Israel’s Bad Career Move
Israel’s national halo has been looking tarnished enough lately, but the ill-advised commando raid on those Gaza relief ships this past weekend finally flipped that golden headgear into the deep blue sea. Granted, the relief activists probably provoked the outburst of Israeli gunfire that killed at least ten of their comrades. A soldier — even an Israeli soldier — isn’t stoically obligated to tolerate violence aimed at his person.
But why were those Israeli commandos raiding a relief flotilla in the first place? Why couldn’t they have notified the ships in advance that they were climbing aboard to check for smuggled weapons (or whatever else they were looking for)? Why risk an international flareup with an illegal show of military force in international waters?
I’m afraid it boils down to Israel’s righteous brand of exceptionalism, a trait that has won it more enemies than friends over the years. (More about this national quirk below.) Israel insists on blockading that troublesome, radicalized Gaza Strip, and it won’t brook any violations of its policy — even if the wretched residents of Gaza literally starve as a result of that policy. Bad career move, Israel.
This is no way for a civilized and ostensibly humane nation to act — even a nation that has suffered more than its share of savage and senseless terrorist assaults, even if those assaults have been as unrelenting as they are savage and senseless. Israel holds the reins in its corner of the world. It should know better.
It’s no accident that Israel and the United States have been the coziest of allies, aside from the reputed influence of the American Jewish lobby. They’re kindred spirits among nations — a matching pair separated only by distance and dimensions (Israel happens to be the approximate size of New Jersey).
Both Israel and the U.S. won their nationhood with a potent combination of passionate idealism, a commitment to democracy and a gritty will to prevail. Both nations embrace middle-class virtues and enjoy the fruits of affluence. Both conduct their affairs with a righteous zeal that borders on arrogance. And, as a result, both have demonstrated a rare talent for irritating their friends while infuriating their enemies.
This righteous zeal — this knack for irritating and infuriating — springs from both nations’ accursed sense of exceptionalism. Simply stated, exceptionalism means “The rules don’t apply to us because we’re different from (and better than) other nations.”
The U.S. sees itself as the last best hope of mankind, the fount of liberty and democracy, and the greatest nation in history (if you listen to Sean Hannity). Israel believes itself to be the divinely appointed heir to the historical Jewish homeland, a slim slice of stony turf on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean. The more Orthodox Israeli citizens believe that God literally chose the Jews over all other nations — their scriptures tell them so, after all. (Americans essentially believe the same thing about themselves, without scriptural support.) Nobody messes with the U.S., and nobody messes with Israel.
How do you reconcile the legitimate and hard-won concept of a Jewish homeland with the exclusionary practices of that homeland? How do you grant Palestinian Arabs a place in that homeland without diminishing the essential Jewish nature of Israel? No other nation on earth has confronted such deep and divisive dilemmas, because no other nation has been resurrected on its former site after an absence of 2000 years.
Both factions in this eternal blood feud need to get a grip on reality — fast. The Palestinians must recognize that Israel’s existence has been a fact of life for over sixty years now; there’s no going back. The Israelis aren’t going to strike their tent and move to Norway or Nebraska. They belong in the land of their ancestors after having searched desperately for safe havens throughout the last two millennia. At this point in their history, Jews have earned the right to feel secure in their own homeland.
Israel needs to recognize that the Palestinians aren’t going to disappear, either — and that they’re entitled to live and prosper in the land of their ancestors. The Jewish population of Israel might be better educated and more technologically advanced than the Arab population, but that’s no excuse for treating the Arabs like a lesser species.
Can these two ancient peoples just kiss and make up? Apparently not. The current Palestinian revolt began after Israel decided to grant autonomy to predominantly Arab parcels of Israeli territory. And now that Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, Israel has to contend with a radical Islamist foe on land that it voluntarily ceded to the Palestinians.
If The New Moderate had to point a finger at the group that bears primary responsibility for the ongoing miseries in the Holy Land, we’d have to aim that finger at the Palestinians — and especially the crazed radical Islamists among them. But Israel shouldn’t be let off the hook, either — especially after the arrogant raid on ships carrying humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza. Losing Turkey as an ally is the least of Israel’s worries at this point; the feisty Jewish state has alienated the Obama administration and most of the Western world as well.
How will the latest crisis play out? How will the ongoing conflict between Jews and Palestinians resolve itself in the end? I’d like to conclude that only God knows, but I have my doubts.