Published in The Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom, June 17, 2016.
I take the editor of Haaretz to task for his twisted rant in Foreign Affairs magazine about the “end of the old Israel” – by which he means the largely secular and “progressive” version of Israel that once captured the world’s imagination. His dark and menacing portrait of Israel is out of whack with reality, and can only be an expression of the Left’s deep political despair. I argue that Israel is not suffering from cultural retardation or democratic deficit, as Haaretz would have it.
The editor in chief of Haaretz took to the pages of the highbrow Foreign Affairs magazine last week to mourn the “end of the old Israel” – by which he means the largely secular and “progressive” version of Israel that once captured the world’s imagination.
In the process, Aluf Benn draws a dark and menacing portrait of Israel and its politics that is out of whack with reality. It is a false portrait of politicians with dictatorial tendencies, rabbis with racist sympathies, Russians with fascist leanings, and settlers with messianic ambitions.
Benn’s Israel is no longer truly tolerant. Conservatives, Religious Zionists, Sephardi politicians and “tribalists” are taking over the courts, military and media. “Mizrachi culture” – oh my God! – is polluting the airwaves. The “occupation” is becoming permanent, and it’s all the devious Binyamin Netanyahu’s fault. Miri Regev, Ayelet Shaked and Avigdor Lieberman are leading the romp backwards into medievalism.
On the other hand, the Palestinians, the liberal Left, the “respected” B’Tselem, and the benighted global community are the last remnants of hope for “sturdiness” and “sanity” for Israel. And maybe Gabi Ashkenazi too, who will inshallah, gallantly ride back into public life on a white horse to save Israel from another decade of Netanyahu degeneration.
Woe be to the WASPs (White, Ashkenazi, Secular, Post-Zionists) who read Haaretz, and the assimilated and intermarried Diaspora Jews who now have ever-more reason to “distance” themselves from rancid Israel.
The truth is that Israel has moved to the right diplomatically (for good strategic reasons) and in the direction of conservatism sociologically (out of healthy identity motivations).
But that doesn’t mean that Israel has become less stable, democratic, enlightened, righteous, noble, creative, exciting or legitimate.
It just means that demographically and politically the Left has lost its white-bread, socialist-Teutonic domination of the country – and that explains Benn’s crabbiness and jaundiced judgment.
Aluf Benn is a staunch Zionist and generally a fine diplomatic analyst. He is also a friend. Thus his twisted rant in Foreign Affairs can only be an expression of the Left’s deep despair.
It comes from being locked away in the Tel Aviv bohemian bubble, Israel’s left bank, without possessing the tools to appreciate and enjoy the positive metamorphosis of modern Jewish-Israeli identity; and without the stamina to withstand the evil winds of criticism blowing through Middle East and some Western capitals.
A MUCH LESS SOUR and considerably sounder assessment of Israel and its future can be found in Prof. Martin Kramer’s article in the same issue of Foreign Affairs.
Kramer (who is president of Shalem College, in Jerusalem) focuses on Israel’s dynamic ability to face all manner of potential threats and challenges, even in a post-Pax Americana Mideast. He demonstrates that the supposedly “unsustainable” status quo in the West Bank is quite sustainable, and logically and morally so; and that Israel has a qualitative edge over any imaginable combination of enemies.
“The notion popular among some Israeli pundits that their compatriots live in a perpetual state of paralyzing fear misleads both Israel’s allies and its adversaries,” Kramer writes. “Israel’s leaders are cautious but confident, not easily panicked, and practiced in the very long game that everyone plays in the Middle East. Nothing leaves them so unmoved as the vacuous mantra that the status quo is unsustainable. Israel’s survival has always depended on its willingness to sustain the status quo that it has created, driving its adversaries to resignation – and compromise.”
“Israelis roll their eyes when the United States insinuates that it best understands Israel’s genuine long-term interests, which Israel is supposedly too traumatized or confused to discern. Although Israel has made plenty of tactical mistakes, it is hard to argue that its strategy has been anything but a success. And given the wobbly record of the United States in achieving or even defining its interests in the Middle East, it is hard to say the same about U.S. strategy.”
Most saliently, Kramer paints a precise picture of a hale and hearty Israel; in direct contrast to the picture of stagnation and cultural retardation posited by Aluf Benn.
“Biblical-style lamentations over Israel’s final corruption have been a staple of the state’s critics and die-hard anti-Zionists for 70 years,” Kramer writes. “Never have they been so detached from reality. Of course, Israel has changed – decidedly for the better. By every measure, Israel is more globalized, prosperous, and democratic than at any time in its history.”
“As nearby parts of the Middle East slip under waves of ruthless sectarian strife, Israel’s minorities rest secure. As Europe staggers under the weight of unwanted Muslim migrants, Israel welcomes thousands of Jewish immigrants from Europe. As other Mediterranean countries struggle with debt and unemployment, Israel boasts a growing economy, supported by waves of foreign investment.”
“The Israeli electorate keeps returning Netanyahu to office precisely because he is risk averse: no needless wars, but no ambitious peace plans either. Although this may produce ‘overwhelming frustration’ in Obama’s White House (or at Haaretz – DMW), it suits the majority of Israeli Jews just fine.”
“Netanyahu’s endurance fuels the frustration of Israel’s diminished left. Thwarted at the ballot box, they comfort themselves with a false notion that Israel’s democracy is endangered.”