Writing Israel Off
04/09/08
Associate Editor
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When Israel finally flatlines, don’t say The Atlantic didn’t warn you.
In May 2005, Atlantic published a lengthy speculation, “Will Israel Live to 100?” The answer suggested that the Zionist house was built more of twigs than of bricks. Now that Israel is hitting 60, the Atlantic asks again, more ominously and more immediately: “Is Israel Finished?”
The Atlantic’s May cover — depicting the star from the Israeli flag placed on the red and green field of the Palestinian flag — comes at you with all the goose bumps of that song from “Cabaret,” “Tomorrow Belongs To Me,” only that “me” is them.
Jeffrey Goldberg, the Atlantic’s masterful correspondent, builds his story around David Grossman, the Israeli novelist and leftist, who famously
Values To Heal America
and tragically called for a cease-fire in Lebanon in 2006, just days before his son, a soldier, was killed in that war’s surreal and useless coda.
Grossman is among those convinced that “Israel’s settlement enterprise on the West Bank was a catastrophe.” Grossman tells Goldberg that Israel’s instinctive and flawed reaction, first to Hezbollah and now to Hamas, is that “what doesn’t work with force will work with more force. ... Force in this case will fan the flames of hatred for Israel in the region and the entire world, and may even, heaven forbid, create the situation that will bring upon us the next war and push the Middle East to an all-out, regional war.”
What neither Goldberg nor Grossman can quite explain is why Israeli force against Arabs is certain to ignite Arab hatred, but Palestinian force against Israelis has only the opposite result: Israeli exhaustion, a sense of futility, an urge to surrender all Jewish claims to Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem. We’re suppose to accept the logic that killing Palestinians will make more Palestinians want to fight, but killing Israelis will make Israelis (personified by Grossman) not want to fight at all.
Like the Israelite spies who scouted Canaan, seeing themselves as grasshoppers and the Canaanites as giants, Grossman says, despite having an army, “the inner feeling is of absolute fragility, that all the time we are at the edge of the abyss.”
Goldberg writes, how can Israel survive “if its army cannot defeat small bands of rocketeers?”
To Grossman, “the idea that Israel will not exist anymore ... hovers above us all the time.” Grossman urged Israeli leaders to “go to the Palestinian people,” to the “moderates,” “recognize their continued suffering,” and do the one thing that he is convinced must be done: “leave the West Bank,” evacuate each settlement as surely as in Gaza.
Of course, admits Goldberg, the Gaza evacuation “resulted not in peace but in a barrage of rocket attacks,” and he quotes a Gaza imam, “It does not matter what the Jews do, we will not let them have peace.” That was right after a sermon in which that imam said Jews were “the sons of apes and pigs.”
While Grossman, the grieving parent, is a compelling emotional centerpiece for Goldberg, one wonders whom exactly does Grossman represent? Goldberg acknowledges that “many of Grossman’s allies on the left have abandoned the idea that Arabs will reconcile themselves to a Jewish state in their midst,” settlements or not. There is “a split on the left; some of Grossman’s allies believe that he is, in fact, too hard on the prime minister.”
So if many of Grossman’s allies on the left have abandoned Grossman’s central idea, and those on the right don’t accept Grossman’s premise either, why should we conclude that Israel is finished if Goldberg’s only star witness is the atypical Grossman?
The Economist (April 3) is another publication that devoted thousands of words (and several stories) to Israel’s birthday, or was this another death watch? The Economist tells us, Israel’s “future is as uncertain as at any time in its 60 years of history.”
There is “impressive economic growth” but that has only “widened wealth gaps rather than easing poverty.” The economic growth “will slow inexorably unless several serious structural weaknesses are fixed, including a faltering education system, low workforce participation and a sometimes sclerotic public sector. A volatile political system makes these reforms hard to achieve.”
Politically, says the Economist, “talks on a Palestinian state look doomed to failure. If they do succeed, the need to give up the West Bank will re-ignite internal Jewish conflicts, but if they don’t, fears will grow that a separation from the Palestinians may no longer be possible, forcing Israel to choose between enshrining a form of apartheid and relinquishing its Jewish character.”
No reporter bothers to ask why the suggested Palestinian state smacks of apartheid, a place where Jews can’t live, vote, own land, or visit religious places, unlike Palestinians within Israel’s borders who are Israeli citizens.
Meanwhile, the Economist notes, “Many Jews from the diaspora already view Israel as spiritually impoverished and uninviting.” No one explains why there are waiting lists and thousands of American Jewish students going to Israel for summer programs and pre-college yeshivas, and enrolling in Israeli universities.
The New York Times doesn’t have to wait for Israel’s 60th to cover Israel more thoroughly than any non-Israeli daily in the world. Ethan Bronner, now on the Israel beat, took a look at West Bank roads (March 28), and the Israeli Supreme Court decision that accepted the government claim that security necessitates some separate roads, one for Israelis (including Israeli Arabs) and one for Palestinians. Of course, there were charges of apartheid by Jews, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
There was an excellent piece (April 1) by Steven Erlanger on how Hamas’ “insults to Jews complicate peace.” Of course, an “insult” to a Jew would be a “hate crime” if the exact same words were dished on an American campus.
Once again, we hear Islamic holy men calling Jews “the brothers of apes and pigs,” along with providing justifications for suicide bombings and rocket launchings.
We are told that “many religious leaders” believe Jews will have “the punishment of burning in this world,” with one saying, “We are sure that the Holocaust is still to come upon the Jews.”
Surely, that Holocaust will only target the settlers, right?
Israel, in the meantime, instead of defending Sderot, is turning it into a Yad Vashem of sorts, “a must-see stop” to elicit pity from foreigners and visiting dignitaries. Bronner writes (April 5), the town is “edging into the center of Zionist consciousness as a symbol of the nation’s unofficial motto, ‘Never Again.” It’s quite lucrative. Big money is pouring into Sderot.
On Tuesday, April 8, unreported by any non-Israeli paper, Hamas fired 32 mortar bombs and three rockets at this presumptive Yad Vashem. Israel’s foreign ministry’s version of “Never Again” was, again, to send 127 trucks into Gaza, bringing medicine, diapers, and food into the land of the rockets, aid for the congregants of the imams who are calling for Holocausts, for Israel to burn.
E-mail: jonathan@jewishweek.org

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