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The country that wouldn't grow up

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    The country that wouldn t grow up By Tony Judt 04/05/2006 http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/711997.html By the age of 58 a country - like a man - should have
    Message 1 of 1 , May 5, 2006
      The country that wouldn't grow up
      By Tony Judt

      By the age of 58 a country - like a man - should have achieved a
      certain maturity. After nearly six decades of existence we know, for
      good and for bad, who we are, what we have done and how we appear to
      others, warts and all. We acknowledge, however reluctantly and
      privately, our mistakes and our shortcomings. And though we still
      harbor the occasional illusion about ourselves and our prospects, we
      are wise enough to recognize that these are indeed for the most part
      just that: illusions. In short, we are adults.

      But the State of Israel remains curiously (and among Western-style
      democracies, uniquely) immature. The social transformations of the
      country - and its many economic achievements - have not brought the
      political wisdom that usually accompanies age. Seen from the outside,
      Israel still comports itself like an adolescent: consumed by a brittle
      confidence in its own uniqueness; certain that no one "understands" it
      and everyone is "against" it; full of wounded self-esteem, quick to
      take offense and quick to give it. Like many adolescents Israel is
      convinced - and makes a point of aggressively and repeatedly asserting
      - that it can do as it wishes, that its actions carry no consequences
      and that it is immortal. Appropriately enough, this country that has
      somehow failed to grow up was until very recently still in the hands
      of a generation of men who were prominent in its public affairs 40
      years ago: an Israeli Rip Van Winkle who fell asleep in, say, 1967
      would be surprised indeed to awake in 2006 and find Shimon Peres and
      General Ariel Sharon still hovering over the affairs of the country -
      the latter albeit only in spirit.

      But that, Israeli readers will tell me, is the prejudiced view of the
      outsider. What looks from abroad like a self-indulgent, wayward
      country - delinquent in its international obligations and resentfully
      indifferent to world opinion - is simply an independent little state
      doing what it has always done: looking after its own interests in an
      inhospitable part of the globe. Why should embattled Israel even
      acknowledge such foreign criticism, much less act upon it? They -
      gentiles, Muslims, leftists - have reasons of their own for disliking
      Israel. They - Europeans, Arabs, fascists - have always singled out
      Israel for special criticism. Their motives are timeless. They haven't
      changed. Why should Israel change?


      But they have changed. And it is this change, which has passed largely
      unrecognized within Israel, to which I want to draw attention here.
      Before 1967 the State of Israel may have been tiny and embattled, but
      it was not typically hated: certainly not in the West. Official
      Soviet-bloc communism was anti-Zionist of course, but for just that
      reason Israel was rather well regarded by everyone else, including the
      non-communist left. The romantic image of the kibbutz and the
      kibbutznik had a broad foreign appeal in the first two decades of
      Israel's existence. Most admirers of Israel (Jews and non-Jews) knew
      little about the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe) of 1948. They
      preferred to see in the Jewish state the last surviving incarnation of
      the 19th century idyll of agrarian socialism - or else a paragon of
      modernizing energy "making the desert bloom."

      I remember well, in the spring of 1967, how the balance of student
      opinion at Cambridge University was overwhelmingly pro-Israel in the
      weeks leading up to the Six-Day War - and how little attention anyone
      paid either to the condition of the Palestinians or to Israel's
      earlier collusion with France and Britain in the disastrous Suez
      adventure of 1956. In politics and in policy-making circles only
      old-fashioned conservative Arabists expressed any criticism of the
      Jewish state; even neo-Fascists rather favored Zionism, on traditional
      anti-Semitic grounds.

      For a while after the 1967 war these sentiments continued unaltered.
      The pro-Palestinian enthusiasms of post-1960s radical groups and
      nationalist movements, reflected in joint training camps and shared
      projects for terrorist attacks, were offset by the growing
      international acknowledgment of the Holocaust in education and the
      media: What Israel lost by its continuing occupation of Arab lands it
      gained through its close identification with the recovered memory of
      Europe's dead Jews. Even the inauguration of the illegal settlements
      and the disastrous invasion of Lebanon, while they strengthened the
      arguments of Israel's critics, did not yet shift the international
      balance of opinion. As recently as the early 1990s, most people in the
      world were only vaguely aware of the "West Bank" and what was
      happening there. Even those who pressed the Palestinians' case in
      international forums conceded that almost no one was listening. Israel
      could still do as it wished.

      The Israeli nakba

      But today everything is different. We can see, in retrospect, that the
      victory of Israel in June 1967 and its continuing occupation of the
      territories it conquered then have been the Jewish state's very own
      nakba: a moral and political catastrophe. Israel's actions in the West
      Bank and Gaza have magnified and publicized the country's shortcomings
      and displayed them to a watching world. Curfews, checkpoints,
      bulldozers, public humiliations, home destructions, land seizures,
      shootings, "targeted assassinations," the separation fence: All of
      these routines of occupation and repression were once familiar only to
      an informed minority of specialists and activists. Today they can be
      watched, in real time, by anyone with a computer or a satellite dish -
      which means that Israel's behavior is under daily scrutiny by hundreds
      of millions of people worldwide. The result has been a complete
      transformation in the international view of Israel. Until very
      recently the carefully burnished image of an ultra-modern society -
      built by survivors and pioneers and peopled by peace-loving democrats
      - still held sway over international opinion. But today? What is the
      universal shorthand symbol for Israel, reproduced worldwide in
      thousands of newspaper editorials and political cartoons? The Star of
      David emblazoned upon a tank.

      Today only a tiny minority of outsiders see Israelis as victims. The
      true victims, it is now widely accepted, are the Palestinians. Indeed,
      Palestinians have now displaced Jews as the emblematic persecuted
      minority: vulnerable, humiliated and stateless. This unsought
      distinction does little to advance the Palestinian case any more than
      it ever helped Jews, but it has redefined Israel forever. It has
      become commonplace to compare Israel at best to an occupying
      colonizer, at worst to the South Africa of race laws and Bantustans.
      In this capacity Israel elicits scant sympathy even when its own
      citizens suffer: Dead Israelis - like the occasional assassinated
      white South African in the apartheid era, or British colonists hacked
      to death by native insurgents - are typically perceived abroad not as
      the victims of terrorism but as the collateral damage of their own
      government's mistaken policies.

      Such comparisons are lethal to Israel's moral credibility. They strike
      at what was once its strongest suit: the claim of being a vulnerable
      island of democracy and decency in a sea of authoritarianism and
      cruelty; an oasis of rights and freedoms surrounded by a desert of
      repression. But democrats don't fence into Bantustans helpless people
      whose land they have conquered, and free men don't ignore
      international law and steal other men's homes. The contradictions of
      Israeli self-presentation - "we are very strong/we are very
      vulnerable"; "we are in control of our fate/we are the victims"; "we
      are a normal state/we demand special treatment" - are not new: they
      have been part of the country's peculiar identity almost from the
      outset. And Israel's insistent emphasis upon its isolation and
      uniqueness, its claim to be both victim and hero, were once part of
      its David versus Goliath appeal.

      Collective cognitive dysfunction

      But today the country's national narrative of macho victimhood appears
      to the rest of the world as simply bizarre: evidence of a sort of
      collective cognitive dysfunction that has gripped Israel's political
      culture. And the long cultivated persecution mania - "everyone's out
      to get us" - no longer elicits sympathy. Instead it attracts some very
      unappetizing comparisons: At a recent international meeting I heard
      one speaker, by analogy with Helmut Schmidt's famous dismissal of the
      Soviet Union as "Upper Volta with Missiles," describe Israel as
      "Serbia with nukes."

      Israel has stayed the same, but the world - as I noted above - has
      changed. Whatever purchase Israel's self-description still has upon
      the imagination of Israelis themselves, it no longer operates beyond
      the country's frontiers. Even the Holocaust can no longer be
      instrumentalized to excuse Israel's behavior. Thanks to the passage of
      time, most Western European states have now come to terms with their
      part in the Holocaust, something that was not true a quarter century
      ago. From Israel's point of view, this has had paradoxical
      consequences: Until the end of the Cold War Israeli governments could
      still play upon the guilt of Germans and other Europeans, exploiting
      their failure to acknowledge fully what was done to Jews on their
      territory. Today, now that the history of World War II is retreating
      from the public square into the classroom and from the classroom into
      the history books, a growing majority of voters in Europe and
      elsewhere (young voters above all) simply cannot understand how the
      horrors of the last European war can be invoked to license or condone
      unacceptable behavior in another time and place. In the eyes of a
      watching world, the fact that the great-grandmother of an Israeli
      soldier died in Treblinka is no excuse for his own abusive treatment
      of a Palestinian woman waiting to cross a checkpoint. "Remember
      Auschwitz" is not an acceptable response.

      In short: Israel, in the world's eyes, is a normal state, but one
      behaving in abnormal ways. It is in control of its fate, but the
      victims are someone else. It is strong, very strong, but its behavior
      is making everyone else vulnerable. And so, shorn of all other
      justifications for its behavior, Israel and its supporters today fall
      back with increasing shrillness upon the oldest claim of all: Israel
      is a Jewish state and that is why people criticize it. This - the
      charge that criticism of Israel is implicitly anti-Semitic - is
      regarded in Israel and the United States as Israel's trump card. If it
      has been played more insistently and aggressively in recent years,
      that is because it is now the only card left.

      The habit of tarring any foreign criticism with the brush of
      anti-Semitism is deeply engrained in Israeli political instincts:
      Ariel Sharon used it with characteristic excess but he was only the
      latest in a long line of Israeli leaders to exploit the claim. David
      Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir did no different. But Jews outside of Israel
      pay a high price for this tactic. Not only does it inhibit their own
      criticisms of Israel for fear of appearing to associate with bad
      company, but it encourages others to look upon Jews everywhere as de
      facto collaborators in Israel's misbehavior. When Israel breaks
      international law in the occupied territories, when Israel publicly
      humiliates the subject populations whose land it has seized - but then
      responds to its critics with loud cries of "anti-Semitism" - it is in
      effect saying that these acts are not Israeli acts, they are Jewish
      acts: The occupation is not an Israeli occupation, it is a Jewish
      occupation, and if you don't like these things it is because you don't
      like Jews.

      In many parts of the world this is in danger of becoming a
      self-fulfilling assertion: Israel's reckless behavior and insistent
      identification of all criticism with anti-Semitism is now the leading
      source of anti-Jewish sentiment in Western Europe and much of Asia.
      But the traditional corollary - if anti-Jewish feeling is linked to
      dislike of Israel then right-thinking people should rush to Israel's
      defense - no longer applies. Instead, the ironies of the Zionist dream
      have come full circle: For tens of millions of people in the world
      today, Israel is indeed the state of all the Jews. And thus,
      reasonably enough, many observers believe that one way to take the
      sting out of rising anti-Semitism in the suburbs of Paris or the
      streets of Jakarta would be for Israel to give the Palestinians back
      their land.

      Israel's undoing

      If Israel's leaders have been able to ignore such developments it is
      in large measure because they have hitherto counted upon the
      unquestioning support of the United States - the one country in the
      world where the claim that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism is still
      echoed not only in the opinions of many Jews but also in the public
      pronouncements of mainstream politicians and the mass media. But this
      lazy, ingrained confidence in unconditional American approval - and
      the moral, military and financial support that accompanies it - may
      prove to be Israel's undoing.

      Something is changing in the United States. To be sure, it was only a
      few short years ago that prime minister Sharon's advisers could
      gleefully celebrate their success in dictating to U.S. President
      George W. Bush the terms of a public statement approving Israel's
      illegal settlements. No U.S. Congressman has yet proposed reducing or
      rescinding the $3 billion in aid Israel receives annually - 20 percent
      of the total U.S. foreign aid budget - which has helped sustain the
      Israeli defense budget and the cost of settlement construction in the
      West Bank. And Israel and the United States appear increasingly bound
      together in a symbiotic embrace whereby the actions of each party
      exacerbate their common unpopularity abroad - and thus their
      ever-closer association in the eyes of critics.

      But whereas Israel has no choice but to look to America - it has no
      other friends, at best only the conditional affection of the enemies
      of its enemies, such as India - the United States is a great power;
      and great powers have interests that sooner or later transcend the
      local obsessions of even the closest of their client states and
      satellites. It seems to me of no small significance that the recent
      essay on "The Israel Lobby" by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt has
      aroused so much public interest and debate. Mearsheimer and Walt are
      prominent senior academics of impeccable conservative credentials. It
      is true that - by their own account - they could still not have
      published their damning indictment of the influence of the Israel
      lobby on U.S. foreign policy in a major U.S.-based journal (it
      appeared in the London Review of Books), but the point is that 10
      years ago they would not - and probably could not - have published it
      at all. And while the debate that has ensued may generate more heat
      than light, it is of great significance: As Dr. Johnson said of female
      preachers, it is not well done but one is amazed to see it done at all.

      The fact is that the disastrous Iraq invasion and its aftermath are
      beginning to engineer a sea-change in foreign policy debate here in
      the U.S. It is becoming clear to prominent thinkers across the
      political spectrum - from erstwhile neo-conservative interventionists
      like Francis Fukuyama to hard-nosed realists like Mearsheimer - that
      in recent years the United States has suffered a catastrophic loss of
      international political influence and an unprecedented degradation of
      its moral image. The country's foreign undertakings have been
      self-defeating and even irrational. There is going to be a long job of
      repair ahead, above all in Washington's dealings with economically and
      strategically vital communities and regions from the Middle East to
      Southeast Asia. And this reconstruction of the country's foreign image
      and influence cannot hope to succeed while U.S. foreign policy is tied
      by an umbilical cord to the needs and interests (if that is what they
      are) of one small Middle Eastern country of very little relevance to
      America's long-term concerns - a country that is, in the words of the
      Mearsheimer/Walt essay, a strategic burden: "A liability in the war on
      terror and the broader effort to deal with rogue states."

      That essay is thus a straw in the wind - an indication of the likely
      direction of future domestic debate here in the U.S. about the
      country's peculiar ties to Israel. Of course it has been met by a
      firestorm of criticism from the usual suspects - and, just as they
      anticipated, the authors have been charged with anti-Semitism (or with
      advancing the interests of anti-Semitism: "objective anti-Semitism,"
      as it might be). But it is striking to me how few people with whom I
      have spoken take that accusation seriously, so predictable has it
      become. This is bad for Jews - since it means that genuine
      anti-Semitism may also in time cease to be taken seriously, thanks to
      the Israel lobby's abuse of the term. But it is worse for Israel.

      This new willingness to take one's distance from Israel is not
      confined to foreign policy specialists. As a teacher I have also been
      struck in recent years by a sea-change in the attitude of students.
      One example among many: Here at New York University I was teaching
      this past month a class on post-war Europe. I was trying to explain to
      young Americans the importance of the Spanish Civil War in the
      political memory of Europeans and why Franco's Spain has such a
      special place in our moral imagination: as a reminder of lost
      struggles, a symbol of oppression in an age of liberalism and freedom,
      and a land of shame that people boycotted for its crimes and
      repression. I cannot think, I told the students, of any country that
      occupies such a pejorative space in democratic public consciousness
      today. You are wrong, one young woman replied: What about Israel? To
      my great surprise most of the class - including many of the sizable
      Jewish contingent - nodded approval. The times they are indeed

      That Israel can now stand in comparison with the Spain of General
      Franco in the eyes of young Americans ought to come as a shock and an
      eleventh-hour wake-up call to Israelis. Nothing lasts forever, and it
      seems likely to me that we shall look back upon the years 1973-2003 as
      an era of tragic illusion for Israel: years that the locust ate,
      consumed by the bizarre notion that, whatever it chose to do or
      demand, Israel could count indefinitely upon the unquestioning support
      of the United States and would never risk encountering a backlash.
      This blinkered arrogance is tragically summed up in an assertion by
      Shimon Peres on the very eve of the calamitous war that will in
      retrospect be seen, I believe, to have precipitated the onset of
      America's alienation from its Israeli ally: "The campaign against
      Saddam Hussein is a must."

      The future of Israel

      From one perspective Israel's future is bleak. Not for the first time,
      a Jewish state has found itself on the vulnerable periphery of someone
      else's empire: overconfident in its own righteousness, willfully blind
      to the danger that its indulgent excesses might ultimately provoke its
      imperial mentor to the point of irritation and beyond, and heedless of
      its own failure to make any other friends. To be sure, the modern
      Israeli state has big weapons - very big weapons. But can it do with
      them except make more enemies? However, modern Israel also has
      options. Precisely because the country is an object of such universal
      mistrust and resentment - because people expect so little from Israel
      today - a truly statesmanlike shift in its policies (dismantling of
      major settlements, opening unconditional negotiations with
      Palestinians, calling Hamas' bluff by offering the movement's leaders
      something serious in return for recognition of Israel and a
      cease-fire) could have disproportionately beneficial effects.

      But such a radical realignment of Israeli strategy would entail a
      difficult reappraisal of every cliche and illusion under which the
      country and its political elite have nestled for most of their life.
      It would entail acknowledging that Israel no longer has any special
      claim upon international sympathy or indulgence; that the United
      States won't always be there; that weapons and walls can no more
      preserve Israel forever than they preserved the German Democratic
      Republic or white South Africa; that colonies are always doomed unless
      you are willing to expel or exterminate the indigenous population.
      Other countries and their leaders have understood this and managed
      comparable realignments: Charles De Gaulle realized that France's
      settlement in Algeria, which was far older and better established than
      Israel's West Bank colonies, was a military and moral disaster for his
      country. In an exercise of outstanding political courage, he acted
      upon that insight and withdrew. But when De Gaulle came to that
      realization he was a mature statesman, nearly 70 years old. Israel
      cannot afford to wait that long. At the age of 58 the time has come
      for it to grow up.

      Tony Judt is a professor and the director of the Remarque Institute at
      New York University, and his book "Postwar: The History of Europe
      Since 1945" was published in 2005.



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