In a previous blog posting (http://new.ronlipsman.com/2009/08/05/on-the-existential-threat-to-israel/), I discussed a hostof existential threats to the State of Israel as described in several pieces of recent literature. I argued that the threats could be subsumed under the rubric of ‘three mega-trends that encompass them, and which pose a mortal danger to more than just tiny, beleaguered Israel. Those trends are:
- A worldwide resurgence of Islam, much of it in a radical and deadly mode;
- A worldwide resurgence of virulent Anti-Semitism, much of it cloaked as anti-Zionism, but in reality nothing more than old-fashioned Jew hatred;
- The steep decline within Western Civilization of self-esteem.
That the portentous eruptions implicit in numbers 1 and 2 pose a grave threat to Israel is totally self-evident. On the other hand, the identification of the third trend as the parent of certain existential threats to Israel required some explanation. Now by that trend I meant the declining belief by the peoples of Europe and North America that the fundamental political, cultural, religious and social principles, which undergird the advanced civilization they constructed and maintained during the last half-millennium, have any validity any longer. No civilization, lacking faith in its own bedrock principles, legends, stories, religions and history can long endure. Witness the demise of the late, unlamented Soviet Union, occasioned by precisely such a loss of self-esteem. The West appears headed down the same road with Europe in the lead — but with Obama in the saddle, the US is rushing to catch up. And Israel, which is surely an outpost of Western Civilization, has moved toward the head of the pack. A more precise tie-in to Israel was via the observation that the growing leftist, multicultural, pacifistic, egalitarian, anti-patriotic, anti-religious, corruption-riddled mentality that inhabits the Israeli body politic is, I believe, a manifestation of exactly the same kind of loss of self-esteem that is crippling Europe and increasingly the United States.
The question left unanswered by the article was: What is Israel to do about these threats? How can it deal with the three trends in order to preserve not only its existence, but its vibrance as an independent state, governed by the rule of law, with a (mostly) free and vigorous economy and a society characterized by high levels of education, culture, achievement and faith? It is my humble goal to offer here a few suggestions.
In truth there is precious little that Israel can do about the first two trends. The emergence of radical Islamism in the latter part of the twentieth century has far more to do with the end of the Cold War than it does with any actions taken by Israel. Yes, it is fashionable to assert that the failure to conclude a peace between Israel and the Arab World, and especially between the Jews and Arabs in the lands that constituted the British Mandate of Palestine, is the root cause of Arab unrest in the Middle East and Muslim hostility to the US in particular and the West in general. That is complete and utter nonsense. There is not a shred of evidence indicating that, had Israel not come into existence, the Arab and more generally the Muslim world would be a sea of tranquility, content to live in peace with its non-Muslim neighbors in the West and East. On the contrary, with the demise of Soviet Communism and the increasing demoralization in the West, the Muslim world sees itself as ascendant and, moreover, it appears anxious to spread its influence and rule over vast stretches of the planet. Israel is just one small obstacle in its path — albeit one it has found difficult to overcome. Israel could agree to every demand of the PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Ahmedinejad — which of course would be tantamount to national suicide — and it wouldn’t decrease by one iota the Islamic assault on Western Civilization.
Similarly, there is not much Israel can do about resurgent world-wide anti-Semitism. Treatises have been written offering numerous reasons for the continued existence of this deadly malady. The horror of the Holocaust — the systematic murder of one-half of European Jewry, one-third of the Jews on Earth— put the disease in remission for a period of time. But that period is over. Jew hatred is once again rampant in Europe and of course it never really disappeared from the Muslim world. There is no conceivable course of action by Israel and world Jewry that could cure this deadly disease — save perhaps mass suicide. And even that might not work. The expressions of anti-Semitism in corners of the world where there are no Jews (e.g., Southeast Asia) makes one blink in wonder. Our very existence — past as well as present — is a casus belli.
I believe the people of Israel recognize these facts. Islam has been at war with them for nearly a hundred years. How could the Israelis not notice? Indeed, the memory banks of most Israelis — so many of whom are descendants of victims and survivors of the Holocaust, of other pogroms in Europe and the Middle East, and of Arab terror in Israel itself — are indelibly stamped with the ability to recognize Jew hatred in the Muslim world or wherever they see it. The Jews of Israel have been dealing with it for generations with enough success to allow themselves to stay alive. How?
The answer is by being resolute, strong, courageous, determined — and violent when necessary. Realizing that you are in a fight to the death is more than half the battle. If you do, then you have a shot at building and maintaining the strength and courage to face down your enemies. Denial or appeasement on the other hand is a prescription for death. The Jews of Israel have pursued a policy of strength for 80 years. But there are some signs lately that Israel’s prosecution of this policy is weakening. The reason is precisely because Israel has fallen prey to the phenomenon of declining self-esteem that is so widespread in Europe and North America. (For more on this, see http://new.ronlipsman.com/2009/09/04/is-the-united-states-of-america-doomed/ and http://new.ronlipsman.com/2009/07/07/the-nature-of-obamas-liberalism/.)
Thus I believe that trends 1 and 2 are manageable — not easily and not without great sacrifice — but only if number 3 is dealt with successfully. And it is here that I believe there are some concrete steps that Israel could take.
The first main step is to recognize that the issue is cultural, not political. As was recognized a hundred years ago by radicals like John Dewey and Antonio Gramsci, one can change the nature of a country by capturing its culture, the politics will follow. (This is also discussed at some length in http://new.ronlipsman.com/2009/05/17/what-culture-is-it-that-the-politics-have-caught-up-with/ and http://new.ronlipsman.com/2009/04/10/different-visions/.) Of course this is precisely what has happened in Western Europe, as well as in the US and Israel — although not quite as deeply in the latter instances as in the former. The solution: take back the culture. I am not as conversant with Israeli society as I am with American society, but it seems to me that conservatives and traditionalists in Israel need to:
- develop extensive conservative, cultural media outlets analogous to American talk radio, the Washington Times and magazines like Commentary and the American Spectator;
- develop robust think tanks that will promote traditional ideas and policies — e.g., like the Heritage Foundation;
- try to displace the leftists who control the educational system;
- resist judicial usurpations that cripple the nation’s ability to defend itself and that diminish the Zionist creed that gives meaning to the State;
- continue and intensify Israel’s defiance of anti-Semitic regimes around the globe — and the spineless governments and organizations that appease them — who demonize her and attempt to delegitimize her.
I am sure there is no shortage of Israelis who could easily embellish this limited set of recommendations in order to produce a more extensive program of self-renewal and pride in Israeli culture. Implementing it is another matter.
Next, any objective observer would agree that Israel has the right —inherent from the Bible and more than three millennia of history, and codified in the Balfour Declaration, the League of Nations Mandate and the United Nations’ resolutions of the late 1940s — to its existence as a Jewish State in the formerly British-administered territory of Palestine; and that any threat to that existence is an act of war, with genocidal overtones, against the Jewish inhabitants of that State. Moreover, Israel has the unquestioned right to defend itself from those who promulgate such threats. These unalienable truths must be drummed into the heads of Israeli youth and repeated incessantly to the nations of the world who deign to doubt them.
The third major step is an acknowledgement that the record compiled by Israel in its 60+ years of existence is at least as meritorious as that of any other nation in that time and easily exceeds most. It includes:
- defending itself successfully against its mortal enemies despite vastly unfavorable odds;
- developing a national culture of scientific development, artistic achievement, aid to less fortunate nations, tolerance and respect for its non-Jewish minority, and constructing a society governed according to the rule of law;
- becoming a world leader in technological innovation and development;
- reviving Jewish nationhood and language after an hiatus of two millennia;
- building a robust economy and increasing the prosperity of its citizens;
- assimilating millions of immigrants successfully.
This is a record of achievement of which any nation would be proud to boast. But like its basic rights, these achievements must be trumpeted endlessly to its own people and to the world. Together, these steps — initiating a domestic ‘culture war’ to recapture the cultural (and political) initiative and promulgating, to their own people and to the world, the country’s rights and accomplishments — would go a long way toward helping Israel deal with its self-esteem problem, and consequently with the existential threats it faces.
Even if Israel takes these steps — and I believe it must if it is to survive — it will still face formidable challenges, some of which could prove fatal. For example, here are five, at least the first two of which have lethal potential:
- the Arab demographic problem;
- the nuclear threat from Iran;
- an overdependence on the US, especially in light of the fact that the new US President is less than favorably inclined toward the Jewish State;
- the inability in six decades to satisfactorily reconcile the religious-secular divide in the body politic; and
- a leadership that is unworthy of the people’s trust.
Apropos the last, Netanyahu is now the key person facing these formidable challenges. The nearly universal assessment is that he didn’t perform so well in his first stint as Prime Minister. We shall know soon whether he fares better this time.