Rattling the Cage: Dead-enders

Israel remains stuck in a radical right-wing corner, but the US elections may change that.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
The Democrats' congressional election win last week, which came because the American public saw the war in Iraq is a lost cause, spells the end of an era not only for the US, but for Israel, too. And both countries, not to mention the rest of the world, will be better for it, I expect. The era, which began in America on 9/11 and in Israel a year earlier when the intifada broke out, was a time when the two allies really had only each other for reinforcement of their view of how to deal with enemies. US and Israeli leaders, along with most Americans and nearly all Israelis, decided after their separate tragedies that military force was the one and only means to security in this world. The very idea of peace negotiations, of military restraint, lost its legitimacy altogether. Negotiation and restraint was for cowards, for faggots, for Frenchmen, for surrender monkeys, for fifth columnists, for traitors. It was appeasement, Chamberlain's way. Here and in the US, Winston Churchill - a lifelong imperialist warmonger who, like a broken watch that tells the right time twice a day, finally monged for the right war - became revered as the greatest leader in history, the model for how a leader should act today. Nazis, Arabs, same thing, blood, sweat, tears, war, war, war. We Israelis rejoiced that the Americans had finally caught up with us, 9/11 had taught them what we'd always known - though we'd forgotten it during the Oslo years, which were for us like the goddamn Sixties were for them. But thank God we wised up and now, finally, we had a common language with somebody. Axis of evil, clash of civilizations, moral clarity, regime change, victory. Finally, the Americans get it! Well, not all the Americans - the Republicans. Especially the Christian evangelists, the holy rollers, they love the Jews and hate the Arabs - our kind of people. As for the Democrats - well, the ones who vote a straight AIPAC ticket are okay, but those liberals? Like Kerry? And those self-hating Jewish leftists? And above all, the blacks? Enemies. Arab-lovers. Anti-Semites. This really typifies how Israelis have been thinking for the last six years. And the Republicans were right with us. The red states were riding tall in America, and Israel was redder than any of them, a regular Jewish Texas. We only talked and listened to each other, Israelis and Republicans, we were all each other had in the world. So we began to believe that our exclusive worldview, which was utterly militaristic and xenophobic - in other words, radically right-wing - was actually normal. Mainstream. It was our critics, our enemies, the Democrats and the Europeans, who were the radicals. Radical leftists. Appeasers. WE BECAME so far gone, here and in Republican America, that we decided President George H.W. Bush "hadn't finished the job" in the first Gulf War, and now his son, our hero, would. We even decided that Yitzhak Shamir had been weak in that war by agreeing not to retaliate against Iraq for the Scuds. We used to think H.W. actually won the war by pushing Saddam out of Kuwait and cutting him down to size. We used to think Shamir had done the wise thing by holding his fire and not getting in the Americans' way. But now we knew better. There would be no more restraint. No more half-measures. No more talking. From now on it would be total victory, nothing less. This is the mania that overtook America after 9/11, and Israel after the start of the intifada. But last week the American public said "enough" to radicalism, to militarism, to the Bush doctrine. The Republicans lost the election because their ideology didn't work in real life. It failed miserably in its make-or-break test - in Iraq. The neoconservatives who thought up this radical worldview, and who pushed with all their might for the war, are now trying to evade blame, saying their ideology was divine, it was just the Bush administration's incompetency in implementing it that screwed up the war. BUT THE neocons are dead-enders now, like the old, unreconstructed communist ideologues who, after 1989, still claimed that Marxism was infallible, it was just the corrupt apparatchiks who ruined everything. Neoconservatism, the Bush doctrine, post-9/11 Republicanism - it all meshed perfectly with the post-Oslo Israeli mentality. Unfortunately, the Israeli mentality remains unchanged, which could be seen in Olmert's visit this week to Washington, where he praised Bush for helping "stabilize" the Middle East with the war in Iraq. Only a few months ago, Olmert would have been congratulated by a lot of Republicans for that delusionary remark. No more. Israel's leaders may still believe in war as the cure-all for the Middle East, but they're alone now. Five thousand Jews in Los Angeles this week may cheer Bibi Netanyahu when he tries to play Churchill to Ahmadinejad's Hitler, but America isn't in the mood for World War III anymore. America has swung toward the Democrats, toward the Republican Party of George H.W. Bush, even toward Western Europe. To Israelis, this means America has swung Left, to the Arabs' side - which only shows how radically right-wing this country has become. Except on the terribly thin margins, there is no pro-Arab Left in America, only a war-oriented Right and a diplomacy-oriented Center, and America has gone centrist. That's the politics of the Democratic Party. That's also the politics of James Baker, soon to be the architect of a new US policy in Iraq and the Middle East. Baker explained his approach a few weeks ago: "It's got to be hard-nosed, it's got to be determined, you don't give anything away, but in my view it is not appeasement to talk to your enemies." Even Western Europe isn't a bastion of the pro-Arab Left like Israelis think; it, too, has gone centrist, only from the opposite direction of America's. The best example is France, the Western country Americans and Israelis hate far more intensely than any other. France's next president seems likely to be its interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, who symbolizes the European backlash to Muslim extremism and violence, a crucial trend that's naturally gone unnoticed in this country. Israel remains stuck in its dark, airless, radical right-wing corner, but because of the US congressional elections, and probably even more so because of the plan Baker is about to unveil, Israel will likely find itself being dragged by the US into the center, too. This doesn't mean we're going to have to hand the Western Wall to Khaled Mashaal, or change the name of Lake Kinneret to Lake Assad, or invite Ahmadinejad to Dimona. But we are probably going to have to shoot less and talk more. We're probably going to have to use our heads to think and imagine instead of just banging them against the wall. Who knows? Like efficiency, politeness and Seinfeld, maybe this will be one of the good things that got here, eventually, from America.