A nation often unloved and misunderstood, but not isolated. It’s a tale often told, especially by US politicians speaking to pro-Israel groups. Eleven minutes after David Ben-Gurion declared independence on May 14, 1948, US president Harry S. Truman bucked his entire national security staff and granted de facto recognition to the new State of Israel.
Three days later, the Soviet Union granted de jure recognition, and then Nicaragua did the same, followed by Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland, Uruguay … until by the end of the year, 21 of the UN’s 58 states recognized the Jewish state.
Another 33 countries recognized Israel the following year, meaning that by the end of 1949, 54 of the world’s 86 countries at the time had diplomatic ties with Israel.
And today, 68 years later, Israel has diplomatic relations with 158 of the UN’s 193 states. It has 79 embassies abroad, 22 consulates and six special missions. Eighty-six countries maintain embassies in Israel. Yet today, as was the case in 1948, there is often a sense of intense isolation in this country.
And this isolation is used by politicians on both sides of the political spectrum.
Those on the Left play the isolation card when they want to convince the public that far-reaching concessions are needed.
“Withdraw or our isolation will deepen,” the argument goes. “Make concessions or we will lose US or European support.”
Those on the Right play the isolation card to argue against any flexibility or initiative. “We are a nation that stands alone,” this argument runs. “Nothing we do will satisfy the world.”
But the general miasma that goes under the rubric of isolation is something different.
Israel is not isolated.
A country that is truly alone does not house 86 embassies; it does not continuously host presidents and prime ministers and foreign ministers and parliamentary delegations from around the world; and it is not constantly being visited by bluechip business delegations keen on doing business in the country or benefiting from its technology.
An isolated country does not do more than $100 billion in annual trade with the world and attract millions of tourists, including first-rate international performers.
Dozens of international airlines do not fly to an isolated country’s airports.
Nor does that country send disaster relief delegations abroad.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement would like to isolate Israel as its forebear the Arab Boycott tried to do before it; but it is failing as its forebear failed.
It is failing because there are reasonable people out there able to see the movement for what it is – a movement that wants to bring about Israel’s end. And it is failing because 68 years after independence, Israel is a serious country of some 8.5 million people, with much to offer the world.
Take Britain, for instance, the epicenter of the BDS movement. Since 2009, when that country began a voluntary labeling regime for products from the settlements – a soft, polite form of BDS – Israeli exports to Britain doubled from $1.6 billion to $3.2b in 2014. Not because the British are enamored of Israel but because Israel has things they need.
Israel is not isolated. What it is, however, is badly misunderstood and not universally loved, and both those conditions leave us often wringing our hands.
Everyone wants to be loved, and – perhaps because of its history – the Jewish people want to be loved more than most.
Deeply ingrained in the collective Jewish psyche are fears for the worst when others don’t like us, concerned about what those who don’t like us could do to us. This stems from a historical sense of helplessness, living at the mercy of others.
One of Israel’s problems with US President Barack Obama was his inability, for a variety of reasons, to shower Israel with the type of love our psyche demands.
We don’t want the president of the most powerful country in the world to like us the way he likes Japan or Indonesia. We want him to like us specially. We are insecure.
We want to feel that love, and – perhaps even more importantly – we want others to see it. We don’t want a little peck on the cheek from behind the bus stop. We want a smooch on the lips in full daylight.
Otherwise we feel unloved, erroneously interpreted as isolated.
Old habits die hard. Sixty-eight years after independence, we have not yet freed ourselves of the feeling that it is not the end of the world if everyone is not going to like everything we do. Not everybody likes everything any country does.
Sixty-eight years since independence, we have not yet truly internalized that we are a free people in a free land, not at the mercy of others.
If our enemies hit, we can hit back. If they develop tools to harm us, we can find the antidote. If they try diplomatic tricks to weaken us, we too can deflect them. It is not as if the other side is getting stronger and smarter and better, and we are sitting on our hands or standing static in place.
We are not a reed pushed this way and that by the rushing water.
And we feel misunderstood. We feel, not unjustifiably, that the world doesn’t get us, doesn’t understand what we are up against.
And it doesn’t. It can’t.
The world doesn’t carry with it our deep historical scars; it doesn’t listen to cries to wipe us off the map through our unique ears; it doesn’t know what it’s like to send kids to the front, generation after generation, or to worry somewhere in the back of the mind about a terrorist stabbing or shooting or a car ramming or a bus bombing on the street. The world does not know what it is like to walk in our shoes.
The world sees checkpoints and interprets it as a desire to humiliate Palestinians, while we see it as a desire to keep our children safe. The world looks at the security fence and sees it as a land grab, while we see it as a way to keep suicide bombers from making our life hell. The world looks at Israeli action against rockets from Gaza and regards it as “disproportionate” response, while we see it as a natural instinct to defend ourselves. The world sees the Law of Return and interprets it as a racist law, while we see it as a natural right to the Ingathering of the Exiles.
We see reality through different glasses.
We are not universally loved, though also not universally unloved. We are indeed often badly misunderstood. But we are not isolated. And even if we were isolated, as perhaps we once were, 68 years of independence has proven one thing: Israel has the ability to handle it. Indeed, it has the ability to handle all of the above – and to flourish.