Volumes have been filled on trying to understand the position of Israel in the world today, particularly its cold friendship with the Obama-led United States and its varying degrees of hostility with the European Union.
There have been explanations touching upon particular Israeli policies and personalities, and of course the combination of the two. Settlement construction, opposing the Iran deal, insufficient concessions to the Palestinians, brazen attempts to court public and legislative support, the list goes on, and the bill of particulars is long.
But what the Brexit vote in England, the stirrings of similar feelings in several continental European countries, and above all, the recent dramatic upset election of Donald Trump in the US all underscore is the reality that the quandary that Israel has been in is largely not one of its own creation.
Rather, there is an existential or definitional problem. Israel is rooted in the ideology of Zionism, the movement for Jewish sovereign national self-determination. Zionism is a nationalist movement, pure and simple. It is all about carving out the one place in the world that Jews can live in the condition of sovereignty, enjoying the untrammeled freedom to chart their own course in a Jewish state.
Zionism has been a uniquely successful national movement, producing a vibrant, successful state that has extended to a great extent its benefits and freedoms to its non-Jewish citizens.
Perhaps it is that very success that has been its problem.
The State of Israel was born just as Europe was emerging from the 30-year-long disaster of two world wars (historians are likely to see this as one conflagration with a tenuous interregnum), a major lesson of which was the destructive nature of nationalism. As a new state beset by mortal enemies, Israel’s nationhood was more than just an idea. It was a tenuous, vulnerable physical reality requiring vigilance and determination, with a strong emphasis on security. These needs, together with the Zionist vision, as well as the lessons of the Holocaust, made Israel a highly self-aware nationalistic society, where the concept of the Jewish self determination of Zionism was seamlessly meshed into the newly sovereign reality of the State of Israel.
It is important to remember that the nationalism of Israel in no way represents the nationalism that pummeled Europe, and to which it developed a post-war loathing. Israel has no designs on other countries and doesn’t measure itself by their successes or failures. Israel’s nationalism is the impetus to provide the full blossoming of the immense potential of the Jewish People and of the great gifts of Judaism and Jewish tradition. Ironically, it is through the particularity of Jewish nationalism that Israel has sought to be a Light unto the Nations, providing aid and solace to other countries in need, and standing with outstretched hand to all those who would reciprocate.
Unfortunately, globalists are not so discerning in their assessment of the different flavors of nationalism, and Israel’s rankles considerably.
Compounding this ill perception is the fact that such nationalism is seen to be the vehicle for continuing “occupation” of the Palestinians, and the impediment to a peace agreement with them.
Quite simply, historic, religious and spiritual connections to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria or anywhere else do not engender a great deal of sympathy. Quite the opposite; they are seen to be outdated, anachronistic and counterproductive remnants of an ancient, and therefore no longer relevant reality.
Ironically, it is the global nature of Israel’s economy that has protected its nationalistic orientation. As an immensely innovative purveyor of cutting-edge technology, Israel continues to attract and grow its trade relations. Its state-of-the-art products in so many areas virtually assure continued – indeed, growing – trade relationships, despite political qualms about Israel’s againstthe- grain focus on maintaining its Zionist vision.
Having endured the growing anger of both the EU and the Obama administration, Israel might now see a significant wind shift for the better. The Brexit vote exposed the deep reservations over the creeping, non-accountable globalism of the EU. Any number of continental nations, especially in eastern Europe, are seeing similar sentiments rise to unprecedented levels.
More significantly, the election of Trump in the US has been a nationalist gauntlet thrown onto the ground of assumed ever-greater globalism. One reason I suspect Trump likes Israel so much is that he respects its desire to maintain and protect its sovereignty. Trump values patriotism, and he sees in Israel and Israelis a tenacious willingness to embrace and honor the nationstate.
The rift between globalism and nationalism is the reigning schism in the Western world, replacing the Cold War’s ideological confrontation of capitalism and communism.
This is a rift being fought on the margins, as it were, since no country is without global ties or national impulses.
The momentum in that confrontation is now favoring nationalism, and that is likely to benefit Israel.
Not that Israel is looking to pick a fight on this score. It has an export driven economy and a strong desire to forge better international relations.
On the flip side, all but the truest of believers understand that the two-state solution is a dead letter, and this realization is invigorating the consideration of alternatives that involve the greater projection of sovereignty onto Judea and Samaria.
It is important to remind ourselves that so much of the international perception of Israel is being refracted through the prism of the globalist/ nationalist divide. Here Israel has no real way to influence how it is perceived.
This very fact should strengthen its leaders to disregard how Israel will be seen by others, and to pursue unapologetically its own interests.The author is a member of Im Tirtzu’s executive board.
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