Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Israel: Triumph of Resilience

By Daniel Mandel

Israel, having attained its 65th anniversary, resists easy definition.  Sixty-five years ago, on May 14, 1948, David Ben Gurion, its first prime minister, declared independence, to which American and Soviet recognition was forthcoming the next day, following the expiration of British rule.

Any reckoning on Israel, its successes and failures, is also inescapably interwoven with the verdict one gives on the animating philosophy of the state, Zionism, which itself will celebrate later this year its 116th anniversary.

Zionism foresaw a collectivity of Jewish labor redeeming a patrimony lost in antiquity.  It envisioned a national solution to that age-old disease, anti-Semitism, conscious of the fact that time was running out for Jews in Europe.  Theodor Herzl, political Zionism's founder, even thought it might prove the antidote to anti-Semitism, though he doubted the possibility of reviving ancient Hebrew as a spoken language.  He once asked rhetorically, "Who amongst us knows enough to purchase a railway ticket in that language?"

Herzl was wrong on both counts.  The national language was revived, a feat that still eludes other peoples seeking to emulate Israel's success, but anti-Semitism, far from having been extinguished, is very much alive.  Even when put to bed, it is a light sleeper.

The widespread revilement of the Jews in pre-state times was replicated when the U.N. General Assembly resolved in November 1975 that Zionism, uniquely among national movements around the globe, was a form of racism.  So Israel became the focus of renewed anti-Semitism in the form of anti-Zionism, a distinction without a difference insofar as the target remains Jews, with discrimination now applied to sovereign identity rather than individual rights.

Israel solved anti-Semitism in the sense that it permitted Jews to cease being timorous petitioners to foreign governments and permitted those in need or desire of joining the national enterprise to do so.  In fact, nothing better evokes today, if only fleetingly, the lost pioneering ethos of Israel than latter-day efforts to rescue Jews in distress.  This is but a continuation of the process that began in Europe in the nineteenth century and embraced the Arab Middle East in the 1940s and 1950s, when Arab nationalism and Muslim supremacism combined to depopulate virtually each and every established Jewish community in Arab lands.  Unlike their European counterparts in the 1930s, however, these Jews did have somewhere to go.  In the span of Jewish history since the destruction of the Second Jewish Commonwealth nearly two millennia ago, that is likely to remain Israel's biggest achievement and calling-card.

Jewish labor and nation-building have had a much more checkered history.  The utopian idealism of the kibbutzim is a thing of the past, although the kibbutz is still the only voluntary socialist system to have been devised and implemented.  The incorporation in 1967 of the West Bank and Gaza into Israeli control during the Arab-inspired Six-Day War saw the emergence of cheap "Arab labor" which would have been deplored by Israel's founding fathers, although the ongoing hostilities into this century have somewhat reversed that trend.

The Oslo peace process, conceived as a project of political normalization, long ago foundered in bloodshed.  That failure was inherent in Israel's attempt to produce a neighboring Palestinian state with Yasser Arafat and his successors, who remain dedicated to a supplanting Palestinian state.  The Palestinian Authority (PA) that emerged from Oslo remains a moral and political Enron.  Palestinian society is radicalized and morally defunct, split between the Hamas fiefdom of Gaza and Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah redoubt in the West Bank.

Israel has provided Jews a home and turned that home into a innovative powerhouse, but it has a more modest record of success in the millenarian vision of an "in-gathering of the exiles."  The in-gathering was always going to be a combination of voluntary and involuntary immigration, but it is only the heroic age of Zionism that can boast a solid core of idealists.  In each succeeding epoch, the persecuted, the endangered, and the expelled have predominated.  Few nations are primarily composed of people (or descendants of people) who either involuntarily left their native homes or who would have gone elsewhere given the chance.  Yet there is no mystery about this.  It is a special breed of person who deliberately courts danger, disease, climatic extremes, economic uncertainty, material scarcity, and neighboring hostility in preference to a settled life in a relatively tranquil society.  Zionism has been only a peripheral magnet for free and enfranchised Western Jews in countries like the United States, Britain, France, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, or Australia who, if they move at all, are as likely to move between each other as to Israel.

One remarkable success, however, is the realization of an early Zionist idea: to produce a new, sovereign Jew at home in his own country.  Diaspora Jews often notice that Israelis do not in the main share what Jean-Paul Sartre would have called the "over-determined" character of the Jews, a result of centuries of Jewish dependence on Gentile goodwill.  The Israeli is refreshingly free of untoward concern for the opinion of others or the belief that in whatever he may do, he is somehow representative of all Jews and is being judged accordingly.  He has been normalized to the extent that he feels he belongs somewhere without qualification and that in this way he is like most other members of the human family.  If he meets someone who dislikes him, it is not his problem, as it still remains for even the freest and most established Western Jew.  He needs no communal security apparatus, anti-defamation league, hate monitors, or communal advocates.  He has all of these in the forms of the Israel Defense Forces, the Mossad, and an elected, sovereign government.  He can leave the job, if not always confidently, to the professionals.

For all this, Jewish sovereignty has not come cheaply; the loss of 23,085 soldiers -- about the equivalent to America losing 900,000 servicemen -- was commemorated at this year's Remembrance Day in Israel.  The Arab-Israeli conflict has subjected generations of Israelis to years of military service and reserve duty, and the civilian front has often been far from tranquil.  Indeed, with the advent of Oslo, Palestinian terrorists made killing and maiming ordinary Jewish civilians in the largest possible numbers a special priority.  For most of the Muslim world, a theological calamity occurred with Jewish statehood.  Muslim supremacists work overtime to ensure that the Jew, largely a figure of contemptuous docility in Arab collective memory, can be again relegated to Islamic subject status on "liberated" Islamic land.

Perhaps, with so much conflict, internal and external, Israel's great achievement is the resilience of its democratic life.  By temperament, Israelis are the most democratic of peoples.  They have a low threshold of tolerance for any pretense of social superiority.  Informality is the norm.  Some people think this goes a little far.  As any visitor knows, graceful manners are in short supply.  The army is the most respected national institution for obvious reasons, yet it has almost no chivalric tradition.  There is an economy of military and civilian honors, which makes military ceremony on national occasions all the more haunting for its accessibility and austerity.

Vigorous debate and parliamentary procedures are alive and well, but proportional representation in the Knesset has balkanized politics, sometimes defying the requirements of stability and holding majorities hostage to capricious minorities.  As a result, Knesset members hold office courtesy of party lists, not electors' votes, and are beholden to party whips, not to constituencies.  This has engendered at once careerism, lack of accountability, and public cynicism.  Worsening matters is Israeli bureaucracy, which, in its untroubled inefficiency, is typically Mediterranean.  Press freedom somewhat mitigates the picture, since Israeli journalists are not inclined to self-censorship.  Foreign correspondents congregate in the country, free to report without fear or favor, and often show little but disfavor.  Corruption scandals are far from rare, though the country's president, Shimon Peres, once offered a consoling thought: "Better a democracy with scandals than an authoritarian system without scandals."

The Israeli Arabs -- today a minority of approximately 24% -- spent Israel's first years under military rule before participating normally in Israel life.  Trade union membership followed in 1960.  Political representation has always been a feature of Israeli Arab life, with Arab judges presiding over courts and Arab Knesset members sitting in governing coalitions; one, Raleb Majadele, was recently a minister in the government of Ehud Olmert (though he refuses to sing the national anthem, Hatikvah).  Arabs represent Israel abroad in the diplomatic service; the staunchly loyal Druze population has enjoyed a harmonious relationship to the state, its youth even serving in elite units of the armed forces.  Knowing the limits of the human condition, Israel has not imposed army service on its Arabs (though volunteers are taken), just as the U.S. did not deploy Japanese-Americans in the Pacific theater of operations during the Second World War.  One result of this, however, has been that, in a country in which national service is often a prerequisite for good employment and economic opportunities, Arabs have lagged behind.



Calling all true liberals

The last couple weeks’ revelations of fresh and compelling examples of the kind of duplicity and petty tyranny we conservatives have been screaming about for five years have presented us with what military folks call a “seam.” A “seam” is the border where two different units meet, and it is generally the kind of weak point you want to drive your forces into in order to split your opponent’s front and rout him. These latest scandals have revealed a seam between two elements of the liberal coalition, the liberals who actually believe some of what they say and the cynical leftists who merely crave power.

Let’s split that seam.

But to do so, conservatives must ignore the voices of the fussy and the fainthearted and ruthlessly exploit it. We can and should – and must – politicize the hell out of these shameful imbroglios.

There’s nothing wrong with politicizing politics. In fact, it’s kind of difficult to imagine why politics shouldn’t be politicized – politics is, after all, by definition political. In fact, it’s only this week, after it became inconvenient, that the liberal establishment changed its collective mind and determined that politicization was once again a bad thing. It was a good thing when liberals were slobbering at the chance to use the massacre of innocents by a lunatic to deprive law-abiding citizens of their sacred fundamental right to keep and bear effective arms. Back then, politicizing misfortune was not only A-OK but a moral imperative.  This week, not so much.

Of course, no discussion of liberal hypocrisy could begin without a reference to Teddy Kennedy, who did his part in the War on Women by personally running up the casualty rate. Bill Clinton was another friend of women, at least until they complained about him and were insulated by his liberal guardians.

Liberal champions of minorities didn’t hesitate to make an icon of Robert Byrd, who was either a Grand Imperial Cyclops or an Exalted Kleagle in the Democrat-founded KKK. And the liberal champions of the innocent and the helpless won’t help you if you are too innocent or helpless – if you are, say, a fetus you are out of luck.

The current administration’s love of civil rights and liberties came to an end about the time the President removed his hand from the Bible in January 2009. Free speech was an awesome concept when liberals were using it against their opponents. But once liberals took power, free speech became an appalling obstacle to true progress. Freedom of religion stopped being important when some religious people abused that right by opposing liberal initiatives on religious grounds. And as for the Second Amendment, well, don’t let the text fool you into thinking it gives you any rights.

If it was to the Administration’s short term political advantage to quarter soldiers in private houses without the consent of the owner they would be showing the Third Amendment the door.

We now have an Administration that lied about what happened in Benghazi, and is now lying about its lies. We have a cabinet secretary shaking down healthcare companies for “donations” to a propaganda fund for Obamacare. We have the government grabbing up reporters’ cellphone records, and we have the IRS randomly selecting for persecution people and entities who just happen to oppose the regime’s goals.

For some liberals, this is just too much to swallow, and we should focus on splitting them out of the liberal coalition. This is the seam.

We spend so much time seeing and reading the ravings of the zombie liberals of the media and the blogs that we forget there is another group of liberals who are liberal because – for whatever misguided reason – they think liberalism is the right way to be. In other words, there are liberals who actually believe what liberalism used to purport to support – including civil rights, civil liberties and the rights of traditionally disadvantaged people.

It is interesting that from those ranks come some of the most dedicated and effective conservative activists – people who became conservative not because they changed their views but because they didn’t. Liberalism left them. They believe in individual rights and in equality before the law. They hate prejudice and bigotry in all their ugly forms. They embrace every individual’s value, and want to see every individual have a chance to live and to succeed.

They are people like Andrew Breitbart. Andrew was not born a conservative. He wasn’t raised a right-winger. He started out a liberal, but he actually took seriously what liberals said. His great sin – and why he was and is so hated by liberals – is that he refused to stop believing in those values when those values stopped being useful. His outrage was not that liberals were liberal; it was that establishment liberals were liars, that they struck poses as defenders of what was true and good and then abandoned them without a second thought if another pose better served their purpose.

This is the seam, the liberals who have a sense of right and wrong, who truly believe in the values the liberal establishment merely pays lip service too. You can see them tentatively raising their heads in response to the avalanche of scandals, noting that maybe the Administration could be a bit more forthcoming on Benghazi, that perhaps siccing government enforcers on political opponents is a bad thing to do.

They sense the truth, and they need time to get their head around it. Liberalism has left them too.

This is why it is no time to go all wobbly. This is why it is no time to ease up on the accelerator. The unvarnished truth, presented clearly, forthrightly and undeniably, will be a wedge that drives them out of the liberal coalition.

Now that the mainstream media has itself felt the clammy grasp of government oppression, for the first time since the inauguration the White House has reason to fear the headlines in the morning papers. The press senses blood in the water, and some elements of it seem to be stirring out of their lethargy and spinning up into a well-deserved feeding frenzy.



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