Israel Agonistes

Hear these words by Martin Buber:

“You cannot find redemption until you see the flaws in your own soul, and try to efface them. Nor can a people be redeemed until it sees the flaws in its soul and tries to efface them. But whether it be an individual or a people, whoever shuts out the realization of his flaws is shutting out redemption. We can be redeemed only to the extent to which we see ourselves.”

For those who love and cherish Israel as a Jewish homeland, there is cause for grave concern.  The recent acts of violence against a Palestinian family on the West Bank and participants at a gay pride event in Jerusalem, the chronic violence perpetrated by “price tag” terrorists,  the intolerance  of the ultra Orthodox community and the political right and the reticence of the American Jewish community to criticize Israel, compel us to understand the Israeli political landscape as clearly as possible.

Some commentators have used military metaphors to explain the recent violence, suggesting Israel is at war with or under attack by Jewish extremists. We prefer another one that underscores the presence of a serious illness,  a cancer that endangers Israel more than any extremist living in Gaza, Lebanon or Iran.  An initial warning bell sounded some 20 years ago with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, defining Israel’s Gandhi moment.  As a Hindu nationalist murdered India’s founder for allowing the creation of Pakistan, a Jewish terrorist murdered Rabin because it was feared he would pursue peace and endorse the emergence of a Palestinian state.

And the warning continues to sound with the many acts of terrorism perpetrated by the “price tag” movement during the last several years. While it is important to condemn their violence, we must also account for the political climate that breeds extremism. Israel responds swiftly when Palestinians commit atrocities, yet sputters when the terrorists are Jewish, thereby providing a tacit green light for the violence to continue. The ruling right-wing coalition remains trapped in a fundamental contradiction.   It deplores the violence like everyone else but adheres to the underlying belief that incites Jewish terrorism; namely, all West Bank settlements are legitimate and must be protected. This helps explain why extremists have not been vigorously prosecuted. Yet it begs a larger question: how does governmental approval of West Bank settlements, now housing over 350,000 Israelis, affect the viability of a two state solution?

However, the disease corroding Israel’s political culture does not merely stem from the behavior of a radical fringe or intolerance towards gays, women, Israeli Arabs and those on the political left. It derives from the complacency of Israeli citizens surrounded by a wall and shielded by an Iron Dome.  These defenses offer an illusion of safety that removes all sense of urgency to make peace with Palestinian partners and engenders acceptance of the status quo as a good enough solution; a status quo that guarantees future bloodshed and loss of life on both sides.

Currently, no one has the requisite national support to negotiate with the Palestinians. In fact, any statement in favor of the peace process evokes skepticism, even suspicion. The governing coalition assures everyone they are ready to negotiate, but no viable partner exists on the other side. While many Israelis appear to accept this view, the inconvenient reality is that Netanyahu does not want to pursue peace, he wants the other side to capitulate. It is why he vehemently opposes the Iran nuclear deal. He believes anything short of wholesale surrender by the other side threatens Israel. Sadly, Bibi’s view that Israel should get everything it wants, while the other side gets little or nothing in return, represents the dire existential threat he attributes to Israel’s adversaries. His intransigence expresses the view of someone wary of serious dialogue and dooms any realistic prospect for peace.

Bibi’s refusal to negotiate and the absence of serious challengers to his position, means that a new generation will come of age in Israel and Palestine knowing only an uneasy truce shattered by periodic conflict. Parents and grandparents will lose sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters because no one has the courage to secure a lasting peace. We will have the same debate a year from now, five years from now, ten years from now, even fifty years from now, having moved no closer to a durable solution. It will be a national and regional calamity for Israel and its Palestinian neighbors and an international nightmare that will be dreadful to witness.  And the inability to name what endangers Israel’s political culture, defining a tragic flaw in the collective soul of the Jewish people who waited two millennia to reestablish their homeland, will prevent us from experiencing redemption, a vibrant, democratic Jewish state that enjoys peaceful and secure borders recognized and accepted by everyone.

 

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

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