Friday, October 16, 2009


[Once again, I find myself in deep agreement with Roger Cohen. As the 21st Century squeezes all of us more and more together, clinging to the formulas of past pains no longer serve us well. The modern challenge is that, as everything becomes global, long standing prejudices and presumptions of specialness and separateness must yield to here-and-now questions of justice and equity, and of living together in peace. ]

via NY Times

An Ordinary Israel

NEW YORK — Is Israel just a nation among nations? On one level, it is indeed an ordinary place. People curse the traffic, follow their stocks, Blackberry, go to the beach and pay their mortgages. Stroll around in the prosperous North Tel Aviv suburbs and you find yourself California dreaming.

On another, it’s not. More than 60 years after the creation of the modern state, Israel has no established borders, no constitution, no peace. Born from exceptional horror, the Holocaust, it has found normality elusive.

The anxiety of the diaspora Jews has ceded not to tranquility but to another anxiety. The escape from walls has birthed new walls. The annihilation psychosis has not disappeared but taken new form.

For all Israel’s successes — it is the most open, creative and dynamic society in the region — this is a gnawing failure. Can anything be done about it?

Perhaps a good place to start that inquiry is by noting that Israel does not see itself as normal. Rather it lives in a perpetual state of exceptionalism.

I understand this: Israel is a small country whose neighbors are enemies or cold bystanders. But I worry when Israel makes a fetish of its exceptional status. It needs to deal with the world as it is, however discomfiting, not the world of yesterday.

The Holocaust represented a quintessence of evil. But it happened 65 years ago. Its perpetrators are dead or dying. A Holocaust prism may be distorting. History illuminates — and blinds.

These reflections stirred on reviewing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the U.N. last month. The first 30 paragraphs were devoted to an inflammatory conflation of Nazi Germany (the word “Nazi” appears five times), modern Iran, Al Qaeda (a Sunni ideology foreign to Shiite Iran) and global terrorism, with lonely and exceptional Israel standing up against them all.

Here’s Netanyahu’s summary of the struggle of our age: “It pits civilization against barbarism, the 21st century against the 9th century, those who sanctify life against those who glorify death.”

That’s facile, resonant — and unhelpful. Sure, it’s an outlook that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s unacceptable Holocaust denial and threats comfort. (Several Iranian leaders have also spoken of accepting any deal on Israel that the Palestinians agree to.)

There’s another way of looking at the ongoing struggle in the Middle East — less dramatic and more accurate.

That is to see it as a fight for a different balance of power — and possibly greater stability — between a nuclear-armed Israel (an estimated 80 to 200 never-acknowledged weapons), a proud but uneasy Iran and an increasingly sophisticated and aware (if repressed) Arab world.

Some of Israel’s enemies contest its very existence, however powerless they are to end it. But the death-cult terrorists-versus-reasonable-Israelis paradigm falls short. There are various civilizations in the Middle East, whose attitudes toward religion and modernism vary, but who all quest for some accommodation between them.

One casualty of this view, of course, is Israeli exceptionalism. The Jewish state becomes more like any other nation fighting for influence and treasure. I think President Obama, himself talking down American exceptionalism, is trying to nudge Israel toward a more prosaic, realistic self-image.

Hence the U.S. abstention last month at a U.N. nuclear assembly vote calling on all states in the Middle East to “accede to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear weapons” (N.P.T.) and create a nuclear-weapon-free Middle East — an idea Obama administration officials have supported in line with a nuclear disarmament agenda.

A shift is perceptible in the decades-old tacit American endorsement of Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal. This is logical. To deal effectively with the nuclear program of Iran, an N.P.T. member, while ignoring the nuclear status of non-N.P.T. Israel is to invite accusations of double standards. President Obama doesn’t like them.

I’d say there’s a tenable case for Israel ending its nuclear exceptionalism, coming clean on its arsenal and joining the N.P.T. as part of any U.S.-endorsed regional security arrangement that stops Iran short of weaponization.

It’s also worth noting the sensible tone of Defense Secretary Robert Gates — in flagrant contrast to Netanyahu. “The only way you end up not having a nuclear capable Iran is for the Iranian government to decide that their security is diminished by having those weapons as opposed to strengthened,” Gates says.

In other words, as I’ve long argued, Iran makes rational decisions. Rather than invoking the Holocaust — a distraction — Israel should view Iran coolly, understand the hesitancy of Tehran’s nuclear brinksmanship, and see how it can gain from U.S.-led diplomacy.

Cut the posturing and deal with reality. This can be painful — as with Justice Richard Goldstone’s recent U.N. report finding that both Israeli forces and Palestinian militants committed possible crimes against humanity during Israel’s military operations in Gaza.

But it’s also instructive. Goldstone is a measured man — I’ve known him a long time. The Israeli response to his findings strikes me as an example of the blinding effect of exceptionalism unbound. Ordinary nations have failings.

The Middle East has changed. So must Israel. “Never again” is a necessary but altogether inadequate way of dealing with the modern world.

1 comment:

Irish Male, Age:20 said...

Tried to write a comment about my feelings towards Israel But I ended up with a four page essay that couldn't be posted due to it's length so I'll simply bullet point it here.It might not seem as valid or balanced but still I've spent the best part of an hour writing it, and damn it, I will post something! I was thinking of posting it in 20 different comments but that would be annoying to both myself and whoever is moderating the comments.

Basically: Their foreign policy is reckless, they have invaded or been to war with most of their neighboring countries, and still some people act like it's a mystery why their neighbors don't like them, they practically destroyed Lebanon for crying out loud, twice!

They have implicated other countries in assassinations, forging fake documents that could've landed unsuspecting governments in trouble.

They are all too happy to remind the world of the atrocities afflicted on them by the Nazis, coming up to a century ago while forcing Palestinians into ghettos with doctrines of hate today. There have even been documents leaked showing Palestinian leaders giving in to all of Israels demands only to be turned down, because obviously anything short of the complete annihilation of the Palestinian state isn't good enough.

They criticize religious extremists while claiming that their god wants them have the land and by any means, so it seems.

Despite Americas almost unconditional support they refuse to co-operate on matters such as settling in the west bank while promising not to.

They have shown little regard for human rights, by oppressing the Gaza strip and driving them into poverty and even shooting unarmed charity workers trying to deliver aid to them.
Admittedly they have started bringing in food. Israeli food which they sell to them for money they don't have.

In short I think Israel's behavior has been atrocious and you're right, they do think their special but this is only for the worse.

I know I'm not speaking speaking for all Israelis but judging (by who's voted in) it's clear the majority want a hardliner who'll do things that by any reasonable standard should just not be done. They have a lot of shaping up to do if they ever want any respect from their neighbors, their region, the national community as a whole or me.

I should also mention that most of what I have discussed has only happened in the past 5 years or so, but this is not to their benefit as before that it was more of the same.