Today marks Israeli Independence day, the most important new Jewish holiday since Hanukka
was created to celebrate the victory of the Maccabees. We live in a reality that was only a mystical fairy tale dream to a hundred past generations of Jews. But dreams and reality are two different things. Nobody ever really lives happily ever after.
As usual on Independence day, the most respected authorities assure us that the sky is definitely falling this time. It has been about to fall on every Independence day that I remember, and this year is no exception (see here here
for example ) Israel is isolated, surrounded by enemies, threatened by overpowering forces bent on its destruction, our leaders are corrupt and incompetent. Israel is pursuing suicidal policies, which depending on whom you read, are either reckless or cowardly. There will soon be more Arabs in Israel than Jews. We will never get more than
2 million 3 million 4 million 5 million
6 million Jews to live here, for sure.
The novice reads such stuff and is seized by dread. Those who remember the past will say, "So what's new?" There are threats, we prepare for the threat, we do our homework. The threats become history, and the revisionist historians and Monday morning quarterbacks "prove" after the fact that the threat was not so bad and must have been exaggerated by "Zionist propaganda."
Mr. Ahmadinejad, like Mr. Gamal Nasser before him, and like the Palestinian Arab Nazi Grand Mufti Hajj Amin al Husayni before them, must be a top agent of the International Zionist conspiracy. For like Mr. Nasser and Mr. Hussayni, Mr. Ahmadinejad assures the world constantly that our demise is imminent, and that he is preparing the means to destroy us. This is top grade "Zionist propaganda." If the Iranian regime is also bested, the historians will no doubt have an explanation for that too.
There is really an ominous threat to Israel, but it is not any of the threats described by the various pundits. The Jew
s are a peculiar people with an anti-patriotic culture, who do not yet really understand how to deal with an Independence Day or with independence, or what independence is. Therein lies the real threat.
A look at history may help explain how this came about. In their fight for independence against the Seleucid Greeks, the Maccabees had an ally - the strongest power in the world. The Romans had guaranteed their friendship for the Jewish people and sealed the unbreakable bond by declaring Judah Maccabee to be a friend of the Roman Senate and people.
Of course, the alliance soon turned into a protectorate, and then into an occupation. The Romans defeated us almost 2,000 years ago. They murdered or exiled the patriots.
The Pharisee collaborators and their counterparts in Babylonian exile were the survivors, if not the victors. They rewrote Jewish history so that the patriots were made out to be "Sicarii" zealots and "Hellenizers." They rewrote Judaism and turned it into a religion encapsulating a national culture, based on a land, the land of Israel, and on a city, Jerusalem. The Pharisees also decreed that the Jews must not try to inhabit the land that is central to their religion and culture, until the end of days when the Messiah comes. This ruling no doubt pleased their Roman masters. Jewish nationalism became entirely theoretical, and Jewish culture was geared toward biding time until the Messiah would come. That was the flip side of "Messianism." The Pharisees rolled up all this dubious wisdom into the Talmud
, which became a blueprint for how not to be a nation, and how to avoid national life of any kind, beyond what is expressed in ritual vows to return to Jerusalem "one day." Saying "Next year in Jerusalem" became the sum total of Jewish national life. It was not generally understood as a vow, but as a wish, that could be fulfilled only when the Messiah came.
The experience of the Diaspora
, particularly since the Europeans re-discovered nationalism, reinforced these norms. Flags, roots patriotism, governments, armies - all these were for someone else, not for Jews. Wars did not concern Jews directly, except that they would be beaten and plundered by whoever won. There was no national decision making mechanism, as there were no national decisions to be made. When the Jews began to mingle in modern society, even when they tried to assimilate and become non-Jews, they carried the Talmudic Diaspora Jewish culture with them.
The early Zionist movement was stamped with the same cultural outlook, despite their rebellion against the Talmud and the entire reactionary apparatus of rabbinical Judaism. The Zionists of Chovevei Tziyon
had a notion of settling the land, but no firm concept of a Jewish state or what it should look like. The frock coated delegates to the first Zionist congresses set down the idea of the Jewish "state." In reality however, the "state" was envisioned as a protectorate begged and cajoled from the great powers. The Sultan of Turkey and the anti-Semitic Tsarist Minister von Plehve, as well as Kaiser Wilhelm, were sought out as the unlikely patrons of this protectorate, before the Zionists finally settled on the British as patrons of the Jews.
Disillusionment was not long in coming. The British betrayed the trust. The protectorate turned into an occupation, and the tiny Jewish community of the Palestine Mandate, had to set about the impossible task of defeating the mighty British empire, and the hateful task of fighting against the British who had once been our friends and protectors. Those who led the struggle, David Ben Gurion
in particular, never forgot the lesson of the British betrayal, and once it was won, they zealously guarded Israeli independence. For a small nation, this is never easy, as national interests and desires always must be balanced against the pressures of large states.
But not every Jew understood yet, or understands now, what it means to be independent, and some of the lessons seem to have been forgotten. We are still uncomfortable with Independence Day ceremonies and with armies and medals and with a government that is not to be treated as the enemy. We are also a Mediterranean people, not good at being orderly. The first Israeli Independence Day celebration was a fiasco. The army that had defeated all those Arab states in 1948 was itself defeated by a mob of enthusiastic Tel-Avivians who ran rampant over the planned parade route.
Most of the Jews abroad have never understood the meaning of independence. They looked on the entire Zionist enterprise as the work of embarrassing eccentrics and madmen. Until 1967, American Jews, like the United States government, viewed Israel as a kind of harmless asylum for unfortunate refugees, a poor relation who should be thrown a crumb once in a while to satisfy the proprieties of charitable behavior. It is not surprising that too many Jews don't understand why Israel is "militaristic" and why we may embarrass them occasionally by defending ourselves or insisting on our rights.
Likewise there are Zionist enthusiasts, generally in the Diaspora, who go to the opposite extreme. Having achieved independence at long last, it went to their heads. Like the unfortunate who took LSD and thought he could fly out the window in his superman cape, they urge Israel to attack this and attack that and annex here and annex there. "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!" The dustbin of Middle East history is full of leaders who thought that success was a matter of bravado and that the United States or another power is a "paper tiger." With freedom comes responsibility. Our successes were always conditioned on careful preparation, on doing no more than was necessary to defend ourselves against threats, on not overly exciting the ire of the great powers, and on knowing when to beat a strategic retreat.
We are still wrestling with the notion of independence, and that is the source of the real threat to Israel. It is a threat more formidable than the nuclear weapons or ICBMs of the Iranian Mullahs. It is a threat that might really make the skies fall at last.
As we have not really grasped the workings of independence, Israeli governments were tempted, and are increasingly tempted, to rely on others to solve our problems, to supply our weapons and perhaps to fight our battles. It is the easy way. It is cheaper. It makes "sense" to the bean counters. It is the "Jewish way," isn't it?
As a result, our partnership with the United States is turning into a kind of protectorate or client-state relation. We find ourselves in the unseemly position of a child who his begging big brother to defend him from Iranian bullies, only to discover that "big brother" is not really a relation, and may not be willing to do what we believe is necessary. At the same time, we are also in the position of a small child whose parent wants to "educate" them by locking them away without supper. "We are doing this because we love you," explains the parent, "it is for your own good. It is 'tough love.'"
The first visibly rotten fruit of this relationship was the reception that Mr. Netanyahu got in the United States. Many of us may not like the current government, but it is our government, it represent us, and in humiliating Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Obama humiliated every one of us. Interior Minister Eli Yishai should not have embarrassed Vice President Biden. But Yishai didn't invite Biden to dinner and then stand him up. He didn't spit on the American flag. He announced some construction at the wrong time.
The Americans also talk freely of changing our government. Our government is our own, and if we made a mistake in choosing it, we have to live with our mistake, and we have to correct it. We don't need or want the "help" of the United States or of the J Street lobby or for that matter, of the ZOA.
But independence is achieved by being independent, not by provocative gestures and petulant displays. The rebellious child embarrasses the parents in front of guests. That is the sort of thing that Interior Minister Eli Yishai did when he announced the 1600 housing units in Ramat Shlomo. It was a pointless gesture that invited a fight we cannot win. Independence for nations, as for people, implies learning to behave as adults, to weigh consequences and to observe proprieties. Relationships are usually what their participants define them to be, by their own behavior. Faced with a petulant gesture, Mr. Obama decided to punish the disobedient child.
Our problem is not just the deterioration in the warmth of the relationship with the United States. Our problem is that what was once a businesslike partnership is deteriorating into an infantile dependency, in which our leaders are increasingly displaying the symptoms of learned helplessness, because the other partner is anxious to elicit that behavior.
Whatever the outcome of the current crises with Iran, and whatever the intentions of Mr. Obama and his government, we cannot afford to give up our independence to any state. Independence Day without independence would be pointless, no matter how much effort is invested in grandiose ceremonies. This is the really urgent threat that requires our attention. Ami Isseroff
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Replies: 3 Comments
"The attitudes displayed by Ben Gurion and Menahem Begin would be insipirational"
You mean the withdrawal from Sinai as a result of pressure by an American president? Both Ben Gurion and Begin did that.
Micha, Wednesday, April 21st
Ami on your writings, which I very much respect and follow, you tend to display a quite galutic attitude.
You are constantly concerned/affraid about what the non-Jews are going to think, write or do.
You need to relax, Ami.
The attitudes displayed by Ben Gurion and Menahem Begin would be insipirational and a sort of therapy for your rhetorics .... if you know what I mean.
packapaka, Wednesday, April 21st
Did anyone notice the omenous message by Hillary when congratutaling Israel on her 62th? Secure borders has been replaced by "RECOGNISED" borders. There appears very little reason for Israel to be called an ALLY to America - allies don't hold daggers behind them while kissing you. Israel should disassociate while there is Osama - oops, I mean Obama in the oval office. An untrusting ally is far worse than isolation.
IamJoseph, Wednesday, April 21st
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