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Friday, March 14, 2008

Exhausted

Going through the Google auto-translation of Arabic news sites, the name "Tzipi Livni" is often translated as "Tsipi Exhausted." And the word seems apt, as the general impression one gets from Israeli policy is that it is one of exhaustion - "we are sick of the war, sick of fighting, sick of terror, sick of constant pushback from the US and the world community, maybe this concession will give us a little bit of breathing room, if only for a little while."

Living in that pressure bubble can only increase irritability and anxiety. It is all the more remarkable that Israel has managed to build such an outstanding society even with all the pressure.

Others have noticed this as well. A comment this morning on a previous article of mine cross-posted on Israellycool states:
Why doesn’t Israel destroy her enemies and live then in peace? You have the means. Have you really decided to commit collective suicide? Have the leftists and the feminists really succeeded in so emasculating the Israeli society that people don’t want to live anymore? You guys used to be the envy of the world. Now people look at Israel like a dying animal with some pity, maybe, but no respect. What’s the matter with you, guys?
Somewhat more articulately, Shrinkwrapped says:
I have to ask: Have the Israeli people become resigned? Have they given up? Where is their outrage? Where is their will to live?

Despair and depression are horrible states. We feel despair when all hope seems lost. When we feel despair in the absence of a hopeless reality, we call if depression.

But what happens to a people when they are told they have no recourse?

What happens to a people when they are told they must continue to live under constant threat of being attacked and killed by Jew hating monsters solely because they are Jewish?

What happens to a people when the adults, the nations that have the ability to either stop the killing and attacks, or enable the Jews to defend themselves, are either actively supporting the genocidal murderers or passively withholding support from Israel?

What happens to a people who understand that there exists no other country in the world that would be expected and counseled to have restraint in the face of daily attacks?

What happens to a people who have a government that professes over and over again an inability to respond effectively?

What happens to a people when the world's press maintains a constant barrage of anti-personal missives and anti-Semitism becomes increasingly mainstream and unobjectionable?

And what happens to a people when they feel like the world just wants them to disappear and go away and has no concern for the lives of Jewish men, women, and children?

Is there a threshold beyond which the entire population surrenders to despair?

I am very fearful for Israel. It is still a democracy. Yet where are the people? Why are they not marching through the streets of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv in the hundreds of thousands, demanding their government do something to stop the reign of terror that they have been told repeatedly is their inevitable lot?

Why are the Israelis not enraged with their own government's fecklessness?

Israel has the power to destroy their enemies many times over. That is a frightening prospect. Their enemies do not believe that the Israelis, civilized in ways that their enemies are not, would ever take the necessary steps to safe guard their people and stop this war. Yet the Israeli government could win this war with methods far short of total war. It is a question of will.

If the Arabs are correct and Israel has lost the will to live, this war can only end with the destruction of Israel and a second Holocaust where they will, as they often boast, finish the job Hitler started. The Palestinians would be only too happy to administer the coup de grace but it will be the Israelis who have committed collective suicide.
Daniel Gordis thinks it is because Zionism has become too disconnected from the Jews it was meant to protect:
When a country's leadership can't express a single coherent thought about why the Jews need a State, when its Prime Minister can articulate no agenda for the Jewish State beyond the hope that it will be "a fun place to live", you know we're bankrupt. You're bankrupt because Bialik and Alterman were too successful. They were part of a movement that so utterly disconnected the Jews from the discourse that had nurtured them for centuries that now, aside from being a marginally Hebrew-speaking version of some benign and characterless country, we can't remember why we wanted this State to begin with. So we don't defend it, because we don't want to hurt their civilians (even though they openly target ours). We don't want to earn the world's opprobrium, because our Prime Minister loves being welcomed in foreign capitals. We don't defend ourselves because we're no longer sure that it's really worth the casualties on our side that preventing these attacks on our sovereignty would require.

Gordis is speaking about the leadership, Shrinkwrapped is speaking about the people, but I think the two are related. The leaders of any people, to a large extent, drive their people's attitudes. When the leadership no longer seems to have pride in its nation, the people will follow. When the leadership can't defend its actions to the world, and then can't assure their own people that they will defend them, the people have a much harder time keeping it together.

The added ingredient that seems to have worn away the Israeli psyche is the pressure from her friends. Both George Bush and Bill Clinton have strong emotional feelings for Israel but that didn't stop them from adding pressure - indeed, their pressure probably outstripped that of Jimmy Carter or the senior Bush.

Moshe Feiglin traces the downhill slide to Yitzchak Shamir's promise to not retaliate in the First Gulf War:
In the First Gulf War, under intense pressure from Israel's Left, Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir reversed two strategic principles that Israel had carefully preserved until then. The first principle was that only Israeli soldiers would be responsible for Israel's security. The second principle was that the attack of Israel's civilian population is completely unacceptable. When Iraqi Scud missiles rained down on Israel's cities, Israel opted to hide behind the broad shoulders of the American and British soldiers, move U.S. Patriot missiles into strategic locations and of course -- to instruct its citizens to cover all windows with sheets of plastic and masking tape.

Prime Minister Shamir enjoyed the support of the media, academia and Left for a time. No Commission of Inquiry was established to investigate the mistakes made in that strange war. By the grace of our Father in Heaven, there were very few Israeli fatalities and nobody criticized Shamir's strategic turnabout. ...

I claimed then -- and even more so now -- that Shamir's blunder was even greater than Golda's in the Yom Kippur War. In the Yom Kippur War, Israel did not lose its power of deterrence. But by the end of the First Gulf War, Israel found itself facing new rules. (Just ask Sderot mayor Eli Moyal for an explanation). Israel had entrusted its security to foreign armies and it soon had to pay for its mistake in hard currency.
I think that he makes a good point - Israel's dependence on the US for its security means that the US naturally has more say in how Israel defends itself, and Israel now finds itself in a position of not wanting to say no to its main friend. The result is a kind of split personality where Israeli leaders are forced to justify themselves from within a US-driven framework, one that fundamentally ignores much of the reality that Israelis have to live with.

Although other recipients of Western largess seem to have no problem ignoring US wishes as to how to act, Israel feels morally bound to accommodate its friend.

This is not a friendship - it is a dependency that is not healthy for either party. Israel gave up a lot of its own self esteem when it outsourced its security to US promises, and no matter how sincere they may have been it is up to Israel alone to make her own decisions and to defend herself.

UPDATE: Siggy has an optimistic response to Shrinkwrapped.
The Israelis, like the Americans in the Carter era (and some might argue even now) are suffering a kind of malaise. It is not fatal and indeed, like the Americans, they will not allow themselves to be worn down by the likes of the failed and dysfunctional regimes and broken, bigoted, racist and murderous cultures of the people that are attempting to strangle her.
Read it all.