A Newsweek article asking if Israel was finished as a nation was published recently. I decided to ask a friend who has lived in Jerusalem for many years to comment on the piece. You will find his thoughts interjected at the appropriate points in the article below. An important and provocative read! (the comments are highlighted by asterisks)
Hey – Moshe!!
A few comments interspersed in the article. Not much to say; the problems are huge, but I’ve little doubt that there’s progress here in the face of virtually
incomprehensible hostility and isolation – not all of Israel’s making as suggested by the tone of the articles.
Also, I’m a little perturbed by the generalizations throughout both articles.
Anyway, this is from my for-what-it’s worth mind-evolving understanding of this incredibly perplexing place.!
I’ll be paying a little bit more attention to some of these issues and see whether I can become a little more decisive, specific – whatever.
Laila Tov – it’s way past bed-time.
In Newsweek Magazine
Is Israel Over?
*It’s a question doing the rounds here as well. Question: is what sense over?
Over the barrel?! The Zionist dream of an independent state where Jews can be free of anti-semitism? Or the idealism of Kibbutz socialism? Or does this question reflect a pessimism that once again the Jews will be dispersed as has happened many times in their 3000+ years of existence, and the land destroyed?*
No longer the liberal, democratic, egalitarian society it once was, Israel is fighting the Arabs—and itself.
*POINT is: Israel is fighting more than the Arabs! They’re fighting the lies about their legitimacy, their aspirations, to say nothing about the antisemitism/antiZionism in the West. Fighting the Arabs? Of course. Not to do so, in a sense, is to be annihilated.*
*What’s to be said about Israel fighting itself? It has certainly been it’s own worst enemy down through the ages – and there’s no let up! The in-fighting is incomprehensible to me. Here they are badgered on every side, almost Universally, and yet they can’t agree on anything. It’s the old notion of two Jews, three or more opinions, or synagogues.*
Israel is under assault. On Sept. 20 the Palestinian Authority plans to unilaterally declare statehood and go to the United Nations for recognition. This is a rejection of all efforts for a peaceful compromise. In its wake will come waves of Palestinian violence. And yet this is just the latest manifestation of an embattled Israel that is being threatened from the outside—by Muslim Arab states and societies, Egyptians storming the Israeli Embassy, a nuclear-arming Iran (with its local sidekicks, Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Hizbullah in Lebanon), and a besieged President Bashar al-Assad in Syria—and from the inside by domestic upheaval that led to the largest mass protests in the country’s history.
*QUESTION: how seriously is this assault been taken by the West? Where is the legal and historical perspective on both the people and the land? Where are the security-related concerns? Why the blind political correctness? Arafat’s plan of taking over the entire area piece by piece is what it’s all about. As long as there’s no Arab guarantee of an Israeli State, there can be no peace. Thing is, we all know that the ultimate issue is not land; it’s religious colonialism tied to the Islamist belief that they are to dominate the world. Anyone not of Islam is an infidel and must either convert or be executed. (Of course even the Christians pursued such policies in the Middle Ages.)*
More than 50 years ago, Israel’s leaders, headed by David Ben-Gurion, believed and hoped that they were creating a social democracy, with all the requisite egalitarian accoutrements (socialized national health care, progressive income tax, child benefits, subsidized cheap housing). Ben-Gurion, who owned almost nothing and retired to a primitive hut in the Negev Desert, typified the austere lifestyle, and greatness, of the state’s founders.
*No doubt much of the original vision is blurred by rampant materialism and high-tech wealth in the land which Ben-Gurion, of course, knew nothing about. As is so often the case with capitalist freedom, a few hold the reigns of power and wealth – and exercise great control. Nevertheless, the original goal of providing an equality of service to all citizens – remains, as far as I can tell. Also, many surveys have confirmed that the Arabs in Israel are far better off economically than their cousins in the disputed territories – under the PLO – to say nothing of Gaza – even although apparently there are many improvements in those areas. An interesting poll among the Arabs in Judea and Samaria showed that while many support the PA statehood bid, far less of them wanted to live in such a state!*
This is no longer Israel. A profound, internal, existential crisis has arrived. It stems in part from the changing nature of the country, more right wing, more restrictive, far less liberal, and far less egalitarian. Many moderate Israelis fear the country is heading for ruin. Indeed, the country’s ruling class, including Benjamin Netanyahu and his predecessors Ehud Olmert (now on trial for corruption) and Ehud Barak (a former head of the Labor Party and current defense minister), live in opulence, and the feeling is that they are out of touch with reality. In Tel Aviv, where some 350,000 gathered in protest, a widespread chant, set to a popular children’s ditty, was “Bibi has three apartments, which is why we have none.”
*Define “Israel.” A homeland for the Jews; a refuge for those in the diaspora? A hope for the disenfranchised Jews in Arab states – where persecution has been and is virtually beyond the telling of it? Thousands are still streaming into the country and they are all helped financially, with housing, language studies, schooling, employment, medical services free of charge.*
*Yes – the present coalition is more right wing – especially in terms of defence and social issues....*
*Opulence of the leaders? I don’t know anything about that – and have never read such criticism in either of the English language dailies – J Post or Ha’aretz. Of course Bibi lives in the PM’s residence. Opulent? No idea, but somehow I can’t imagine that it is.*
*Egalitarian? The social services here seem exemplary in many respects. The medical services are open and free to all – Jews and Arab Israelis. Gita has often talked about the treatment of Arabs she has observed in the hospitals and has always been impressed by its quality. This goes for any from the so-called West Bank who need meds not available there. Just last week I went to an Eye Clinic in East J for a check up because it’s apparently the best one in Israel – and was attended to by an Arab opthalmologist. I don’t know whether there were any Jews there – and the place was packed – but the reception was wonderful and the treatment faultless. Gita’s dentist is Arab. All this to say that in the professions there certainly seems to be an unhesitating respect and a working together.*
*It’s generally acknowledged that Israel invests tremendously in education across the board – and has the highest per capita rate of university degrees as it does in books and academic papers published.*
Tent cities popped up as the demonstrators—20- to 45-year-olds, with a healthy contingent of older people—rallied against nonprogressive taxation, low wages, and the high cost of housing and consumer goods, which have made it nigh impossible for families to make ends meet. A full 20 percent of Israelis (and 15 percent of Israeli Jews) live under the poverty line, and the top decile of Israel’s population earns 31 percent of the country’s total net income. The lowest decile earns a mere 1.6 percent. Last year Israel was elected to membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of the world’s 32 most-developed countries. Among them, Israel ranks as one of the worst (alongside Mexico and the United States) in terms of wealth polarization.
*Again – yes, a distinct polarization in wealth. As in South Africa, there is a great deal of wealth in this little splinter of land, and it is controlled by some sort of capitalist elite. Housing costs are prohibitive in TA and Jerusalem (although cheaper here). Food stuffs are also quite expensive – although at the Shuk, one can find reasonable alternatives to the chain grocery shops.*
*However, the protests were a great example of civil liberties, the freedom of expression, assembly, dissent. You name it, Israel is a remarkably free society, a fantastically multicultural society and equality before the law. Even the so-called Palestinians are free to petition Israel’s High Courts.*
Israel suffers from a steady brain drain, with tens of thousands of university graduates and wannabe academics moving abroad for lack of adequate positions or pay. Berlin has a community of more than 10,000 young Israelis, many of them working in the arts, who found creativity in Israel impossible. In a recent interview, one film director said that in Israel her energies were spent on making commercials and fashion trivia in order to subsist; Berlin enabled her to pursue her passion. In Tel Aviv, kindergartens charge $700 to $1,000 per child per month; in Berlin, the cost is $120; a kilo of cucumbers costs $1 in Tel Aviv, half that in Berlin.
*Brain drain? Maybe – although again, I don’t see anyone crying about it in the press (as they do in South Africa). I have chatted with several academic types about a variety of concerns, but this has never come up. University research facilities seem to be top of the range – and I’ve met several Ph D students who have no intention of moving elsewhere. But specifics – stats and so on, I don’t know.*
*Again, no stats, but this place seems totally energetic in terms of the arts. Just below us in the Gehennon Valley are concerts, film festivals, art shows, book fairs, crafts fairs – and so on. Theatres and symphonies are to be enjoyed – so I don’t know where this artistic repression is.*
*I also have no data on kindergarten charges – except that there are many “private” ones which are expensive. Certainly in the Haredi areas, all such services are free. But, like everything else, if you want really good education, you have to pay for it by going private. As far as I know the public school system is pretty good and open to all residents of Israel.*
*All I’ll say here is that there is definitely a political tsunami coming. Exciting stuff!*
*Of course, I’m trying to sort it all out in terms of prophecy and so on – which is dicey at best – but interesting.*
In the 1950s, Israel was an under-developed country filled with ideologically motivated Zionists willing to sacrifice for the collective good. Today’s Israel has a burgeoning economy, driven by sophisticated and internationally competitive high-tech industries, and a population driven mainly by individuals who want the good life. They see that too much of the national pie goes both to the West Bank settlers (who tend to be religious and ultranationalist) and to the ultra-Orthodox (who contribute almost nothing to the economy and avoid mandatory military service).
Worse, this hard-core contingent is making babies at a rapid clip; they tend to have five to eight children per family, versus two to three children in secular homes. This gives them disproportionate clout in Parliament. And that translates into political power—and economic benefits. (Paradoxically, the ultra-Orthodox remain the poorest sector in Israeli Jewish society, mainly because most of them don’t work.)
The other side of the coin: Israel’s own Arab minority is emerging as a potential major problem, too. The Israeli Arab landscape is increasingly dominated by minarets and veiled women; and its leaders, identifying with their Palestinian cousins outside, vociferously call for Israel to shed its character as a “Jewish state” and give its Arab citizens collective minority rights and perhaps some form of autonomy.
Since the West Bank and Gaza were conquered in 1967, successive Israeli governments have failed to fully withdraw from them, either unilaterally or with a peace deal. The Arabs may have been largely at fault—in 2000 Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat turned down an Israeli offer to withdraw from 95 percent of the West Bank and 100 percent of the Gaza Strip—but Israel retains its stranglehold over these people and continues to expand its settlement enterprise.
Israel is a deeply troubled democracy. A democracy it still is, for its citizens—both Jewish and Arab. But Israel is no democracy when it comes to the semi-occupied 2.5 million Arabs of the West Bank and the 1.5 million semi-besieged Arabs of the Gaza Strip. And all this is now congealing
Now there looms the even greater threat of resurgent Islam, not just within Israel’s borders or the Palestinian territories, but across the region, where it is spreading like a brushfire. Many in the West have taken heart from the so-called Arab Spring, viewing the upheavals as heralds of democratic transformation. Israelis are less optimistic. The Islamist message that is coming out of Ankara, and moving to center stage in Cairo, includes a hard core of anti-Zionism usually accompanied by anti-Semitic overtones. (Egypt’s deposed president Hosni Mubarak is now denounced as a “stooge of the Zionists.” A photo of Netanyahu, dressed in an SS uniform, with a Hitler mustache, making the Nazi salute, appeared on the cover of the popular Egyptian weekly Octoberon Aug. 28. Inside, the journal carried an article called “The New Nazis”—and it isn’t even an Islamist publication.)
Netanyahu is creating a series of bureaucratic salves for the country’s economic ills. But they will be swamped, and rendered irrelevant, in the tide of Palestinian activism and anti-Zionism that will be set off by the Palestinian statehood bid. It will then trigger shock waves around the Arab and Islamic worlds. Months ago, Ehud Barak predicted that Israel will face a “political tsunami.” Here it comes.
Morris is an Israeli historian