Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Failure Of Israel's Leaders

National Conversation

“The other Dons in the room applauded and rose to shake hands with everybody in sight and to congratulate Don Corleone and Don Tattaglia on their new friendship. It was not perhaps the warmest friendship in the world, they would not send each other Christmas gift greetings, but they would not murder each other. That was friendship enough in this world, all that was needed.” 

Mario Puzo, The Godfather

Israel has many wonderful virtues, but listening to other points of views and taking advice is not among the noted strengths of many of its citizens, and certainly not of its leaders. Before you become defensive about my criticism, it’s based on objective observation and analysis. I am a Canadian Jew and a defender of Israel's right to exist as a free democratic state, but not of its current leaders and not of its current politics, which like in the U.S., has become divisive, polarized and corrupt. I have no taste for such vulgarities; I think Israelis deserve better and can do better.

Israel’s leaders like to lecture, on security, on defence and on the Holocaust. The Shoah, it standing as a bulwark against any possible serious discussion or criticism, has become a wall against rational thinking. [see here]. Unnecessarily so; truly, it was one of the defining events in Jewish history, but should a people now be defined by such a horrific tragedy? There have been many such defining moments, some good, some bad. And yet, the Jewish people have survived them all.

It seems to me—and my father faced Nazi tyranny in Poland, only arriving in Canada in 1951—that it becomes a fetish, a means to always recall such moments, when deemed necessary, that we can use it as a means not to dig deeper and discuss our faults; and yes, we as a people, like all peoples, nations, tribes, have faults. To remember, sure, to use it for other means, including fund-raising, well that’s cynical. Yet it does happen, and far too often.

More so, it becomes its trump card, transforming by proxy anger and resentment from Europe to Israel, but its has become a well-worn cliché, just as the story of the boy who cried wolf once too often has no effect. If Israel wants to be considered a nation among nations, a democratic state within the U.N., and a friend and an ally of democracy, then it has to stop lecturing the world on what it does wrong, and start listening to what others can do right to help it achieve what it alone cannot achieve. No rational person doubts Israel has many enemies, and yet it has not found a consistent way to turn enemies into friends.

Consider the following: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s advice on stopping settlement expansion is a good example. Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu responded true to his self and his own interests says that settlements will continue. This is not a winning formula to building relationships; it’s not a formula to change. It’s the same old tired recipe of a cynical calculating mind. Israelis deserve better, but they rarely get what they need or want.

There are exceptions, most notably in the person of President Shimon Peres, an internationally respected statesman, who has a realistic view on what Israel must do. In an article in Israel Hayom (“Peres’ appeal for peace at Jordan conference sparks outrage”; May 26th), Peres spoke of the need for serious negotiations to take place and seize the opportunity for peace.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Jordan, Peres said it was time to restart serious negotiations and conclude a peace treaty that had long eluded the two sides in the conflict. "We shouldn't lose the opportunity because it will be replaced by great disappointment," he said."From my experience, I believe it's possible to overcome it. It doesn't require too much time.
"Our aim is to not waste time and resume negotiations as soon as possible so we can complete the full peace process with the Palestinians on the basis of two states for two peoples living side by side as neighbors, with full economic cooperation, for the sake of future generations."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who was expected in Jordan later in the day, said Palestinians and Israelis must make hard decisions to move toward direct negotiations.Earlier in the day, it was reported in the Israeli media that Peres, who was scheduled to address the forum on Sunday evening, was planning to say that most of the Israeli public supports a return to 1967 borders, with fair, mutually agreeable border alterations.

Before Peres even made the speech, his expected remarks drew angry responses from Israeli officials. Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz voiced harsh criticism Sunday, saying that "I wasn't aware that Peres purports to be the government's spokesman. I believe that the government already has its own spokespeople," Steinitz said. 
"The president is very highly respected in Israel, but diplomatic decisions should be left up to the government and I think that every remark, certainly on the eve of resumption of this type of negotiation, does not contribute to Israel's position."
President Peres speaks for the people; the current right-wing government doesn’t. “Public opinion polls consistently show that support for the two-state solution trumps support for the occupation and settlements, ” says Avner Inbar, co-founder and director of the Molad Center, a Jerusalem-based progressive think tank,  in an Atlantic article (“Why Kerry Was Wrong to Say the Two-State Solution Is Nearly Dead”; May 10th)

That Israel’s current leaders fail to understand this fact of what the majority of Israelis want, this necessity, is a fundamental flaw in their thinking, perhaps in their character; 65 years of warfare, disputes, and skirmishes—starting immediately after the State’s founding in May 1948— have taken their toll on the collective Israeli psyche. The Middle east nation has never known peace. Never. Can it make the necessary adjustments in thinking (and action) to consider the possibility (and potential) that peace holds for this tiny, robust nation? (Perhaps it would have been better if Israel had chosen Yiddish, a poetic language, as their national language instead of inventing a new language, modern Hebrew.)

It might be something to think about. One-way communication is propaganda and tiring. A monologue soon loses its appeal. Conversation, dialogue is a give-and-take; it might take practice on the part of Israelis to change their modes of communication—from an aggressive, defensive mode to an open, tolerant and thoughtful mode—but it might well be worth the effort to save the nation’s sanity. Such is not naive, as many think; it’s progress. It might allow Israel to enter a new phase of its existence, one that it has never known and which we can only imagine—one marked by genuine peace and economic prosperity in all its forms.

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