very Lord who knew a thing or two about the havoc difference brought into the universe. And when the world has evolved into the global multicultural society people think it is heading towards, and every nation has taken down its barriers and embraced the tolerance in whose name Israel's post-modern and post-Zionist critics pillory the Jewish state, the Jews can follow suit if they wish, proudly being the last people standing, the one that shuts the door on the tradition they inaugurated. Until that happens however, they would be best to figure out something else, something at once old and new, something to make Zionism complete. Something like a two-state solution, but not the one people usually think of. No, something like the two kingdoms of old: Israel and Judea, not this time at loggerheads, but mutually respectful, each one protecting the other, doing what each does best and what the other is reluctant to do. Judea will protect the borders and Israel will deliver the goods and between them there will be no problem with a corridor stretching from Gaza to Judea and Samaria. Then the Jews and their friends shall live in the land and none shall be afraid.
- Hanukkah, 2009
A retired sociology professor from the Université du Québec à Montréal, Stephen Schecter has written six books, numerous essays, short stories and poems in both English and French. His book-length narrative poem, David and Jonathan (Robert Davies Publishing, Montreal, 1996), won the Montreal Jewish Public Library’s J.I. Siegal award for English literature on a Jewish theme and was nominated as a QSPELL poetry prize finalist. He performs and lectures on the Hebrew Bible, having done so to audiences across North America. He currently resides in Vancouver, Canada.
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