By adopting a policy to avoid confrontations in which it can prevail, Israel may eventually find itself forced into one in which it cannot.
Supreme power or authority; the authority of a state to govern itself; complete power to govern a country; the state of being a country with freedom to govern itself;
Definition of Sovereignty
– The Oxford Dictionary
Something is distinctly rotten in the State of Israel. The decision this week to delay – apparently indefinitely – the demolition and the replacement of the hazardous Mughrabi Bridge, linking the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, is a deeply disturbing sign. It is easy to downplay the significance of the decision; to present it as giving precedence to prudence over pride.
That would be a mistake.
For it is yet another symptom of the insidious spread of a malaise, gnawing away at the foundations of the Jewish national ethos. It is a malaise that if not soon confronted, will have perilously corrosive consequences.
Success beyond wildest dreams
True, Israel abounds with remarkable achievements in science and technology, in medicine and agriculture. There is impressive economic development; there are cutting-edge industrial advances, there is vibrant artistic creativity and a myriad of acclaimed cultural activities.
Moreover, despite recent – largely choreographed – protests, overall living standards have soared; for large segments of the population, lifestyles have become increasingly sophisticated, polished and leisure-oriented.
The once-horrific Palestinian terror has faded into a faint memory; tourism is at record levels; the much heralded “political tsunami” of the unilateral statehood bid at the UN seems to have dissipated into a harmless ripple. Surreptitious computer worms and mysterious explosions appear to have disrupted – at least to some degree – the Iranian nuclear program.
Indeed, the realities of today would constitute undreamed of success for anyone living under the rugged austerity that prevailed during the first decade of the state.
Then, basic foodstuffs were rationed by government decree; waves of immigrants were housed in tents and tin shacks without running water or electricity; gnawing doubts exited as to whether the new, poorly equipped, largely untested IDF could meet the daunting challenges it faced.
In these forbidding circumstances of chronic scarcity and acute insecurity no one could have pictured that within a few decades, Israel would be traversed by multi-lane highways, that household kitchens would be equipped with modern accessories, that foreign travel would be would be a commonplace experience, that consumerism would rival levels in many developed countries.
Something has gone awry
In many ways, Israel can be considered an awe-inspiring tribute to the strength of the human spirit, a stirring testament to the triumph of resolve and endurance over impossible odds.
Yet for all the trapping of success, for all the material accomplishment, and all the physical achievements, something has gone awry at the most basic, most existential, level of national consciousness.
It seems that in many ways the scale of these successes has blurred our national vision, dulled our sense of national mission, confounded the coherence of our national endeavor. This has filtered through to the leadership, which has become distracted and side-tracked; it has taken its “eye off the ball” and lost sight of the essence of the Zionist enterprise. It has become enamored with the tangible byproducts of Zionism rather than with the conditions for securing its long-term objective.
The results of Israel’s existence seem to have trumped the reasons for its existence; the consequences of its establishment have eclipsed the causes that spurred its establishment; the products of Jewish independence have superseded the purpose of that independence: “Free” – not “flourishing,” not “fashionable.”
To decipher this perhaps abstruse accusation, let’s go back to basics – to the national anthem, which encapsulates the essence of Jewish national aspirations and the 2,000 years of national yearning: “To be a free people in our land.”
Not free, flourishing or fashionable
The fundamental goal, the dream, the hope was political in nature: national sovereignty, not technological advancement; not economic prosperity; not international acclaim.
The primary purpose of Zionism was not to establish a mega-hi-tech conglomerate, or a cutting edge medical laboratory, or an avant-garde workshop for artistic activity, but to facilitate the exercise of Jewish political sovereignty. Jews have been have been at the forefront of many fields of human endeavor – before the state’s establishment, and outside of Israel, after its establishment – but they were always subject to alien sovereignties.
The whole point of Israel was to create a framework in which such endeavor could take place under Jewish national sovereignty, a place (“the land of Zion”) where Jews could be masters of their collective destiny (“be a free people”).
When means supersede ends
To be sure industrial might and technological capabilities are crucial means for preserving national sovereignty, but means – however crucial – should not be confused with the objective. In terms of Jewish national endeavor, if certain levels of development and prosperity can only be maintained by subservience to external dictates, then such maintenance becomes counterproductive, self-obstructive and ultimately, self-destructive.
This is not a call for impervious, selfdefeating intransigence.
Diplomatic give and take, political “bobbing and weaving” are often required to navigate towards strategic goals.
But there is a qualitative difference between perceiving diplomacy as a means to achieve strategic goals, on the one hand, and letting diplomatic difficulties/pressures determine those goals, on the other.
Sadly it seems that it is the latter perspective that has long dominated government conduct, which has consistently condoned foreign sovereignties curtailing its own sovereign decisions and discretion.
A bad month for sovereignty
November was a bad month for Jewish national sovereignty.
Barely a week ago, the government perversely obstructed legislative initiatives designed to hinder the ability of foreign governments to undermine, impede or delay policy decisions of the democratically elected executive and legislative branches.
By effectively upholding the right of unhindered access of alien entities to the Supreme Court through approval of their unhindered funding of their NGO-proxies, which lodge petitions against Israeli executive decisions or legislative proposals, the government renounced important elements of its sovereign status. For all practical purposes, its actions (or rather lack thereof) reflect acquiescence to the use of Israeli institutions for the pursuit of foreign interests and at the expense of Israeli ones.
(As this column goes to print, however, there are welcome signs that national resolve may be stiffening with the emergence of new proposals which may win government backing.) But in many respects, the decision to capitulate on the matter of the Mughrabi Bridge was even graver. For it was – or at least can interpreted as – a catastrophic breach of sovereign will, a display of weakness that can be expected to generate more – and more vociferous – demands for more – and more far-reaching – surrender of sovereignty.
The bridge, always meant to be a temporary structure, was deemed by Jerusalem’s chief engineer as in danger of collapse and as a fire hazard. The decision to put off the demolition was taken in response to demands/requests from Amman and Cairo, where fears were expressed that it might ignite unrest in Jordan, and could be exploited by Islamist radicals, spreading far-fetched fabrications, to whip up anti-Israel sentiments in the Egyptian elections.
By deferring to these appeals/threats Israel has empowered Muslim extremists with the micro-management of municipal maintenance in its capital – or at least with veto power with regard to that maintenance.
But worse it has effectively allowed itself to be burdened with all the responsibility – but none of the authority – for the preservation of law and order in Arab regimes. By its inaction the government has in effect conferred the status of force majeure on Muslim rage, as an inevitable force of nature which can only be avoided by Israeli capitulation, thereby exonerating the local authorities of any accountability for events in their jurisdictions.
A recent editorial in this paper summed up matters aptly: “An absurd situation has been created in which some irrational Muslim leaders, intoxicated by their own lies… have intimidated Israel into inaction.
Israel must not cave in to the insanity of Muslim extremism.”
The decision to demolish the Mughrabi Bridge may well have resulted in rage and riots. That does not mean it would be the wrong decision. For it is difficult to overstate the gravity of this ongoing corrosion of the will to exercise Jewish sovereignty.
An inevitable ‘doomsday syndrome?’
An “ethos of expectation” has been created in which continual Israeli concessions have become the norm – and when such concessions, no matter how absurd, are not forthcoming, Israel is blamed for the consequences no matter who produces them.
While such concessions have inevitably been greeted with international approval and hailed as a sign of mature, far-sighted, pragmatic statesmanship, this is is likely to prove to be dangerously deceptive.
Indeed the accumulated effect of these concessions could well turn out to be not only highly detrimental – but deadly.
It is detrimental because a growing perception of enduring and unrequited appeasement is beginning to have a debilitating effect on growing numbers of Israel’s advocates, sowing despair, disappointment and disillusionment among its most devoted supporters – at home and abroad. For time and time again they see Israel adopt a certain position, ask their support for that position, which they enthusiastically give, only to find that after a while Israel abandons the position it asked them to support and adopts one it previously asked them to oppose.
It is potentially deadly because none of the massive concessions Israel has made over the last four decades has removed the potential for conflict. Indeed they have, at best, delayed it – but at the same time have created the potential for a more devastating and lethal one in the future.
By adopting a policy of continually trying to avoid confrontations in which it can prevail, Israel may eventually find itself forced to engage in a confrontation in which it cannot. The ramifications of this chilling prospect will be the subject of an upcoming column.