American indifference to the Israeli experience

Both countries are in the same situation, and neither really cares to acknowledge it.

A house hit by a rocket in Ashkelon. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A house hit by a rocket in Ashkelon.
‘If you don’t go to other people’s funerals, they won’t come to yours.”
Thus saith that great American sage, Yogi Berra.
He had a point. Several, in fact; sagely pronouncements always operate at many levels.
In this case, it’s an admonition. We’re all in this mortality thing together. You can turn away from it if you like, but only for so long. And indifference brings penalties of its own.
So let’s talk about indifference. American indifference to the Israeli experience of the last few weeks, of the last few years, of the last few decades – and to its own ordeals.
First, a personal observation. Then something far more important.
When my wife and I decided to make aliya in 2010, a lot of people stopped talking to us. No great loss. We did what was most important to us and if others didn’t like it, for reasons personal or political, not our problem. So when Operation Protective Edge began, we didn’t expect a lot of concerned queries as to our welfare. What surprised us was how very few calls and emails came, even from people whom we knew to be fiercely pro-Israel.
It was as though they’d decided to... look away.
But then, the same thing happened among our American military and journalistic friends, colleagues and contacts. My wife and I both served as officers; worked as defense journalists; wrote books; still blog. We expected an ongoing flow, if not a torrent, of military and political queries. What’s going on? Virtually none came.
These were not people given to believing propaganda, anybody’s propaganda, or Beltway bloviation. These were professionals.
It was as though they’d decided not to look too closely, for fear of...What?
OK, you don’t have to be Jewish to know that a lot of people hate Jews. Nor do you have to be some great geopolitical macher to know that Israel’s not about to win any global “Miss Congeniality” awards. Nor do you need to blame it all on Mr. Barack Obama, or on the worn-out posturings of Israel’s American “defenders” or Israel’s own heavy-handed, pseudo-market-savvy public diplomacy.
But why this studied American popular indifference, this turning away and turning it off? Why, given what’s happening throughout the region and the threat it poses to America and to the world? Are they afraid they might have to come to our funeral? Or that we might someday go to theirs? Or maybe it’s that there are just too many funerals nowadays, deaths that seemingly accomplish so little.
There is at least a partial answer, rooted in a great military truth that we all ignore at our peril. Let’s condense it into something instructive.
If your enemy is evil, best you beat him utterly. If your enemy is weak, best you beat him quickly.
But if your enemy is both evil and weak, and the fighting goes on too long, another problem kicks in. Weariness yields indifference: the weariness of the strong and civilized; a weariness that expresses itself not with an accusing finger, but with a departing shrug.
America learned this in Vietnam. The enemy was both evil and weak. It could not win militarily. But in the end, it prevailed because it accepted and caused more death and destruction than America was willing to inflict or endure. America also knows that even its greatest successes bring with them intractable new problems, and often end up doing more harm than good.
Throughout the Cold War, and certainly since 9/11, America has learned this lesson repeatedly. And Israel, in Gaza today as in Lebanon not so long ago and endlessly in the territories, is learning it, too.
So America moves toward indifference to Israel, not out of some genuine moral outrage, but because both countries are in the same situation, and neither really cares to acknowledge it.
This is not the place to discuss politics, or my personal beliefs and hopes. But it is to suggest one thing.
Since 1948, Israel’s strategy has been fundamentally defensive, with limited offensive action as required.
So was America’s strategy, against the Soviet Union and then against so-called terrorist nations.
It worked for a while, within the structure of a fairly stable world.
But that era is gone. That world is gone. The map of the Middle East, and of the world, is being redrawn, and today the vast majority of humanity shares a common interest in not surrendering to the weak in their evil. The American people, deep down, know it. But they know not how to proceed.
Or perhaps they do, yet shrink from the task.
Too bad. Perhaps it’s time for the civilized world to do a little map work of our own. In this region, especially. It would be a start.
And maybe we wouldn’t have to spend so much energy not thinking about each other’s funerals.
The writer is an American oleh.