In discussions about the recent victory of Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel's elections, I've heard or read over and over again that he played on the "fears" of the Israeli people. Their fear of the Palestinians, their fear of the Iranians, their fear of another Holocaust. Their fear. But Israel is not afraid.
When talking about such things one by necessity makes certain generalizations. Of course there are Jews in Israel who are afraid and are ruled by their fear. But as a nation, at this time, Israel is not afraid. The Jews of Israel overwhelmingly voted for Netanyahu and his party and his policies not because they are afraid, but because they are comfortable.
I feel, before going on, that laying out some basics as to my point of view, is important. So let's establish that I have considered myself and still consider myself a "Zionist" -- in a way that might well anger many Palestinian Arabs and their supporters -- in that I support Israel as a country established for the most part by and for Jews. And though I also believe in full and equal rights for the Arabs living in Israel, in terms of the ongoing national/cultural conflict I support a "two-state solution," vis a vis the areas of land known as Gaza and the West Bank. I am well-versed in the claims and counter-claims of both parties. To my mind, both parties are equally right in their claims and equally wrong; and both sides tend to trot out statistics and declarations and justifications to bolster their arguments in ways that are at best disingenuous and more often totally dishonest. And I am well aware of the cruel and violent behavior exhibited by both sides in this ongoing conflict. Be that as it may, I support the existence of Israel simply because I'm Jewish, I'm part of a Jewish Israeli family, I want there to be a Jewish state; and until now, I have never felt that the way this country was established and maintained, when compared to the way any other country in our world was established and maintained, put it far enough outside the bounds of moral behavior to render its establishment or maintenance invalid. Yes, Judea's Arabs got and continue to get shafted, often brutally and cynically. But the Arabs have been trying to shaft the Jews, too, just as cynically and brutally. They lost, the Jews won, and I have never felt that Israel's Jews should somehow penalize themselves for winning, get on boats and head out to sea.
But there are limits.
When, in 1967, after the Six Day War, Israel annexed the West Bank -- previously a part of Jordan -- as a "safety buffer" -- David Ben Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister and perhaps its greatest founding father, advised the victorious Jewish state to give it back as soon as possible. He recognized that becoming an occupier of a majority Arab population would be no good for anyone -- Arab or Jew -- and he was right. But flush with a combination of victorious hubris and anxiety over the constant attacks on the Jews since the 1920's, the Israelis went the occupying route without a real plan for the territories in the future, one way or the other. Cue the morass of the next half century.
In the past I have felt, while clear-eyed about its brutality and mistakes, defensive about Israel. When boycotts and the like have been suggested and attempted, I have felt them to be either cynical, misguided, and more often than not, anti-semitic. Why single out Israel, when there are so many countries in the region and all over the world that are so very much "worse" in every way? In the way they treat their neighbors, in the way they treat women, in the way they treat their own minorities?
I believed that if the Arabs really wanted to establish a peaceful nation side by side with the Israelis, that they would find a willing partner there. I harbored doubts about this, of course, like any sane person would; but I had my hopes. And maybe there was a time when this would have been true. But it's not true any more. The Palestinian Arabs' philosophy since '67, studied and refined in the crucible of the French/Algerian conflict -- that terrorism and political antagonism would make the Israelis so unhappy that they would somehow give up what they had gained over decades of conflict -- backfired utterly. Instead it gave strength and power to the Israeli hard right, just as Israel's repression and brutality gave rise to Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the like on the Palestinian side.
However we got here, we're here. The Jews in Israel are well ensconced and settled into their country. They have a powerful military and have developed in the last few decades a relatively strong first-world style economy and high standard of living. They have also found in the last decades, due to shifting political balances, that the United States, once a tenuous ally at best, is firmly in their corner, whatever the rhetoric from either government might be at any given moment. The Jews in Israel are comfortable. Unfortunately, there is no force greater in human interaction than the force needed to move people who have grown comfortable; and there is no self-justification too outlandish or grotesque for them to convince themselves of in order to maintain their sense of comfort.
The Jews of Israel have built a wall between the "occupied territories" and themselves and have managed to keep terrorist activity down to an acceptable minimum. The West Bank is more or less under control. They have effectively choked off Gaza, and if they have to deal with rocket attacks by killing a few thousand Arabs every half decade or so and sending in a few of their own boys off to be martyred in whatever style Israelis martyr and weep over and lionize their own, they're all right with that, too. I'm sure the tone of this description will anger people. Those who have suffered personal loss. The genuinely hurt. The genuinely fearful. But mostly, it will anger the self-justifiers who work themselves up into a morally indignant lather because they like how that feels and it's how they justify the things they do in order to maintain their sense of comfort at all cost.
By openly and explicitly stating that while he is in power Israel's existing government will never stop expanding settlements or accommodate an independent Palestinian state, Netanyahu has basically stripped an entire people of hope and of any but the most extreme avenues. And by voting for him and his bloc Israel has in one stroke both legitimized the most extreme behavior on the Palestinian end and delegitimized itself as a nation among the body of nations. Are there nations that are "worse" than Israel? I suppose there are. And many of them have votes in the UN, too. But that no longer matters. We're talking about Israel, and as far as Israel goes, Benjamin Netanyahu and the majority of Jews in Israel have finally fully put themselves in the same position as the white government of South Africa put itself in until the apartheid system was dismantled.
And what about the Palestinian Arabs -- are they a valid partner for peace, anyway? Well, that doesn't really matter anymore, either. It did, until the results of this election. But by staking this position, and by virtue of his people and country being in the position of power, Netanyahu and his supporters have rendered that side of the equation meaningless. The Jews of Israel have finally succeeded in rendering it meaningless whether the Arabs are a viable partner for peace or not.
It's the nature of life that things are always changing. Ideas change, governments change, hearts change, minds change. But often change in a particular direction needs applied influence, and it's clear the people of Israel will not move in a direction of resolution with their Palestinian neighbors without a very strong external stimulus. The worst thing that anyone who loves and supports the idea of Israel and the Zionist ideal can do at this point is to go on giving its government and people a blank check, a pass on anything and everything they do, the way some Jews in this country with a "circle the wagon" mentality and the Republican right, for its own reasons, are intent on doing.
Israel is not afraid. Israel is comfortable. And as sad and painful as it is for me personally, I can no longer protest the utilization of sanctions and political isolation -- whatever the motivation -- because the people of Israel have demonstrated unequivocally that without them they will not move in a positive direction for themselves or their neighbors.