In the spirit of Yom Ha’atzmaot, Israel’s Independence Day, there has been a lot of talk about the bleak situation Israel finds herself in. The lack of progress on the peace front, the looming threat of Iran, the discord across the religious divides within Israel and the tentative relationship Israel has now with the United States administration, all paint a picture of more of the same to come from the Israel and Middle East. That does not bode well, and it will get to the point where stagnancy breeds indifference.
Just as the tribal wars, violence and death in ominous African countries often get remanded to obscure mentions in the media and in people’s minds because nothing seems to make a difference, rendering it routine rather than unusual, the often clichéd sequence of events between Israel and its neighbors gets tired, too.
The rockets fall into Israel, Israel retaliates; Israel hinders movement of Palestinians, PA leadership declares it will not yield in its demand for a right of return. Israel expands its building of Judea and Samaria, and rockets fall into Israel. In the process, American Jews lobby their government leaders, the Israel Prime Minister stands obstinate at the American President who time and again declares solidarity with Israel and pays lip-service to Jewish constituents, but does little to actually get invested in the real issues it faces.
So it goes, the same cycle. The individual circumstances change, the locations of terror attacks vary, and the manner of retaliation adjusts to keep it interesting, but the basic picture stays the same. At some point, the public that cares, but is not invested--namely non-Jews or non-Christian Zionists who just see Israel as a democracy where disorder is common, will just get bored or worn on the subject.
Some claim that the endless nature of these difficult cycles calls for a different approach by the parties, yet few really expect anything different from the Arabs. Look at the world today; most of the Arab world operates as if it is still in the Dark Ages. It maintains laws that most Westerners deem antiquated, treats women as chattel and keeps the masses uneducated and desperate. There are only Palestinian refugees because their leadership has consistently refused to allow anyone to build up and move in order to maintain the status of poverty and pain for anti-Israel positioning purposes.
In an age when television, movies, and entertainers often poke fun at Jews and the Jewish religion or Christians, or Mormons--some playful and some that border on prejudice, left leaning media is unanimous with a hands off, almost self-righteous approach to Moslems and jokes about Islam. It is not because they have a respect for Islam that is lacking for other religions.
MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell made some vile comments about Mormonism and its founder Joseph Smith on April 3, and he did it knowing that the worst backlash he would face is a call for his removal from the air and possibly a forced apology. O’Donnell would never be that callous about Islam or its founder because calls for his removal could easily be threats against his life, and instead of an apology, perhaps a riot may ensue, “honor” killings or a call to martyrdom and strap-on bombs may appear.
In September of 2005, the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, published drawings of Islam’s founder, Mohammed. A group of Danish imams traveled throughout the Islamic world inciting violence in protest, and 139 people were killed in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. Embassies have been burned, and Islamic threats of violence are routine occurrences. The recent riots over burning the Koran caused death and mayhem, and President Obama felt compelled to apologize for it.
Filmmaker Theo Van Gogh produced the film Submission, which criticized the treatment of women in Islam. Muslims were outraged and he was subsequently assassinated by a Dutch-Moroccan Muslim.
In 1987, photographer Andres Serrano created his sorry work, “Piss Christ,” a cross immersed in urine; he was yelled at and called a lot of bad names. Yet he lives and never needed police protection. Rabid actor Mel Gibson made some awfully stereotypical anti-Semitic comments, apologized and then did it again, and he gets to play Jewish hero Judah Maccabee in a new movie because there is no fatwā issued against him.
So now, in honor of Israel’s independence, Stephen Robert, former Oppenheimer & Co. head, former chancellor of Brown University, and someone who says he was a hawk on Israel until now, penned an op-ed in the New York Times calling for “A Reset in Jewish Thinking.”
His opinion concludes that it is up to Israel to be the better people and force peace through concessions and land swaps. He declares that “it is time for Jews to realize their changed position, to eschew the time-worn arguments of the past, to raise the plane of the debate and to move vigorously toward an achievable two state-solution.” What he is really saying is that the Arab neighbors will not work for it, they will not concede and they will not change; so Israel must be bold to make it happen.
Ami Ayalon, Orni Petruschka and Gilead Sher penned “Peace Without Partners,” also in the New York Times. Here, a former commander of the Israeli Navy, an entrepreneur, and a peace negotiator and chief of staff to the Israeli prime minister all declare that Israel needs to be the moral compass of the Middle East and do what Roberts says, but upped the ante asking for Israel to declare a unilateral peace and force it to happen. Here, too, they say it without spelling it out that the Palestinians are not going to surprise anyone with forward thinking.
They are all possibly right and Israel might not continue to be the center of attention and on people’s minds if the cycle goes on indefinitely. The Palestinians hope for that outcome, because they will win the demographic war and fewer people will really care. In the absence of new ideas and endless possibilities, it is no wonder that more eyes are now turning to Israel to continue being the people who know how to innovate, build and thrive.
Israel’s best attributes, the ones that exemplify the achievements of a smart, resilient and proactive people, are the same attributes that trigger harsher judgment with often unrealistic expectation of it always having to hold the moral high ground. We should not look at this as criticism of Israel, but as the unstated indictment of Israel’s neighbors and enemies who few look to with any optimism at all. The reality is, as “Only Nixon could go to China,” only Israel can make a peace happen.
Juda Engelmayer is an executive with the NY PR agency, 5W Public Relations