Uniting against our enemies

The constant struggle for survival is the driving force of our society and the current glue that binds us together as a people.

By
April 4, 2010 20:22
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks durin

ahmadinejad singing a song 311. (photo credit: AP)

 
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Last week, Jews all over the world sat down at their Pessah Seder and recited: “And the more they [the Hebrews in Egypt] were afflicted by their oppressors the more they flourished.... And in every generation they try to exterminate us, but the Holy One blessed be He saves us from them.”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, if he wants to develop a more successful strategy, ought to have found a Seder to participate in. He would have learned that the best thing one can do for the Jewish people is be their high profile enemy and talk about wiping Israel off the map.

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The recent best-seller Startup Nation makes this same point, probably unwittingly. It states that Israel’s high tech advantage derives from necessity being the mother of invention. Creativity, teamwork and camaraderie, incubated in elite Israeli army units and during highly focused decision making under battle conditions, are part of the country’s recipe for economic success. Notwithstanding the fact, glossed over by the authors of Startup Nation, that these same elements have sometimes endangered Israel, one cannot deny the basic point: Being in a constant struggle for survival is the driving force of our society.

This line of thinking is also reiterated by Natan Sharansky in his recent book In Defense of Identity, and for that matter, in his earlier version of the same theme, The Case for Democracy. Identity, in these tracts, derives solely from rejection by others.

Sharansky’s Jewish identity evolved under persecution in the Gulag. Similarly, he perceives democracy primarily as a response to the pursuit by tyrannical regimes of military conquest. Presumably, this type of identity, born out of the struggle against evil, is what Sharansky was thinking of when he announced recently that the Jewish Agency will cease to focus on aliya, and will devote more energy to molding Jewish identity in the Diaspora.

What exactly Sharansky or the Jewish Agency have to offer in the way of identity, that would be at all relevant to Jews in the Diaspora, especially North America, is extremely unclear.

The same can be said for the Shalem Center, where Sharansky used to work. It is fair to say that the Shalem Center’s major intellectual enemy is post-Zionism, which, while it has never actually been defined, appears loosely to correspond to Israeli indulgence in self-criticism – paying attention to how unpleasant it is to be a Palestinian striving for a “normal” existence, when all around us all they want to do is kill us. But the positive and most obvious response to post-Zionism, aliya, is not anywhere on the Shalem agenda.



Harvard University’s Ruth R. Wisse, in her recent book Jews and Power similarly argues that our problem is the discomfort we, the Jews, feel about using the tools of political and military force in the face of the threats around us. The book, published between the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead, in which Israel, justifiably in every sense, seemed quite comfortable with using political and military power, appeared a bit out of sync. More importantly though, Wisse also fails to come to terms with the reticence of Jews to use the positive power of populating their own country.

THERE IS a lot to be said for all these negative versions of identity. Our enemies have always poured content into our empty cup when assimilation, ignorance, materialism and the like have vitiated our being as a people. But what if our enemies, in particular the Palestinians, eventually get smart, cut a deal with us, drop their unrealistic demands (as in “I have a key to my house in Talbiyeh and I want to open the door”) and even give up on their vapid pursuit of statehood?

As Meron Benvenisti and Sergio DellaPergola have taught us, demography makes that the greatest threat of all to the survival of the Jewish state and, indeed, of the Jewish people. While everyone asks, “Is a two state solution possible?” very few ask, “What would become of Israel if such a solution became reality?”

What would happen is that the Green Line, the border, the security wall, whatever you please, would become porous in the face of the desire for economic, cultural and social activity.

During the brief illusion of Oslo (which Arafat ensured stayed an illusion), Israeli musicians wearing kippot were playing jazz in Ramallah. And, heaven forfend, would intermarriage be far behind?

Hillel Halkin in 2007 wrote in Commentary, in an article entitled “If Israel Ceased to Exist,” that Iran is an issue, but not the most serious problem facing Israel. Above Iran on the list of threats was: Lack of aliya and Israel not making itself attractive to olim from North America. He ended by saying, “First Temple, strike one, second Temple, strike two – one more strike and the Jewish people are out.”

I would argue, following Startup Nation, that threat number two is on the wane, as Israel continues to be economically dynamic while the US becomes perhaps a relatively less attractive place to live. But as for the positive statement of identity that a commitment to aliya on the part of the Jewish world would constitute, that’s not on anybody’s identity agenda. As a result, Israel’s future as a Jewish state and, consequently, any hope for a positive Jewish identity, are gradually being extinguished.

As long as there is an Ahmadinejad, a Hamas and a Hizbullah to keep the negative version of Jewish history and identity prevalent in our leading institutions alive, Jews and Israelis will continue to recite: “And she who stood up for us (Vehi Sheamda),” and to remember during Pessah that when we are oppressed we flourish.

And Jews in New York will continue to end the Seder with ‘next year in Jerusalem,’ which will mean next year we’ll be in New York saying next year in Jerusalem.

Thank God for our enemies, as long as they don’t get smart and attend any Seders.

The writer made aliya in 1981 and is an associate professor of health policy and management at the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Public Health in Jerusalem.

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