Should Israelis worry about a lack of public support?
For some time now we have not been popular with the crowds of Western Europe. Overall sentiment in the United States remains favorable, but not in the liberal wing of the Democratic party.
Thomas Friedman writes about the contrast between Israeli support for right of center parties and a growing isolation that comes from a failure to deal effectively with the issue of Palestine. As usual, he gets some of the story right, but is led by his ideology into a blind corner. More on Friedman below.
There are several explanations for the souring of sentiment toward Israel. There is no metric to rank or weigh each of the possibilities, but they all make a contribution.
- Concern for the underdog. No doubt this now benefits the Palestinians, years after the same sentiment helped the Israelis. The tipping point was 1967, when the image of occupation began to take over from the image of Holocaust survivors.
- The weight of Muslim countries in the international economy and international politics. Spell this as oil and gas, along with one billion Muslims, and their governments'' votes in international forums.
- Israeli arrogance. The image of the underdog and the weight of all those Muslims and energy may be the major elements putting Israel in an unpleasant corner. Israeli arrogance, currently typified by the style of Prime Minister Netanyahu, may add no more than an element to the animosity, but it is an element that figures in media portrayals, public opinion, and the attitudes of Western leaders who have to deal with Israelis.
Israeli arrogance deserves extensive and careful comment. What comes next may upset some of you, insofar as it comes close to the problematic borders between accusing some of our adversaries of anti-Semitism, while admitting that Jews'' behavior is one of the factors that sustains anti-Semitism.
Henry Kissinger represented the tensions about these issues as well as anyone. His own writings and the mass of writing about him reveal his discomfort in being a Jew, a leading representative of the United States, an emigre from Nazi Germany, and having to deal with the pushy Jews at the head of the Israeli government. The discomfort reached its peak during the Yom Kippur War when Israelis wanted more support and accused him of using his leverage to pressure them into concessions that were not in their interest. The issue of his Jewishness was always relevant to Israelis, as well as the Arabs, Russians, and Americans with whom he worked.
Jewish pushiness has a history of about 3,000 years. Its first sign may have been self-designation as God''s Chosen People and all that went with it, including a Promised Land. The source of pushiness may have been Jewish weakness. Surrounded by larger and more powerful people who could be vicious, moving in time from the Egyptians to Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans and on to various European Christians or Muslims of the Middle East, depending on which Jews and where they lived.
The Jews of North America have enjoyed three or more generations of security to wash out inbred Jewish concerns about the goyim. Also at work are the norms learned in multi-cultural societies where it is neither wise nor polite to emphasize ethnicity or religion. Alas, the Jews of Europe have had less time to have their sensitivities washed out of them. And we needn''t remind ourselves why there are now so few Jews remaining in Europe to have learned those lessons.
The vast majority of Israeli Jews came from places where the Jews were not secure, and had never learned the etiquette of multi-culturalism. They have remained threatened unto the present generation, with the difference being that they have also become threatening. Palestinians feel themselves insecure alongside Israeli Jews just as Israeli Jews feel themselves insecure alongside Palestinians and just about everyone else.
It helps to understand Bibi''s pushiness in this context. Whether he is repeating himself about Iran, the rockets from Gaza, or the stubbornness of West Bank Palestinians, he is expressing the traditional posture of Jews under pressure. What is curious is the confluence of these traits with his American education and language. His English resembles that of American Jews even while he embarrasses American Jews who wish he would tone down the rhetoric.
One doesn''t know how Bibi really feels. He is a skilled politician, who may have crafted his image and messages in keeping with what it takes to be on top of the Israeli electorate.
If Bibi is the archetype of the pushy Israeli Jew, Thomas Friedman is the archetype of the assimilated American Jewish publicist, writing for a newspaper owned, managed, and read by assimilated American Jews. The theme that Friedman returns to time and again is urging, wishing, and demanding Israelis to be more forthcoming in order to make the embarrassing problem of the Palestinians go away.
The Palestinians, for their part, are acting rationally. Their various factions and 60 years of emphasizing their view of injustice preclude an agreement with Israel. It is easiest to continue with the theme of refugees'' misery, Israel''s occupation, the land grab by expanding settlements, all in the context where the the image of exploited underdogs plays well in the affluent West.
The wet dream of the Palestinians if that someone else solves their problem. Perhaps the UN, EU, and US will impose a solution on Israel that is favorable to them.
They have many--perhaps most--people of Western Europe on their side, and an increasing incidence of Americans to the left of center. The image of occupation, especially one expanding with increased settlement activity, is more salient to the media and the crowds than details of how Israelis have tried--time and again--to offer a decent accommodation. Palestinian leaders said no to Ehud Barak in 2000, responded with violence to Ariel Sharon''s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, and again said no to Ehud Olmert in 2007.
Still with Israel are the governments of Western Europe and the United States. They may bow to the crowds with an occasional censure of Israel, but have not shown an inclination to add meaningful sanctions. Government elites are aware of Palestinian stubbornness and violence, and recognize problems in Syria, Libya, Iran and maybe Egypt and Turkey that dwarf those coming to them from Israel.
The current source of greatest friction is E 1. It is in the headlines due to the Palestinian maneuver in the United Nations, helped along by an upcoming Israeli election. Friedman himself notes that Palestinian stubbornness has pushed the Israeli electorate to the right. Bibi''s party is ahead in the polls, but there is no sure thing in a feisty democracy. So announcing further planning for E 1 is an obvious gambit.
Is it a serious move, portending imminent construction?
It may be nothing more than the goat in the tent.
For those unfamiliar with Jewish folklore, the goat is an unpleasant issue introduced as a bargaining point, meant to be withdrawn eventually. It''s purpose is to make one''s adversary accept something that is less objectionable, but which might not have been acceptable without the goat.
Remember those housing units in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, whose approval by planning authorities some idiot midway in the Israeli pecking order announced just as Vice President Biden was visiting the country?
They were delayed as a result of condemnation from outside, and are here again as part of the 3,000 said to be moving forward in response to the UN decision. If E 1 is the goat, then Ramat Shlomo and some other places--less objectionable than E1-- can get their allocation of new housing.
The same speculation may lead Israel to go forward with E 1 sometime in the future. There will be another crisis, and an even more objectionable goat may be let into the tent in order to facilitate construction in E 1.
There are no certainties here, but a lot of possibilities.