Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Portrait of the Writer as a Political Schizophrenic. Discovering the extraordinary fact that people actually read my stuff has prompted a certain amount of thinking on my part (a very certain amount), on the subject of clarifying exactly what I think about this whole crazy situation over here (the matzav, if you will) and all the various nasty issues it raises. The problem is, once I started thinking about it, I realized that I don't have completely firm opinions on these things. They often shift according to events and the mad vicissitudes of politics in this region. I couldn't say whether I am Right or Left. Often I bounce back and forth between extremes. What I would call political schizophrenia (or at least bipolar disorder). I think, however, that this puts me in the same place as a lot of Israelis, who also don't know quite where to turn these days. So, in the interests of clarification (or not, as the case may well be) I thought of writing a few things about my feelings on certain large issues. If only to illustrate my painful predicament as a political schizophrenic.

The Occupation

This is obviously the big one, since its basically the question of what Israel will be and look like in the future. I am deeply conflicted over this issue, but I think a few things are fairly clear.

Firstly, the occupation hurts Israel. Economically, politically, and morally the occupation comes at a very high cost. I think there is a lot of truth in the idea that the system in place in the territories leads to the degradation of Israeli culture and society and damages our conception of human life and dignity. I also think the financial cost of maintaining a military/political presence in the territories (not to mention the settlements) is simply unsustainable and unjustifiable in a country which needs every cent it can get. The worst aspect of it, however, is the effect it has on the Israelis themselves. I have had the singularly depressing experience of speaking to veteran Israelis who have served in the army and the reserves, lived all their lives here, and are thinking about leaving Israel. Why? Because they believe the occupation is corrupting and ruining Israeli society and they see no hope of it ever ending. This is simply immensely dangerous to Israeli society. No country in Israel's position can survive with a large percentage of its citizens alienated and disillusioned. A friend of mine, a reserve lieutenant in the reserves, once said to me: "the most important thing is to be right, and you cannot be right if you are occupying three million people". I can't deny that he has a point.

On the other hand, I also think that Ze'ev Jabotinsky's Iron Wall theory was absolutely correct. Jabotinsky was the founder of Revisionist Zionism, a non-Socialist militant branch of the movement which led to the Herut Party led by Menachem Begin which later became the dominant faction of the Likud Party. In the thirties, before the state was founded, Jabotinsky wrote an article called "The Iron Wall" in which he theorized that the Arab world would never consent to a Jewish State in its midst. Therefore, the coming Jewish State would have to make itself militarily impossible to destroy, and would have to be founded and developed behind a proverbial "Iron Wall" of military superiority. I think this was and still is an extraordinarily perceptive and accurate assessment. Now, it is not a difficult stretch to see the occupation as exactly that Iron Wall which Jabotinsky was writing about. One could argue that it has provided the margin of safety which has allowed Israel to be an extraordinary success in the realm of state-building despite the violent opposition of nearly all of its neighbors and a good chunk of the rest of the world. From this point of view, the Arabs' continuing rejection of our national rights and continued desire to annhilate Israel justifies the occupation both morally and strategically until such time as the Arab world is prepared to accept or at least acquiesce to Israel's existence.

Ramming right up against this, however, is the demographic issue. I think this is an enormous and very relevant issue whose danger is not in the least bit exagerrated. It is absolutely an existential question. As the demographic ratios become more and more lopsided it is going to become harder and harder for Israel to resist the analogy of apartheid South Africa. If this becomes the prevailing consensus of the world's elite (as it already is in many circles) even the United States may not be able to resist its influence. This is a basic and fundamental threat to Zionism itself, which has always insisted on a Jewish State with a Jewish majority as its first perogative. Without the Jewish majority, everything else means nothing.

Personally, I think the best solution is the one outlined by Sharon in his withdrawal plan. Namely, keeping the large West Bank settlements, evacuating Gaza, and drawing Israel's borders according to the needs of the demographic situation. Unfortunately, that solution seems stalled politically due to the (misguided, in my opinion) opposition of the Rightwing. This paralysis is not only stalling the situation. It is, in my opinion, undermining Zionism as I understand it.

More to come...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A friend of mine, a reserve lieutenant in the reserves, once said to me: "the most important thing is to be right, and you cannot be right if you are occupying three million people".Your friend is wrong. The most important thing is to be alive. And the second most important thing is to live free in your homeland.


PS. your comment interface is pretty intimidating. you have to create an account at blogger to comment. and it doesn't allow line breaks

9:17 PM  
Blogger Rimon said...

so I guess it does allow line breaks. they just don't show up when you preview. I think more people would be dropping you a line if you made it a bit easier to comment

9:19 PM  
Blogger benjamin said...

I think my friend is right from the point of view of internal malaise. The occupation is clearly leading a large percentage of the Israeli public (not a majority, perhaps, but a substantial number) to believe their country is either a) morally wrong or b) stuck in a quagmire from which it will never be able or willing to remove itself. I think this constitutes a threat of some significance to Israel's continued existence.

And you're right about the comments process, but unfortunately its what Blogger is offering right now. Hopefully they'll make some improvements pretty soon.

12:48 AM  
Blogger Rimon said...

benjamin, if you want people to be able to post comments without having to create an account at blogger, here's what you do. log in to, go to edit your blog. Go to 'settings', go to 'comments,' then look at the menu next to 'who can comment' and select 'anyone.' You probably have 'only registered users' selected right now.

I think i'll try this blogger thing out myself, if i can find the time for it.

shabbat shalom

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