Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Israeli despair

In a recent article in The Jerusalem Post, Caroline Glick argued that Israelis have started to feel despair for their future and the future of Israel. The Zionist dream is fading, she says, in a desperate dawn of stark reality. Despite a soaring economy, a world-class educational system, a high standard of living, and the glories of the land itself, Israelis are losing their patriotism. The Zionist hope of bringing an end to the persecutions of the Diaspora centuries through the creation of an autonomous homeland in which Jews would be able to defend themselves from aggression rings hollow in the aftermath of wars, terrorist attacks, and last summer's rain of Hizbullah rockets. In the greatest irony of two thousand years, the most dangerous place on earth for Jews is the Jewish state of Israel.

One can hardly blame Israelis for experiencing despair under such circumstances. In Northern Ireland, where I'm from, the violent phase of the Troubles went on for about 30 years, and people despaired then of it ever ending; even now, with the violence largely under control, it's still proving hard to negotiate a political solution. Israelis have been coping with much greater levels of violence for about 60 years, or longer if you go back to the 1920s. Even at their height, the Irish Troubles never threatened the existence either of Northern Ireland (the worst thing that would have happened would have been integration in the increasingly properous Republic) or the UK mainland. What Israelis are experiencing is an existential threat, to themselves, their families, their townships, their houses, the places they walk in, the city and country views they admire, the cafés they frequent, the secluded places they go with their lovers, the graveyards that hold their dead, the sense of place brought home by long memory and reading the Bible. You can't just pick that all up and take it somewhere else, not when you have a bitter memory of having done it before, and of the suffering that came with the state of being in a diaspora.

More and more people are saying 'it's a pity Israel was ever established' — most recently London's obnoxious mayor, Ken Livingstone. The argument goes that, if there had been no Israel in the first place, and if the Palestinians had been given a state instead, there would be no unrest in the Middle East, no radical Islamic violence anywhere else, no war in Iraq or Afghanistan, no war on terror, and—who knows—even universal peace.

Of course, that's unbelievably naïve. Without Israel, things would have been and would now be different. But that's a bit like my saying, 'if I hadn't married my wife, things would have worked out differently'. Some writers use this concept effectively, developing a theory of the 'shadow self', the 'me' who would be a totally different person if this or that hadn't happened. For myself, I know with considerable accuracy the one tiny decision, a last-minute thing, that influenced the rest of my life totally and irrevocably. Most of us can do this, especially as we get older. The idea was very well expressed some years ago in a film called Sliding Doors. We may sometimes regret this or that choice, but we know that a different choice might have worked out even worse. (My wife worked out as an excellent choice, by the way!)

If Israel hadn't existed, the Middle East would have fallen into disarray anyway, thanks to the collapse of centralized Ottoman rule and the existence of numerous mainly religious divisions across the region. When empires collapse, their constituent parts inevitably fragment and turn on each other. The tensions the Ottomans kept in check have become vicious since 1918, and they would have been so Israel or not.

Of course putting a Jewish state down in the Arab world may not have been the most judicious thing. With hindsight, it can seem to have been unwise. But if we think about it, might it not also have been a very positive thing? After all, there were Jewish communities throughout North Africa and the Middle East in those days, and these communities often played major roles in the lives of the countries they lived in (Egypt, especially Alexandria, being perhaps the best example). When we look at somewhere like Alexandria around the turn of the century and for many decades later, not only was there a thriving Jewish community, but there were Greeks, Armenians, Iranians, Lebanese, Turks, and British. Nowadays, all that cosmopolitan vigour has gone. Was that the fault of Israel? What would someone like Nasser have done without Israel to focus on? What would the Muslim Brotherhood and other Salafi religious groups have done without Israel? In the case of Nasser, he might have taken his pan-Arabist ambitions and gone on to conquer or try to conquer other Arab countries. The Brotherhood might have concentrated on cleansing the Muslim world of its heresies and decadence. Who knows?

A positive Arab response to Israel, based on an understanding of the contributions made by the region's Jews (remember how hard the Moroccans tried to get their Jews to stay?) might have led to the creation of two viable, mutually reinforcing states with alliances across the region and beyond. Without al-Husayni, without the Muslim Brotherhood, without the German thrust for Palestine, how different it all might have been.

Is this reason to despair? Yes and no. To feel threatened, to feel afraid, to feel despondent because nobody seems to love you — all these are valid emotions. But if we give in to negative emotions, they can destroy us more effectively than our enemies. And if Israelis capitulate to their enemies, if Hamas et al one day establish a Palestinian theocracy, can anyone believe it will be the end of the story? For Jews, it will spell the end, exposing them to international obloquoy and the threats that will stem from it. For the rest of us, it will be a triumph for intolerance, for the rule of violence, and for hardline fundamentalism. Doctors tell patients suffering from depression that they have to do hard things, from forcing themselves out of bed in the morning, to going to work, to eating properly. It's tough, but the alternative is tougher. Israel's daily struggle isn't helped by the mood of despair. Now, I firmly believe, the only thing that will raise Israeli spirits will be a total victory over Hizbullah, whether that's this summer or the next.


Anonymous said...

Caroline Glick says that the Zionist dream is fading.

I personally believe that the Zionist dream came true - it's no longer a dream, but a reality.

Israel not only exists but exceeds beyond any expectations that the early pioneers could have hoped for.

The fact is - war is terrifying and depressing. Living in a tiny country surrounded by hostile neighbours is draining.

For one member of my family, it was the final straw when she had to send the kids to school with gas masks in their school bags, after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. However, despiste that final straw, she's still there - as are all the other Israeli members of my family.

I think there are several other
reasons for people wanting to move away.

I view the Israelis who move away from Israel in general terms, as similar to the huge amount of Australians who move away, simply because both countries are isolated, and there is a desire to exprerience and join in with the rest of the world.

Secondly, Sabras (Israeli born Jews) might take living in a Jewish state for granted, especially if they are secular...the same way that Brits who move to Spain, Australia, France etc do.

In my (limited) experience, I have seen most Israelis who have moved to my community,return to Israel eventually.

Certainly, war and conflict in Israel won't drive up the immigration numbers - at least not until/unless things become too unbearable in the diaspora.

Perhaps, the general apathy is simply a result of Israel's success? Perhaps the biggest casualty of this success is the actual realisation of 'the Zionist Dream'?


Anonymous said...

So much of negative reaction to threat or negative stimuli comes from how people describe it to themselves.

I see Israel as succumbing to an introjected view of herself as an evil, aggressive abuser. These abusive descriptions are regularly hurled at her by Arab states and anti-Israel organisations and movements around the world.

Introjects such as these are pernicious because we take them in and make them ours and then forget that they were ever put onto us. Thus we believe that we have become what these say that we are and experience the need to act in ways which disprove them. This is evidenced in the bizarre activities of Independent Jewish Voices, B'Tselem and Jews for Justice for Palestinians, who do Israel far more harm than good.

Added to all this is the fact that Arabs/Muslims are masters of double-speak and spin. They have the world's media in their pockets and Israel hardly seems to be a match for them.

Among your negative comments about Israel being established should have been the one by Inayat Bunglawala on "Comment is Free" in the Guardian, that the establishment of Israel was the greatest mistake ever made.

In psychological terms it seems to me that Israel is beginning to suffer en masse from the sort of learned helplessness which can lead to depression and giving up. This arises from every attempt to resolve the situation seeming to have failed. The antidote is to find some "learned resourcefulness" (which may involve thinking outside the box in new and creative ways) to bring about positive change.

I don't think that we should forget the individual acts of reaching out, from Palestinians as well as Israelis. This should sustain for the time being, but people like us need to hold the hope for Israel at this time.

Anonymous said...

If Caroline Glick is right, and Israelis have "started to feel despair", this could be good.

Why? because it's better than the "yihieh tov" (roughly - "everything will work out OK") mentality that has existed until now.

"Yiheih tov" isn't appropriate any more. The world is a horribly dangerous place, and Israel is in the worst neighbourhood. Always grotesquely outnumbered, Israelis (and Jews) are becoming a smaller and smaller minority and their enemies more ferocious.

Perhaps the turning point is now, and real concern about the future is absolutely necessary.

Last week I received an email from an Israeli friend - "isn't this amazing??" he wrote as he sent a clip from Egyptian TV. The clip, from last month, February 2007, showed a Blood Libel against the Jews - you know the sort of thing, described in intimately gruesome detail. Demonisation par excellence - and coming from a country that has a peace treaty with Israel.

I replied that I was only amazed my friend was amazed. Incitement against Jews (not just Israelis - Jews) is regular fare on Egyptian, Iranian, Syrian, Saudi and Palestinian media.

"We don't know about it," he replied. "We are not exposed to it here. Nothing is shown here whatsoever. The media has an agenda.... This sort of stuff gives the lie to it all. How can we make peace if all that is happening?! So we all put on rose colored glasses and pretend it's not happening."

Rose coloured glasses are the last thing Israel can afford. Staring at reality, however grim, has to be better.

Maybe this is the time to take stock - to bring in a system that will nurture better politicians than the present party-ridden proportional representation. Israelis can tackle corruption if they really want to. And use some of that famous know-how on improving the way Israel communicates with the rest of the world. Regaining some hearts and minds wouldn't hurt.

Zionism, like patriotism, isn't enough. Earlier this century, any true Briton would have been proud to be patriotic - now the word itself is a joke. It doesn't matter if "Zionism" goes the same way. What does matter is Jewish spirituality, sense of mission, and unity, still alive after all these years, but in need of a new awakening.

Anyone who wishes Israel away has to accept the Holocaust would have been that much greater without the (pathetic amount of) immigration to Palestine; that anti-semitic persecution in the former Soviet Union would have been greater and more ruthless, that the fate of the Jews in Arab lands might have run parallel to the current decline of historic Christian communities in the Middle East.

And we have to take a long view, which, given Jewish history, shouldn't be too difficult. I've just been reading about the England of a thousand years ago. The Anglo-Saxon kingdom was in deep trouble. Dissensions, corruption, murders in high places, marauding Scandinavians and the mother of all defeats lurking in the near future. All the neighbours, Welsh, Picts, Scots, Danes, Normans, would have agreed that the Anglos should really disappear. You wouldn't have given two groats for the kingdom's future.

Is Israel's situation serious? Yes, very. Despair? Never. And just in case this sounds smug, coming from the UK, I'd better add that I'm packing up and moving back to Israel in a few months' time.
And I don't care who wins the football match.

YMedad said...

"Started"? Read Olmert from two years ago for starters: here and here

Mitch from Florida said...

I do not believe that anything has changed. None of the reasons for the Jewish State have changed, if anything those reasons, are even more compelling than ever before. Nor has the vitality of the Jewish State or the incredibly bright future, (Ahmendidjad aside) for the Jewish State.
Indeed, the commentators, have run out of things to say and they have therefore chosen to change the discourse. In fact, the very concept of "post-Zionism" arose while a new generation of Israelis re-committed themselves to Zionism. I believe we are in the period that could best be called the "Zionist Renaissance". For me, post-Zionism began with the Oslo process, when the dreamers foresaw the day that you would walk down Dizengoff and see as many Arab businessmen and Arab tourists - as you would Jews. How ironic that the Labour Party's socialist foundations gave way to capitalistic incentives. With the end of the Oslo process and the removal of Shimon Peres's "rose colored glasses"- we entered the era of the Zionist Renaissance. And we are just at the beginning of it. During that brief post- Zionistic phase (it could hardly be called an era, due to its brevity) Israeli textbooks devoted more space to Arafat than they did to David Ben Gurion.

The Hard Evidence. In fact, think about it. If you wish to argue that Israel is the least safe place for the Jews, then surely, then you must agree, that the only place in the world deemed "safe" for Jews is in North America.
Certainly Europe has never been, is not, and never will be safe for Jews. Clearly there is no long term future for the Jews of the UK, France, Belgium and Holland, if present trends continue. As for the rest of Europe the Jewish population, apart from Germany, is miniscule. That things will only worsen for Jews (and for Christians too) in Europe is foregone. Just consider what happened at the University of Leeds in the last few weeks. Free discourse on a subject that did not delight the Moslems was stopped cold. In fact, motions were adopted to "ignore" anything that comes out of the Jewish Student body- that was not deemed an outright attack on Judaism as a religion (never mind the Jews themselves). And guess what? No one, other than Denis and SFI and a few others cared!!!!! Where was the Board of Deputies? Cowardly hiding in fear? Where was the government of the Great Britain? Silent! Even as the Prime Minister is rightly considered a stalwart friend of Israel and the Jews. So, so much for a European future for the Jews.
The Moslems, seeking to escape the Middle East which stifled their freedoms and their expressions, have flooded Europe and now attack the very host who accepted them with open arms. "Blend in" you say? They say, "Remember 7-11".
The Moslems constitute 10% of the French population, 7% of the British population and the list goes on and on. Has anyone ever heard of Moslem element in Europe with popular appeal that says, "all we want is to live beside you in freedom with respect for all?" I haven't.
Consider further that the Christian birth rate in Europe pales as compared to the Moslem birth rate. The Moslem population is far younger on the than the aging Christian population. It is not inconceivable that in the next 20 years or so, the Moslems of Europe will constitute more than 25% of the population. Keep in mind there is a pool of 1.2 billion Moslems from which to flood Europe.
Back to the point, though. In spite of the fact that North American is the "safe haven", the political and financial power source of the Jews, more Jews are going on Aliyah- moving to Israel, from the U.S. and Canada than ever before.

So why do Israelis despair? The state of Israel despite its financial, social, cultural, religious, military, intellectual and high tech prowess, is plagued by corruption and scandal and the highest levels. This is what is causing despair. But, this too is evidence of the fulfillment of the Zionist dream- the creation of a normal state plagued with all the good and bad societal issues. Do not despair. Israel is a democracy and Israelis will undoubtedly clean house. There is no democracy that does not suffer from the same disease and although it seems that all of Israel's scandals are coming at one time- there is no Western nation that has not been plagued with similar scandals.

Democracy allows for freedom; freedom breeds liberty; liberty creates opportunity and opportunity can lead to corruption and scandal. The people of Israel are saddened because the present Israeli leadership, and many Israeli leaders, have put their own interests ahead of the State's interest.

This is a time therefore to re-invigorate the Zionist dream by putting it back on the right path and punishing those who have engaged in personal profit from the high office the have attained. Israelis fear Iran's threats- they realize Europe will not protect Israel- but they are on guard to protect the future and they do not fear the future. It was said by none other than Theodore Herzl, that "if you will it, it is no dream" and Israel is the fulfillment of that dream and more.


Anonymous said...

Caroline Glick's despair is sad. In her Jerusalem Post article, comparisons are drawn between the racial conflicts within Ulster and that of Israel and it's Arab neighbours. Why? I don't know. Yes ... there were killings in the Northern Province, (apx. 4000) mostly between 1969 up to recent times. However, in Israel, there was open war, a war that has lasted since 1948.
I am in regular contact with more than twenty or so British, Irish, Austrian friends living in Israel and despite the ongoing problems, none have expressed the kind of despairing concerns suggested repeatedly in her writing. Without a deep and well organised survey, it would be wrong for anyone to accept much of what Caroline Glick claimed in a personal and general fashion. Some of the points she raised however, are similar to those expressed everywhere in the West ... on national identity, communal spirit and worries about future peace.
At present, in Britain, Ireland and throughout Western Europe, there is unrest over the large numbers of immigrants and World-wide unease about the unstable situation in the Middle East and large parts of Africa. Yet, most national economies (including that of Israel's) thrive and are much improved on ten years ago.
In each decade, the World has seen wars and threats of war ... and this decade is no different. The only year since 1914 in which Britain suffered no war casualties was 1960! For Israel - think back to 1948, Suez, the Six-Day war, Yom Kippur war, the Intefada and suicidal bombing onslaughts. Despite all, Israel in every way stands stronger than ever before. Today, the battle is 'PROPAGANDA' and whilst the verbal slings and arrows may be debilitating for some and at the root of Caroline Glick's despair, we find more people outside Israel, joining the fight in facing down Israel's detractors.

Anonymous said...

Hi I am Israeli and I can tell you that Caroline Glick is wrong, we are not losing our patriotism. Independence Day just passed and millions of blue and white flags waved proudly from buildings, cars, and buses. Millions of people across the country celebrated the country's birthday.

What people are sick of is the corrupt and useless bunch of politicans that pretend to run our country but actually just care about their own asses. Its because we are patriotic that we want those politicans out as soon as possible!

Watch what happens in Israel in the coming week, there will be many rallies to get rid of these people and bring back real leaders like we once had.

Despite all the crap Israelis have to put up with, this is the best country to live in. There's nothing like Tel Aviv night life or just spending time on the beach or driving to Jerusalem for a trip, or lounging around in a cafe after a hard day at work.

All of you should visit us here in Israel you are most welcome to come.

As for all the people who hate us and write bullshit about us in the foreign press - well what else is new? We have enough problems here to deal with than spend time thinking about that.

שלום מישראל!

SnoopyTheGoon said...


I don't know whether you follow Caroline Glick faithfully or have just stumbled on this specific article, but in any case it will be a bit of exaggeration to use her unending wail as a measure of Israeli public opinion. If I am despaired by anything, it is by these articles she seems to be able to produce in droves.

I do not remember a year when our situation was not described as precarious and the outlook as fatal by this or other pundit.

Of course, pink glasses could be a bother too, but when you put all things in a perspective, we are not done in yet ;-)