Thursday, September 07, 2006

Israel's national psyche: Is the sky falling? 

The following is an email purportedly written a couple of days ago by a retired professor of political science at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I have received several different emails from a reliable source over the last six weeks, all under the heading "The professor at war." Whether or not the source is expert, the discussion seemed worth passing along for your most worthy comment.

I see a lot of material about Israel and the Middle East. Some comes in response to what I write. More comes because I have an Israeli academic address, or have gotten on some other list. Some I find by my own wanderings through the internet.

A great deal of material demonizes Israel. Here I am not focusing on that, except as it is part of the stimulus that provokes the view that the sky is falling.

Among the themes in this writing are:
Hatred of Israel and Jews is extensive and growing, due to reactions against Israeli actions in Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank, as well as the pre-existing nucleus of Christian anti-Semitism.

Islam has become the primary source of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel material, due not only to the recent actions of Israel but also to fundamental elements of Islam that insist on its own primacy, and the sacred calling of expanding control throughout a large view of the "Middle East" (including former Muslim lands in Iberia) and beyond to Britain, northern Europe and elsewhere.

We cannot accept peaceful overtures from Muslims, insofar as Islam recognizes the need to lie for the purpose of advancing the faith, and views anything like "cease fire" or "peace with unbelievers" to be temporary accommodations in response to tactical needs.

The comments of Iran's president that deny the existence or the extent of the Holocaust, declare that Israel's existence is illegitimate, and must be ended insofar at it is the sole cause of Palestinian misery.

The refusal of Iran to stop its nuclear program, the unwillingness of Russia, China, and Western European governments to act seriously in support of sanctions.

The inevitability of Iran developing a nuclear weapon despite its denials (Muslims lie for tactical reasons). Economic sanctions will not occur or will be strong enough to not stop the process.

Iran's nuclear program is too scattered, and too well protected for Israel's military to do more than knock out a bit that might delay development for a few years, and make it even more likely that Iran will use its nuclear weapon to attack Israel.

The American administration is too weakened by its foolhardy adventure in Iraq (it started the war against terror in the wrong country) to take the appropriate military action against Iran's nuclear program.

Israel has not taken sufficient action against its enemies, perhaps because of its own misdirected humanitarian concerns for harming civilians, or because of concern for international sanctions. As a result, it will only be a matter of time until Iran and Syria re-arm Hezbollah, which will renew the attack with even more dangerous weapons.

Sooner or later the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank will have the weaponry of Iran and Syria, and be able to join in attacking Israel from the east and south.

Hateful and inciting education and mass media throughout the Muslim world, including Palestinian schools and media, render foolish any Israeli hope or aspiration for peace.

All this has more than a bit of truth. Things are even more depressing if we read the Israeli press to conclude that the country's president is a sex maniac, its prime minister is corrupt, and its defense minister is a social activist interested only in increasing programs for the poor. Moreover, we read that neither the prime minister nor the defense minister know anything about national security, and much of the IDF officer corps is incompetent.

Should we take all this seriously and start packing our bags and ordering tickets? But for where? There are already too many Muslims in Europe, Australia, and North America.

While all of the above is true, it is not the whole truth. There is room for maneuver, and Jews have been polishing their talents for maneuver for at least 2,500 years.

Among the holes in the depressing truths are the following:
The Holocaust did happen. Western elites know it, and give us some wiggle room on its account.

We recognize our vulnerability, and seek to stay on the right side of governments that tolerate us, and may even help us.

We are helped among peace loving Western countries by our Jewish values, which serve to limit the violence we direct against our enemies.

Islam is complex. It is not entirely hateful of others. Moreover, most Muslims are not primarily religious. They are more interested in living a decent life than following the most extreme of those who claim to be religious leaders.

Political elites in most Muslim countries want to benefit from what the West offers; they recognize threat to themselves from Islamic extremists, as well as from the likes of Iran and Syria. They also cut Israel some slack, even while they express criticism of its actions.

Israel is well armed. So far it has proved its capacity to act against those who threaten it. We can argue if it has been tough enough against Hezbollah or the Palestinians. Meanwhile I would not like to own real estate in Gaza, Nablus, Jenin, or the Shiite areas of Lebanon.

Non-Hezbollah Lebanese are more than a little upset at Syria and Iran, as well as Hezbollah. We have yet to see the last chapter in this story.

Even if Iran develops nuclear weapons, that will not assure the destruction of Israel, without also risking the destruction of Iran. Stand off worked between the USSR and the United States, and so far between India and Pakistan. It is not pleasant. It might not work for us, but it might.

Survival will take hard work. We will need help. We have never been populous enough, rich enough, or powerful enough to dominate the world or even our region. David's empire may have been a myth. It gives some of us pride, but causes problems among Muslims who view it as a Jewish model for Israel's expansion. The City of David might have been the whole thing: a few dusty acres, expanded by the imagination of Jews who knew how to write well.

We are here again, living better than our enemies. So far so good. True, that is what the person said part way through a fall from a high building. If we remain wise, we should survive longer than the person whose early end seems likely.

I do not think we would have read such pessimism even during the height of the last intifada. What has changed in Israel's national psyche? Could a single clot of blood have done so much?


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Sep 07, 11:16:00 PM:

"The American administration is too weakened by its foolhardy adventure in Iraq (it started the war against terror in the wrong country) to take the appropriate military action against Iran's nuclear program."

This essay is a very interesting piece of work and I would not be surprised to find out it is a piece of misinformation. Iran is surrounded by our Navy and the Army and Marine units in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have major military bases closer to Iran than we did before we toppled Saddam.  

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Fri Sep 08, 10:00:00 AM:

Actually, I think it's a good sign that the Israelis are questioning themselves at this point. They know they are in a struggle for survival and these questions seem directed towards ensuring they do survive.

As to Tyree's point, I would have to agree. Imagine it is Eisenhower in charge of our forces in the aftermath of 9/11. There is a recognition of a threat posed not only by Afghanistan under the Taliban but also, only tangentially perhaps, by Iraq under Saddam. But the big bugaboo seems to be an aggressively radicalized Islamist Iran. One suspects Eisenhower would not be altogether displeased with our present strategic positioning.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Sep 08, 10:34:00 AM:

"We cannot accept peaceful overtures from Muslims, insofar as Islam recognizes the need to lie for the purpose of advancing the faith, and views anything like "cease fire" or "peace with unbelievers" to be temporary accommodations in response to tactical needs."

"Muslims lie for tactical reasons."

I agree that the Iranians are trying to develop a bomb and will probably need to be forcefully dealt with so that they do not get one. But statements like these two bring nothing to the conversation; they are just hatemongering, and they undermine the credibility of anyone who espouses them.

*Everyone* lies for tactical reasons in international politics. This is not unique to the muslim character. Hell, we even do it domestically for recreation (poker anyone?).

It's unfortunate that serious debate about confrontation with radical Islam is contaminated with garbage like this.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Sep 08, 12:59:00 PM:

Deception for the furtherance of Islam is called Taquiya and is approved and indeed mandated by tradition. So I don't think it's "garbage" or "hatemongering" to bring this up.

I think what's going on here is that in this war, it is apparent that Israel is facing a religious war which cannot be appeased. Israel has always wanted to consider itself entangled in limited nationalistic struggle, not as part of a religious war. That is causing, IMHO, some of the pessimistic reactions.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Fri Sep 08, 02:04:00 PM:

"Deception for the furtherance of Islam is called Taquiya and is approved and indeed mandated by tradition. So I don't think it's "garbage" or "hatemongering" to bring this up. "

I should add that that tradition is Shi'i specific, stemming from the need in the medieval age for concealing themselves among the majority.

On the topic of deceit, it is not exactly discouraged in Arab culture. Just look at the practices of their press, governments, demagogues, and spokesmen of all kind. Truthfulness is not really honored as a public virtue, and only to a degree as a private one. It is still a 'face' culture with very sensitive concepts of personal, family, township, etc up to national honor, and lies are routine not least to defend their honor in the eyes of others.

It's endemic; Arab teachers lie to their students so they don't appear to have gaps in their knowledge, parents lie to children to get them to behave how they want, politicians lie to people for the same reason, military officers lie to politicians to make themselves look better or a rival look worse. It's all highly dysfunctional. And they all assume that everyone else does it to, which is why these people routinely ignore what the rest of us would consider credible sources of information. (caveat: this does vary from society to society and group to group; in my experience it's far more prevalent amongst conservative or old-fashioned men. Among women and liberals there seems to be less hesitation to admit a mistake or ignorance)  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Sep 09, 11:55:00 AM:

“These are Islamic doctrines of religious deception. They originated in Shi’ite Islamic defenses against Sunni Islam, but have their roots in the Qur’an (3:28 and 16:106). Many radical Muslims today work hard to deceive unbelievers, in line with Muhammad’s statement, “War is deceit.”

Professor Walid Phares gives an explanation of such religious deception, part and parcel of Jihad while Muslims are in a weaker position: “Al-Taqiya, from the verb Ittaqu, means linguistically ‘dodge the threat’. Politically it means simulate whatever status you need in order to win the war against the enemy.” “According to Al-Taqiya, Muslims were granted the Shar’iya (legitimacy) to infiltrate the Dar el-Harb (war zone), infiltrate the enemy’s cities and forums and plant the seeds of discord and sedition.

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