Rattling the Cage: Everything for Gilad, nothing for peace

Israelis go from a nation of gung-ho Spartans to one of wet-eyed "imalehs" and "abbalehs."

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
I don't know if it's called national schizophrenia, or manic depression, or bipolar disorder, but whatever it's called, Israelis have got it. They will go to war at the drop of a hat, they will pass up any chance for peace without even thinking about it, they'll get ready to bash the enemy's face in no matter what the risk to Israeli lives, that's how tough they are. But kidnap an IDF soldier and hold him hostage? Then automatically that soldier becomes a household face and name, his father or mother or wife becomes a household face and name, and the mass media - its finger, as always, on the nation's pulse - turns him into every Israeli's son, husband or father. And then, to bring him home, Israelis will be ready to make concessions to his captors that they would denounce as treason if made in the name of some abstraction like peace or human life in general. Nobody even noticed that last week, when Prime Minister Olmert went to the White House, the chance for peace with Syria died. President Bush refused to have any part of Israeli talks with Syria, so that's that. The IDF's warning, seconded by Shaul Mofaz, that we have to talk with Syria or war could break out this summer, is left hanging over our heads. Nobody noticed, nobody cared. In fact, most Israelis are probably happy. They don't want to give up the Golan. What, are you kidding? They're not going to go rushing into peace talks with Syria under threat from Bashar Assad or anybody else, either. If Assad wants war, he'll get it, he'll get more than he wants. If Israelis have to die, then Israelis have to die, it's too bad but that's war, that's the Middle East, you can't be a coward, you have to be strong. BUT FOR Gilad Shalit? For Gilad Shalit, Israelis who would scream bloody murder if Olmert tried negotiating a truce in the war with Hamas are now ready to hand over imprisoned terrorists to Hamas by the hundreds and thousands. Eli Yishai, who rivals Avigdor Lieberman as the cabinet's worst war-monger, who always wants to carpet-bomb Lebanon or Gaza or the West Bank or some Arab place, now wants to sit down and talk with the Hamasniks who kidnapped Shalit. This is not schizophrenia? This is not bipolar disorder? Israelis go from one crazy extreme to the other. They go from being a nation of gung-ho Spartans to being a nation of wet-eyed Imalehs and Abbalehs. When the rockets start flying, they're either saying, "I'm not moving, this is my home," or they're screaming, "Where's my security?" They shunt between the stoic and the hysterical. How are you supposed to be a father in this country? How are you supposed to raise a good Israeli son? By encouraging him to be a devoted soldier, to give the army his all, to volunteer for combat, to be ready to risk his life for his country, for his comrades-in-arms? That sounds about right, doesn't it? But if your son gets taken hostage, what is a good Israeli father supposed to do then? Evidently, he's supposed to go around the country rallying public support to force the government to get the boy home right away, even though the father and everybody else know exactly how this is done: By freeing lots of terrorists, an act that endangers Israeli society at large. So a good Israeli father is one who raises his son to be a combat soldier willing to risk his life for his countrymen, but who will then turn around and ask those countrymen to risk their lives for his combat soldier son. And the nation of Israel will be with him both ways. Schizophrenia. Bipolar disorder. I CAN'T really blame Noam Shalit; if I was in his place, I'd probably do the same thing. But what he's doing is wrong. It's emotional blackmail. He and his supporters are sending Israelis the message that the government isn't sufficiently earnest about getting Gilad Shalit home. That's totally false. The government could have gotten Gilad Shalit home a long time ago if it simply released all the terrorists Hamas demanded. The problem isn't a lack of earnestness, it's the well-placed fear of getting Israelis killed by putting a lot of terrorists back on the Palestinian street. But while I can't blame Noam Shalit, I sure as hell can blame the popular Israeli media, especially the two largest newspapers, Yediot Aharonot and Ma'ariv. On Monday, the day after Hamas released the tape of Gilad Shalit's coerced appeal, they competed over which paper could jerk the most tears. "Bring him back," croaked Yediot's front-page headline. "The voice of a boy," wept Ma'ariv's. Hamas could not have bought a better media campaign if it had hired the 100 best PR minds in the world. And it's not just the Israeli tabloids that joined in; Channel 2 anchorman Gadi Sukenik segued from the Sharm el-Sheikh summit to the Shalit tape by looking soulfully into the camera and saying, "Now back to the subject that really touches our hearts." This is one shlagger of a human interest story. Can you imagine the euphoria the Hamas kidnappers must be feeling watching the Israeli TV news? But don't blame the media alone; blame the public, too. Channel 2, Yediot, Ma'ariv and the rest of the rich, mass-appeal media in this country didn't get as rich and massively appealing as they are by not knowing their audience. And what this audience wants is the drums of war to fire their blood, and Jewish violins to make them cry. One after the other. Israelis are going to have to get a little emotional balance into their approach to life-and-death national questions, because this is dangerous. Last week this country risked untold numbers of lives by saying no to Syria, and this week it seems ready to risk untold numbers of lives by saying yes to Hamas. About the latter, I don't know how to determine the price Israel should pay to get its hostages back, and nobody else knows, either. But when you don't know the right answer, you start by crossing off the obviously wrong ones. And the sort of price Israelis seem ready to pay now to free Gilad Shalit is obviously too high. Its too dangerous. Sympathizing with Noam Shalit is one thing; not having the heart to refuse his awfully extreme demand is another.