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The Lebanon war exposed the symptoms of the weaknesses of Israeli society. The Winograd report hinted at some of the underlying pathology.

The commission wrote of the need to:

update in a systematic and sophisticated way Israel's overall security strategy and to consider how to mobilize and combine all its resources and sources of strength - political, economic, social, military, spiritual, cultural and scientific - to address the totality of the challenges it faces.

The commission admits then, that the problem is not this or that person. But what is required is much more profound than some administrative reform as the above prose might lead you to believe. What is needed is not just an overall security strategy.

There is no overall security strategy because there is no overall consensus and understanding of national goals and purpose. There is no admission, and perhaps no awareness, that there is such a problem.

If you ask Israelis to define "Zionism" you will see the problem immediately. Some will laugh. Others will each give a different definition. Even among Jewish Israelis, many will define Zionism as either evil or obsolete. In a normal country, this would not be a problem, but Israel is not a normal country. Few want to admit this unpleasant truth, and fewer are willing to internalize the consequences of this truth.

There are a few small special interest groups who think that they have a monopoly on national goals. These, they might variously perceive to be holding on to some territory in the West Bank or the foisting of their brand of the Jewish religion on the state. Such goals are confused with Zionism and marketed as panaceas. There are other groups who think that "democracy" is a goal in itself, the most urgent goal, and they are supported by Americans who understand a different reality. They forget that if there is no Jewish state, then it will be immaterial whether there are equal rights for women and others in the state that doesn't exist. There is also a segment of the Israeli Arab society that wants, it must be admitted, to turn Israel into another Arab country, under the guise of "democracy."

These groups are all minorities, whose voices are watered down in the electorates of most of the large parties. The job of the major parties is to synthesize all these ideas, some of them noxious and threatening, into a harmless sort of plastic substitute for ideology that can be marketed in television commercials at election time.

The vast majority of Israelis have no national goals, except to get from the state whatever it is possible to get, to give to it as little as necessary, to advance their careers, to protect the "turf" of their interest group, and to live in prosperity and safety. They readily accept the "post-modernist" dictum that the individual is more important than the collective. This includes some of those who are supposedly the most idealistic.

This pleasant philosophy has much to recommend it: everyone relaxing beneath their vine and their fig tree, each family under their own standard. It is the way things should be, if only they could be.

It does not signal the failure of Zionism. Rather it is due to the illusory material success of Zionism. That success has allowed us to establish, in place of the composition board or asbestos and mosquito netting shacks of the kibbutzim and moshavim, cities of glass and cement towers. In place of the tents and pre-fab dwellings of penniless new immigrants, there are the expansive villas of their grandchildren, fronted by huge watered lawns and stocked with the latest hi-tech gadgetry and fashionable furnishings. To the average Israeli, especially those born after 1967, this new reality that was created from the wastelands of an Ottoman Turkish backwater seems to be permanent. Security breeds complacency. It is easy to believe that what is, always was, and always will be.

Israel is a society, like all prosperous societies, that is dominated by energetic and aggressive mediocrities, with little patience or understanding for those who may have unpleasant things to say. Great leaders usually have unpleasant things to say. Pleasant messages do not require greatness. They are readily accepted from the less than great. Great leaders are usually ignored in successful societies, in times of peace. After all, we are rich, we are safe, we are successful. We must be doing something right. Therefore, those who criticize must be wrong.

Gone are the soldiers and leaders of the Six Day War or the Israeli War of Independence. Those who hesitated a thousand times before beginning a war, and insisted on continuing no matter what the cost, are replaced by soldiers and leaders who start a war without understanding what war is, and retreat when they discover that war is dangerous, and a few people can get killed. Gone too are the leaders who dared to try to make peace in 1977 and in 1993. War and peace require courage. Any decision requires courage, because it is risky and unpopular, and therefore it is better to make no decision at all.

As we cannot decide if the illegal outposts should really be removed or not, a few are periodically removed and then quietly rebuilt, a surrealistic compromise. Likewise, instead of drafting - or not drafting - Yeshiva students and Arabs, we have the Tal law, which creates a twilight zone of moral abrogation, and we entertain proposals for meaningless national service. The Arabs and the ultra-orthodox are neither precisely separate from Israeli society nor are they a really integral part of Israeli society, and that obfuscation allows us to muddle through on our way to disaster. We struck an evil compromise with each such group: we will ignore the fact that you are bad citizens, disloyal to the state and society, and in turn, you will ignore the fact that we are short-changing you and treating you as inferiors. Azmi Bishara was an alarming symptom of our failure even before he was suspected of actual treason, but he is not the fault of the Arabs of Israel alone.

We have even lost the ability or the will to protest when things go wrong. The dogged persistence of a few after the Yom Kippur War, and the masses who gathered in Rabin square after the Lebanon war, are in sharp contrast to the collection of yuppies and right wing activists who gathered for the desultory happening in Rabin square to protest the current war. The indifference and cynicism of the government is in marked contrast to the contrition of those politicians who gave up their posts and took responsibility after the Yom Kippur War. Olmert just says "Hell no, I won't go," and nobody will do much about it. If Olmert is replaced by someone else, the result may be much worse, so why bother?

There were no buses and no organization to bring people to this rally, because the political organizations that might protest and organize around issues are destroyed. Political organizations exist today in Israel to apportion patronage and protect special interests. Ehud Olmert understands Israeli society. That is how he got elected, and that is why he is rather sure he can stay in office. In Israeli politics, apathy rocks.

Our security, as the Lebanon war showed, is fragile and illusory. In Lebanon, we faced a small guerrilla army. If Israel had faced a real army with our warehouses empty of supplies, our chief of staff empty of common sense, our defense minister devoid of experience and our government empty of courage and good judgement, we would be in real trouble.

Worse, if tomorrow, a different sort of administration takes office in the United States, we can lose our one real ally. That is not so unlikely as it might seem. Remember that United States support for Israel, whatever American politicians may say, is not part of the bedrock of United States policy. It began after the Six Day War, because the Six Day war demonstrated that Israel could act independently, and had to be taken into account and controlled. That support will end if the U.S. concludes, as Professors Mearsheimer and Walt claim, that Israel is a strategic liability, and that they do not need to worry about what we might do in any case. What do we do then? The image of Israel as weak and vulnerable is already a fairly salient feature of the American political scene.

Thanks to the short-sightedness of every Israeli government in the past decade or two, we no longer have an independent defense industry. This process started long ago. The Yom Kippur war had demonstrated that Israel did not have the capacity to sustain a large scale modern war on its own. We were therefore totally dependent on Mr. Nixon and his air-lift. But over the years, instead of remedying this problem, Israeli governments took the easy way out, accepting US military supplies and gradually atrophying the Israeli defense industry, because it was relatively more expensive and inconvenient, and perhaps because some procurement agents were tempted by the bribes that are inevitably offered by arms suppliers.

Our security is therefore totally dependent on U.S. supplies. These can be, and sometimes are, cut off at the whim of the United States State Department, which has never been sympathetic to Israel. Moreover, we have not succeeded in making any other powerful allies. What happens if we lose the US veto in the UN Security Council?

These are but a few examples. The problem will not be be solved by changing Olmert for a different face in a suit. Does anyone believe that Bibi Netanyahu, the architect of the defense budget cuts, will be better? Was our experience with Ehud Olmert or Shimon Peres so good? But the problem is not even finding the one person to lead.

Suppose that there was a real leader who was willing to do all the necessary things or even a few of them?

  • To institute equitable armed service;

  • to integrate Arabs into Israeli society

  • to demand that Arab citizens and ultra-orthodox Jews also share in the burdens of society

  • to provide free university education to everyone who could benefit from it

  • to renounce the addictive, dangerous and corrupting flow of foreign aid as well as the anachronistic contributions from Jewish organizations in the United States

  • to join in the rehabilitation of Jewish culture in the diaspora

  • to make bold moves for peace when needed, and bold moves for war when needed

  • to educate our children in Zionist ideals and send them to develop the Negev and the Galilee

  • to root out corruption

  • to make a government that serves its citizens, but to demand from all citizens what is needed for the survival and development of our society.

What would happen to this person? Could such a leader ever be chosen, and if so, how long could they last in the vacuous, career centered atmosphere of Israeli society, the patronage-driven world of Israeli politics and the narrow minded fanaticism of the minority special interests? What happened to Yitzhak Rabin?

We fault Ehud Barak for withdrawing from Lebanon. But we didn't do anything much about it at the time, did we? Nobody wanted to go to Lebanon, or to send their sons to Lebanon to face death in 2000. In part, that is because we didn't trust that the lives would not be wasted as in 1982, but we were too apathetic to try to change the system and get a military establishment and a government we could trust.

We fault Benjamin Netanyahu for cutting the defense budget. But nobody wanted to pay the sums required for proper IDF readiness. If we paid the money, we would not trust that it is used for the right purpose, rather than to line the pockets of officials or support boondoggle projects of special interest groups, to pay for more roads in "Judea and Samaria," more illegal outposts, or more soldiers to guard the illegal outposts. On the other hand, we are too apathetic to make sure the money will be spent properly. So we were happy not to pay, and not to worry about the problem.

"Everyone" knew that Amir Peretz could not be defense minister, but nobody would put themselves to the trouble of fighting the appointment. We made this government in our own image, and the next government, right, left or center is going to be made in the same way. In a democracy, the government resembles the society.

Everyone would like to believe we live in a normal state. Ehud Olmert vowed that he would make Israel a "fun place to live." Remember that? The Israeli government wanted to believe it so much, that they prepared a branding campaign that would advertise Israel as just another nice country. Reality intruded. The launching of the campaign was postponed by a minor technical problem. The peaceful, happy and secure country it pictured was, at that moment, being bombarded by hundreds of rockets a day, by an enemy that had vowed to wipe us out. Even then, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs still wanted to launch this absurdity, which represents the collective wishful thinking of all our citizens. For all we know, they are still going ahead with it, and it is scheduled to be launched about the time Syria starts the next war.

We do not live in a normal state, and we are not a normal people. Half of us still live abroad. For forty years we have ruled over a chunk of land that nobody in the world recognizes as ours. Our capital city is not even recognized as our own, not even by our supposedly closest ally. We face a numerous, cruel and persistent enemy, backed by the influence that only a petroleum monopoly can buy, who insist they are determined to wipe us out. In the face of all this, is it possible to simply put on our "What me, Worry?" T-shirts, and try to escape to a fantasy of normality?

Anyone in Israel who wants to find the real culprit for the failures of this summer can start by looking in the mirror. The Winograd report is an indictment of us.

Ami Isseroff


Original content is Copyright by the author 2007. Posted at ZioNation-Zionism and Israel Web Log, http://www.zionism-israel.com/log/archives/00000381.html where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Disributed by ZNN list. Subscribe by sending a message to ZNN-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by e-mail with this notice, cite this article and link to it. Other uses by permission only.

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