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The patient, by the name of Israel, walks into the room and instantly bursts into a tirade of arguments conclusively proving his credentials, and says that he is better than everyone else.
– Ofer Grosbard, Israel On The Couch: The Psychology of the Peace Process
Americans have an Israel problem.
Recently I responded to an email propaganda piece on Israel sent out by a friend that listed all the magnificent things Israelis have done in technology and agriculture. The clear implication was that Arabs and Palestinians can’t hold a candle to Israelis when it comes to making the desert bloom. Israelis are clearly superior and, thus, deserve to own what was once called Palestine.
I told the list of people (many of them American Jews) that everything on the list was likely true but that it was a case of making an economic and technological argument in response to a moral question. That is, pointing out how smart and savvy in western ways Israelis are does not address the festering military occupation of Palestinian land and the effective imprisonment of Palestinians.
One member of the list went back-and-forth with me — until a handful of others on the list began to cry out “enough!” Naturally, one person pointed out there were many anti-semites in the world, the suggestion being I must be one of them.
The problem Americans have with Israel is that the region it exists in is in the midst of a major political sea change, while Israel is frozen in time and holding on to its militarist, right-wing policies of extending settlements in the West Bank. It’s a policy that harks back to the ideas of the British-trained militarist Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s Iron Wall, which is based on the idea a live-and-let-live policy between Jews and Arabs is impossible and, thus, Jews must militarily control and repress Palestinians. Here’s Jabotinski:
“Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population. This colonization can, therefore, continue and develop only under the protection of a force independent of the local population – an iron wall which the native population cannot break through. This is, in toto, our policy towards the Arabs. To formulate it any other way would only be hypocrisy.”
This frame of mind is at the root of the current psychology that keeps Israel frozen in time. By extension, it’s a potentially grave problem for Americans.
Israel may be the most unique nation in the world. Psychologically and nationalistically, its citizenry feel deeply that what is now Israel is their homeland from which they were unjustly banished thousands of years earlier. It doesn’t matter that most Israelis arrived after World War Two as refugees and immigrants from a devastated Europe.
The colonial British Mandate over Palestine helped in the rocky transition to the state of Israel, which was recognized after WWII by among others Europe and the United States, both who bore guilt either for past abuses to Jews or for a desire to avoid an immigrant burden on their own nation. It worked out well for everyone — except, of course, the Palestinian and Arab Muslims who lived in Palestine.
Militaristic Jews in groups like the Irgun undertook ethnic cleansing and other “terrorist” activities in the years after World War Two. People argue about this, but recent histories suggest it happened. The upshot was the Jewish State of Israel — in a land that had earlier encompassed both Arab and Jew in a less-than-perfect, but much more ecumenical fashion.
It was no less a case of “manifest destiny” than the American expansion westward on this continent. The result was a nation that consisted of a conquering people and a defeated, subjugated people. The losers in this struggle were relegated in many cases to permanent refugee camps in the land their families and ancestors had been raised in.
By 2012, the situation has become arguably the world’s most dangerous ethnic/religious struggle, with the United States a deeply involved military patron supporting without much question the policies of Israeli leaders.
Israel is in the middle of a region in profound turmoil. The so-called Arab Spring involves transitions that ranges from the relatively peaceful ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to the flat-out brutal oppression of Shiites in Bahrain to outright civil war in Syria. The problem is, Israel and its patron the United States, have responded to this political turmoil by circling their wagons, which amounts to Israel reinforcing Jabotinski’s Iron Wall.
The United States and Israel — one a huge nation surrounded by friends and two vast oceans, the other a tiny nation surrounded by enemies — amounts to a coalition of “the chosen people” and the “exceptional people” in the US.
Americans are dead-center in the middle of all this whether they like it or not. Israel is seen as untenable without the Iron Wall psychology that relies on sophisticated militarism and the protection of its patron, the immensely powerful nation we live in here. The US is now in an exceedingly dishonest silly season of presidential campaigning in which the unquestioned support of Israel is a given. This has led Israel to be the tail that wags the dog, the equivalent of a 51st State. The US does little to discourage Israeli arrogance.
There’s the question how long can the situation in the Middle East fester before something truly horrible happens that there will be no way to turn back from? This implies another question: Is there another way? Is a realistic peace based on negotiated mutual respect and tolerance even possible any more? Is war inevitable?
The decision of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to attend the Nonaligned Movement meeting in Teheran is a good sign in this respect. The United States and Israel, of course, discouraged both men from going to Iran, charging the Iranians with making propaganda. (Of course, we all know US and Israel leaders deal only in truth and don’t traffic in propaganda.)
What seemed to be going on was a fear the meeting might lend some credence to Iran’s situation in this mess, and that that would mean a loss for the US and Israel. Maybe that’s true, and and maybe that is not a bad thing.
The Non-Aligned Movement is a throwback to the Cold War days when Third World, developing nations sought to define themselves beyond the rigid and powerful Cold War Soviet Union/US dichotomy. Fate put the 2012 meeting in Teheran, and the Iranians pumped the movement back up to make a case for itself and others beyond the US/Israeli axis of Iranian demonization.
Anything that is able to ratchet down the build-up to war between Israel and Iran has to be a good thing. And more Americans should understand that the US is not helping in this matter. Last night, for example, I listened to former Presidential candidate John McCain at the Tampa GOP convention call for sustained military actions in both Iraq and Afghanistan, US military action in both Libya and Syria, and even US military intervention in Iran. It was the epitome of belligerence.
“It was a real bell-ringer for war. Very dangerous talk,” according to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews
I’m certainly not defending Iran and the idea of their obtaining a nuclear weapon. I join others like a former intelligence chief in Israel in believing the Iranians are not madmen who would lob a nuke into Israel first chance they got. Like in our Cold War, Iranian leaders know Israel and the US have hundreds of nukes that they would use to flatten Iran.
Maybe the most practical incentive for Iran to stop its alleged nuclear bomb program would be for the US and Israel to put their own nuclear weapons on the table and sit down to talk honestly with the Iranians. All the mutual demonizations would have to be stopped so the other guy could be seen as human. This seems to be the greatest hurdle in the whole mess.
The recent story out of Jerusalem of Israeli kids brutalizing Palestinian kids (described in the New York Times as an “attempted lynching”) shows that Israel seems to have painted itself into a corner in this area.
How does a people turn back a racially-oriented demonization program with roots that extend back many decades? How do you ratchet down a nation’s narcissism so people are able to simply see the other as a human being? How do you do this when the other outnumbers you and surrounds you?
More to the point, how does a nation like Israel (allegedly a democracy) begin to dismantle its right-wing, Likud iron wall of madness piece-by-piece without endangering its people and opening itself up to real disaster?
The answer is clearly for Israelis to find a variety of courage we have not seen much of lately.
On our part, Americans and the United States need to stop being a permissive yes-man and begin to show Israel some tough love. We need more US criticism of Israel. No doubt this approach will be received with gales of cynical laughter from hardliners … but so what?
In my mind, the Israeli narcissistic and arrogant mindset would benefit from a little Buddhist detachment, more of the posture that sees the world not of separate individual selves and egos but of human beings as part of a larger flow of life. The Buddhists call the self-obsessed, separatist state-of-mind that Israel thrives on and defends with weapons as “the illusory self.”
“Once one identifies with a permanent self-concept, the pride and craving adhering to this become the pivot from which an egocentric world arises,” writes Gay Watson, a psychotherapist attuned to Buddhism.
David Loy puts it this way: “To become completely groundless is also to become completely grounded, not in some particular, but in the whole network of interdependent relations that constitute the world.”
I’m not suggesting Israel become a Buddhist nation. The point is for Israelis, and more important Americans, to figure a way out of the worsening condition of “us versus them” to avoid the need to obliterate them and set off a war that no one really wants. The point is to re-shape our minds to make “the other” less threatening to permit talking.
I’m not holding my breath that Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman are going to become peace activists. But I’m done as an American being a silent stooge while Israeli militarist madness fuels hatred and sets the stage for war.
JOHN GRANT is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent Project Censored Award-winning online alternative newspaper.