The ‘Deuteronomistic’ school of Israeli political thought

Today’s Deuteronomists are not religious. They are secular intellectuals, journalists, scholars and television commentators.

Cairo embassy violence 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Cairo embassy violence 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
‘For the strategic alliance with Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and other countries to survive, Israel will have to propose real policies and solutions to the conflict with the Palestinians.” That was Haaretz’s lead editorial on September 12. According to this view, decision-makers in the Knesset are responsible for everything that happens in the Middle East.
Hamas fires rockets and commentators write that this is just a natural response to Israel’s “occupation” of Gaza. Turkey’s government aids an NGO in preparing a massive flotilla to break Israel’s naval blockade on the Gaza Strip, then when that flotilla turns into a fiasco demands an apology. Then, when a report on the flotilla fiasco is made public and Turkey is not vindicated it expels Israel’s ambassador. Just like in the film Groundhog Day, where the hero lives the same day over and over again and tries to perfect his choices to get the women he loves, only if Israel makes the right choices will it get the perfect outcome.
The problem with this view is that it assumes the initial change in Turkey’s policy toward Israel was not due to any Turkish agency, but rather to Israel. There was no election of an Islamic-style political party more hostile to Israel, and Recep Erdogan and his sidekick Ahmet Davetoglu don’t have minds of their own, their actions are determined solely by Israel’s.
Roger Cohen at The New York Times writes that “locked in its siege mentality, led by the nose by Lieberman and his ilk – unable to grasp the change in the Middle East driven by the Arab demand for dignity and freedom, inflexible on expanding settlements, ignoring US prodding that it apologize – Israel is losing one of its best friends in the Muslim world, Turkey.” The argument is clear: there aren’t choices being made here by two adults, there is just Israel, the adult, and the children who surround it. Only Israel can determine their destiny. A sort of flip-side of the Elders of Zion view of the influence of the Jews on history.
The book of Deuteronomy attributes all of the failures and tragedies of Israel to the rebellious and sinful ways of the people, who often strayed from the true path. But today’s “Deuteronomists” are not religious. They are secular intellectuals, journalists, scholars and television commentators.
According to this school, Israel erred in making peace with the Egyptian dictator Anwar Sadat. It should have sided with the Egyptian people, who wanted dignity. Of course the Egyptian people hated Sadat for making peace, and some of them killed him for it, but no matter. Then, the theory goes, the Egyptian people came to hate Israel because Israel supported Hosni Mubarak; the outburst of rage at Israel after the fall of Mubarak had nothing to do with the fact that the Egyptian people had always toed a relatively simple long-term anti-Israel line, but was the result of Israel’s actions. Now, the rioting by the Egyptians outside the Israeli embassy was because Israel killed Egyptian soldiers and, lo and behold, the invasion of the embassy last weekend was because Israel had not provided solutions to the Palestinian issue. We learn from the Haaretz editorial mentioned above that “Israel has tested its strategic alliance with Egypt” and it is “time for Israel to put out the fire.”
The shocking notion that Israel is responsible for the destruction of its own embassy, that it has “tested” Egypt and must “put out the fire” stems from a dim, even racist, view of Egypt. Egypt is a country, its leaders are adults, its people are adults, its rioters are adults, the leaders and the people make choices.
Israel cannot, by waving a wand, change the minds of the people or repair its alliances. It can’t put out fires where its fire engines cannot go.
These Modern Deuteronomists must acknowledge that Israel isn’t playing soccer with itself – it can’t control the ball all the time. React, strike, apologize, appease, Israel does whatever it can, but it can only control 50 percent of the relationship. Israel can’t force people to be her friends, so the fact that some are not friendly is not an indication that they were forcibly alienated.
The writer has a PhD from Hebrew University, and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.