There are lots of tantalizing questions, that in their nature leave us without answers.
Chief among those bothering Israelis concern our status. The existential question--asked time and again In various formulations--amounts to
- How much power do we really have?
- What can we get away with?
- To what extent are our actions governed by others--especially Americans--or by ourselves?
In this and just about everything else, Israel is not unique. The world has always been "global," with lots of interdependence, but perhaps more so than ever before.
Migration is part of interdependence.
Jews'' mobility and linkages go back to ancient times. More Jews may have lived abroad than in the homeland as early as Jews started to record their history. The great migrations were those that went westward from Eastern Europe from 1880 onward, to Israel after 1948, and again after the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, now the movement out of Africa and Latin America, as well as the Balkans and Central Asia appears to make any earlier movement of Jews piddling in comparison.
Dominant powers have also come and gone, at least since the Egyptians were on top.
The US had a brief period as the undisputed dominant power. Then it found limits in Korea, again in Vietnam, and more recently has wasted great amounts of money and blood (mostly others'') without accomplishments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The US and the EU are both close to the top of the heap, but are are dependent as well as dominant.
Wisdom lies in recognizing one''s potential and limits, and operating accordingly.
Among the Jewish heroes whose stories turned sour after brief glory, and should be remembered for long term failure are the Maccabees and Bar Kokhba. This may sound heretical to many in the season of Hanukah, but it is a dose of realism that the current generation of Israeli leaders ought to remember while chafing under the shallow power of Barack Obama.
It is not possible to judge with any certainty the choices made by the Maccabees or Bar Kokhba. Both are masked by legends passed on over the course of two millennia. The bad end of those supporting Bar Kokhba may have come quicker and been more devastating than in the case of the Maccabees, but who knows for sure? The iconic song of Hanunkah (Maoz Tzur) is thrilling, and the food tasty but not all that healthy. Among the quarrels is whether potato pancakes and jelly donuts are as bad as what people buy at McDonalds and other low cost fast food outlets, which go along with tobacco, drunk driving, and the miserable delivery of health care as early killers of Americans.
The latest indication of mutual dependence appears in the concessions made by both Israel and the European Union over Israel''s admission to the program of economic and scientific cooperation, along with the controversy over "settlements." The two parties agreed to disagree, and to assure that European money would not go over the 1967 border.
The political leaders of both sides were pushed by their scientists to reach an accord. Israelis need scientific cooperation with Europeans no less than they need access to the funds contributed by Israeli and European governments. Israeli success in winning a disproportionate share of the grants indicates the mutual dependence of European and Israeli researchers on one another.
Mutuality also marks relations between the US and Israel. No one should fool themselves that the balance approaches equality, but neither is it all vs nothing.
The US gains Israeli cooperation and moderation toward Palestine and other neighbors, which helps the US keep the region below the boiling point. Israel had the capacity to destroy the ports and shut off the lights throughout Lebanon during the war of 2006, as well as to topple the high rise apartment blocks and destroy the main hospital of Gaza during the most recent confrontation. The hospital was arguably a fair target, insofar as its sub-basement served as the shelter for leaders who ordered the missiles fired into Israel.
How much outside pressure and how much Israeli morality has been responsible for those and other cases of restraint joins the questions impossible to answer with any certainty.
Likewise on the quality of life in the US, and whatever that contributes to the strength of the country tottering under its current leadership.
Grandpa''s generation saw it as the goldene medina. More recent visitors are more impressed with the obesity of Americans than with any overt signs of wealth.
The attractions of McDonalds, Wal-Mart, and HMOs for investors is in sharp contrast to what we know about the earnings of those who work in McDonalds and Wal-Mart, reports of food collections being made for the sake of Wal-Mart employees, and the health and longevity of Americans.
We are a long way from the final assessment of Obamacare. However, the 2,200 page legislation, and the cancellation letters going to millions of insured Americans provide yet another indication of rhetoric vs governmental capacity. They join the reality of Arab spring and its offshoots in contrast with the Cairo speech and the Nobel Peace Prize given for presidential promise. Syria has bled the most, with the latest estimates of 120,000 deaths and 1.5 million refugees having left the country. but it is not the only example of governmental wreckage apparent across the Middle East.
Obama''s latest use of his rhetorical skill is to condemn Netanyahu, without mentioning his name, for the ease of criticism while claiming the high ground for the hard work of his own diplomacy with respect to Iran''s nuclear program..
It''ll take a while to see if Obama has gotten the details right in this case.
Teheran, is claiming that the American text of the Geneva agreement is not the same as the Iranian text. Europeans note that the agreement has not been finalized, whatever that means. Reports are that Iran continues to build and operate its facilities as if there was no agreement.
Israelis are not fooling themselves about depending on the Saudis, but we are noticing things like a Saudi prince taking sides with us in public
“There’s no confidence in the Obama administration doing the right thing with Iran . . . We’re really concerned — Israel, Saudi Arabia, the Middle East countries — about this.”
The latest indication of Israel taking care of itself is an attack on Salafi Jihadists said by intelligence sources to be preparing attacks on Israeli and Palestinian targets. Readers knowing how to Google will find that there are good and bad Salafis. It is beyond us to settle the theological and political disputes of Muslims and those who claim to understand them. It''s enough to note that gangs under the heading of Salafi have been among the most extreme troublemakers in Gaza, Sinai, Syria, and now the West Bank.
It probably won''t take long for international worthies to condemn Israel for yet another instance of targeted killings instead of what should have been arrests and judicial proceedings. The rest of us can ponder whether Israel learned the merits of pre-emptive assassinations from the US, or taught the US how to deal with suspected terrorists.
We can put that in the same file as all the other imponderables having to be considered by those who weigh what Israel is all about, its multifaceted relations with the United States, and the reliability of the US as its principal ally.