It may have been Jesus who cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But today it would not be surprising to hear it from Jews in Israel.
This is a country that was once enthusiastically supported by the West, at least grudgingly admired by many others, and which occupied the high ground not just militarily but also morally against its enemies. Today, it is not unusual to hear it described as an international pariah not just by those who seek its destruction but also by many who once held it high esteem. As virtually all recent surveys have shown, in the court of world opinion, Israel has practically become a criminal.
In my opinion, the problem began with a populace that lost its pioneering and purposeful spirit, much the same as has happened over the years in America. Being an Israeli or an American once meant you stood for a national determination to persevere against great challenges, whether posed by nature or the antipathy of others; it stood for a belief in democracy and a willingness to endure sacrifice and if necessary danger to defend itself; it stood for your belief in the freedom of self-determination balanced by respect for the rights of others. In Israel, as well as America, much if not all of these values have been lost or diluted by extremist political and religious factions, concerned only with their own radical demands without regard for the common good.
In Israel, this has led to a dangerous belligerence that has morphed from a previously healthy commitment to principles based on a fierce determination to survive but nonetheless promote humanistic values consistent with Judaic tradition into something far less admirable, far more contentious, and usually self-defeating. Today, it has become an unhealthy attitude that anything Israel does to protect itself is warranted by the long history of anti-Semitism which admittedly continues to be promoted, among other ways, by the demented denial of the Holocaust by Muslim fundamentalists and the more lethal launching of rockets into Israeli territory. These attacks with intent to kill, while clearly unacceptable and certainly requiring an armed response, actually resulted in the unleashing of military force that only served to allow Israel’s enemies to portray it as a murderer of innocents in an almost hysterical zeal to respond to provocation. The growing incompetence of Israel’s military planning and execution (witness the public relations fiascos of their large-scale attacks on Lebanon and more recently their bumbled boarding of the vessel Mavi Marmara) has become disastrously coupled with the government’s increasing arrogance in failing to pave the way for their actions by making its case before the world. The irony is that in every instance, this can be done in no uncertain and fully justifiable terms, instead of their apparent position that any defense of Israel is warranted a priori requiring no explanation. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent willingness, in fact eagerness, to become a tool of Republican partisanship against President Obama by undercutting his policies in a mindless address to an equally mindless Congress is the latest example of an Israeli foreign policy driven by hubris and lacking the slightest sense of the importance of world opinion.
Last year, at the invitation of Uriel Reichman, the greatly and rightfully admired founder and head of the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), an Israeli university, I made a presentation in Israel that argued the need for them to promulgate a unequivocally consistent statement of its policies according to the simple premise that if Israel will say clearly what it will do, and will then do exactly what it says, it can yet regain its lost standing in the world, which will do as much or more for its security than their ad hoc military actions which now result in a backlash of anti-Israeli propaganda and dangerously growing hatred. At the time, I did not suggest such a policy, but at the risk of incurring the enmity of Professor Reichman and his colleagues (not to mention my many relatives in Israel) and the likelihood of being overly simplistic (which in this case might indeed be a benefit), I suggest the following, which I believe is rational and reasonable and therefore difficult to deny, and in fact, since there is little really new in it, probably coincides with much of what most people in Israel actually believe is the right course:
- Any entity — state, NGO or otherwise — that does not recognize Israel’s legal legitimacy as a nation and/or whose policy is that Israel should cease to exist by military or other means, is an enemy of Israel and will be treated as such.
- Israel considers its territory as established by its boundaries before the Six-Day War in 1967 in addition to the territories of the Golan Heights, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip that it has since annexed and/or currently controls. While the Gaza Strip has been governed by Palestinians since Israel’s withdrawal, Israel nonetheless considers it part of its territory.
- Territory annexed or controlled by Israel since 1967 is subject to negotiation but such negotiations must result in (1) the recognition of Israel’s legal rights to statehood and renunciation of any policy calling for an end to the state of Israel, and (2) guarantees against first-strike military attacks on Israel by or from the state to which land will be ceded, whether Syria or a new Palestinian state.
- Israel supports the creation of a new Palestinian state to include all of the Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank, this and other issues subject to negotiation with a de facto government of Palestine, which for purposes of negotiation must be unified between Hamas and Fatah.
- Until such time as new agreements consistent with the above have been reached, Israel considers any incursion on its current territory, military or otherwise, as a threat to the security of Israel and will be responded to accordingly.
- Israel stands ready to negotiate peace agreements with any of its neighbor states as it has done with Egypt and Jordan. In any event, Israel will meet in good faith and/or take action to defend itself according to the precepts above.
If Israel makes such a policy repeatedly clear to the world community and unwaveringly uses it to guide its decisions and actions, internally to deal with extremists within its own counsels as well as those outside its borders, then a coherent, effective and globally acceptable response, including military action, is possible for virtually any threat to the nation’s security, from rabble rousing at the Syrian boarder, rockets from the Gaza Strip or Lebanon, up to and including the potential or actual development of nuclear weapons by Iran.
It will require unselfish leadership concerned with the welfare of the country instead of its own political power. Admittedly, there is little enough of that in America. But unlike America, Israel’s survival is at stake. It may not be its own worst enemy but it is unfortunately giving aid and comfort to all of them.