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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Two Crises of the Third Jewish Commonwealth

As the seventh and penultimate day of Chanukah arrives, the candles are once again lit, wispy cotton wicks floating in pools of golden oil, touched by a burst of white flame. In Israel the spreading fire that killed 42 people and consumed 4 million has finally abated. And the freeze that Obama attempted to impose on hundreds of thousands of Israelis also melted in the light. And after a severe drought, rain has begun to fall upon the land. But the worst is not over. Not by far.

Much like the Jewish commonwealth of the second temple era, the present day State of Israel suffers from two interlinked crises, a crisis of sovereignty and a crisis of unity. Both these crises manifest themselves in problem after problem-- and if they are not resolved, they will bring down Dayan's 'third temple', as they brought down the second temple.

A united nation determined to protect its independence can only be broken through terrible force. But that description cannot be applied to Israel today. Like the Maccabee kings, its prime ministers have learned to come when Rome calls. And they have also come to believe that if they do not do what they are told, then Rome will remove them or take away their sovereignty as a nation. Its politicians and power brokers care more about their own ends, than the survival of the State of Israel. Which is why they are more willing to listen to Washington or Moscow, than to their own citizens. Or to plan for their country's future, rather than for their own.

The news is not nearly as bad on the 'street level' where despite housing numerous quarreling communities, from the religious to the secular, and the imported cultures of a hundred countries from the East to the West, most Israelis agree on the survival of the State of Israel and the need to fight terror. But the country's political system makes it virtually impossible to implement them or to maintain a stable government. And like Western cultural elites, the Israeli cultural elite is a self-destructive leftist mess that is doing everything possible to destroy its own country.

Netanyahu is one of the best and worst Israeli Prime Ministers, because he combines economic reforms with a spineless foreign policy. And that he is to be preferred, because the only alternative is a Kadima drone or a Labor leftist who would give away everything without having to be asked twice, shows just how bad the crisis of sovereignty is.

Meanwhile on the left Barak and Livni are showing off Israel's crisis of unity by strongly hinting to Washington D.C. that if Netanyahu's government were to fall, then they would be much more reasonable about the country's sovereignty and its borders. And the Beltway establishment has responded by trying to pressure Netanyahu into tossing out two immigrant parties, one of Middle Eastern Jews and one of Russian Jews, and replace them with Livni's Kadima party. A party that is left wing not because it believes in anything, but because that's what Obama wants.

The Israeli right has failed to produce leaders. Begin is a well-loved failure who began the process of turning over Israeli territory in exchange for pieces of paper and presided over the disastrous Lebanon War. Shamir proved too weak to do anything but hold the course. And Netanyahu turned out to be even weaker. The illusion of Labor leadership died after the Yom Kippur War. And the Likud is overstaffed with 'princes' like Olmert, Netanyahu and Livni who are where they are because of the role their parents played in the party. Meanwhile the Knesset is padded out with ethnic and religious parties who only exist to take a set amount of money out of the budget and pass it on to their supporters, while nurturing their grievances against the country and all the other ethnic and religious parties competing for those same Shekels.

Begin's worst failure was his refusal to attack the culture of government bureaucracy that his Labor predecessors had installed as a reward for their own party members. That bureaucracy has since become a Praetorian Guard, investigating and removing Prime Ministers and Presidents on corruption charges when the right strings are pulled. The false rape charges against President Katzav, manufactured in order to allow Peres to replace him, showed that the "Guard" was willing to drag Israel's reputation through the mud just to reward one of their own failed ex-PM's with a ceremonial position at the top.

And Netanyahu is well aware that his own time may come, when the constant investigations that serve as warning shots will suddenly bear fruit. Then the headlines will suddenly be full of stories more damaging than revelations about a bed installed in his plane, and parliamentarians who live the high life because they were given a number on a party list while children in the working class towns of Israel go hungry, will put on the mantles of justice and the press will call for his head.

That is not what the government of a sovereign nation looks like or acts like. And it's not how a nation united behaves. These two crises are interconnected. The erosion of Israel's sovereignty also erodes its unity, a unity that depends on the perception of Israel as a country with a future. Only such a unity can give leaders the sense that they need to commit to a country, rather than to their own positions. If you don't have an independent country, then you're less likely to act like a leader, and more like an appointee serving at the beck and call of a powerful patron. And ever since Shamir, that is exactly how Israel's PM's have acted. And that attitude has filtered on down. There are a great many Israeli politicians who are loyal to Brussels or Washington or Moscow, many more who owe them to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, various Rabbis or the Histadrut, but a decreasing number who owe their allegiance to Israel.

A similar situation led to the fall of the Maccabee dynasty, a civil war and eventually a full-fledged Roman takeover. The miracle of Chanukah eventually drowned in power plays between warring factions. The light that burned for eight days could not withstand the unwillingness of powerful men to stand by a Jewish state, rather than sell out to foreign tyrants.

Israel was rebuilt based on a consensus of mingled history, idealism and survival. That consensus maintained a fragile unity, in the face of conflicts and contradictions-- but as the years have worn on, that consensus has begun to fall apart. The country has come a long way from the Kibbutz and the agricultural ideal is now mostly vested in Religious Zionists, not the old Socialists who long for the bright lights of Paris, not the privatized communal farms of today. And they are the only people who are still invested in the land. The left has moved on. The right has faded away into memorials and commemorations, which their sons and daughters cynically attend before going back to selling off the country to the highest bidder.

The old socialists have had their vision of Israel broken apart before their eyes, and they've turned on the country as a whole. They are willing to give away the land, because they have no use for it anymore. An Israel that is based on free enterprise and is not run by their comrades is not a country they want to be part of. They know that they can't turn the clock back, and so they've turned on Israel instead. It has failed to live out their 19th century vision of agrarian socialism and so they want to turn it over to a politically correct minority, that is also the regional majority.

The right has also lost its vision for the land. The dwindling Israel at the mercy of great powers is not what they envisioned, but it happened on their watch. And they have no way to reverse the process. To turn Israel back into a confident and strong nation. Unlike the left, they have failed to pass on their legacy to a new generation. While the left has radicalized, the right has become more moderate. Its horizons have shrunk. It can talk about Trumpledor or Avraham Stern, but not about the future. Because it no longer sees the future.

The only people who still have a vision for Israel's future that doesn't depend on its dissolution, are Religious Zionists who have not lost hope, because they still have faith in a divine plan. They have worse setbacks than the left or the right, but those have still not broken them, because their vision is religious, rather than idealistic, and much less dependent on the realization of a linear program. But even they can be broken. And the political authorities are doing everything to break them. Because if their vision for the land has fallen apart, no one else may fulfill theirs.

A situation in which hope has vanished from Jerusalem and resides among the hillsides, all too closely echoes the events of the original Chanukah. And not for the first time in the history of the land either. Chanukah temporarily bought time, but did not stop the clock. The same fault lines that led to the events of Chanukah brought down the country not long after.

In that era, Israel's lack of sovereignty was often caused by its lack of unity. The fall of the First Temple, the return from exile and the impact of the Greeks upon the region raised questions as to what Israel was. Was it a nationalist monarchy, a convenient port for the Mediterranean trade or just a place where the Torah was studied. The inability to answer that question in a way that the majority could get behind destroyed the country. And variations of those same questions are being asked today again. To reclaim its sovereignty, they must urgently be answered.

The signing of Israel's Declaration of Independence left many of those fundamental questions unanswered. And that is only natural. Countries develop their identity and ideals over time. But Israel is tearing itself apart, its morale is in decline and it is undergoing dramatic changes. Its survival is on the line, not just in the face of terror or war, but of its internal tensions and its interaction with Europe and America. To be sovereign, Israel must be united. Not under one political party, but a consensus of what the country is. What it should be. Not in every detail, but enough to command the loyalty of its people and the commitment of its leaders.

As Chanukah winds down and parents distribute 'Chanukah gelt', chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil, to the children-- they are commemorating the restoration of a Hebrew currency after the defeat of the Seleucid Empire which had banned such a Jewish nationalist symbol. These shining candies are symbols of ancient Israeli sovereignty minted in defiance of an empire. They remind us of one of the things that the Maccabees fought for. Sovereignty. As the light of another Chanukah's menorah goes out, these symbols of freedom remind us of what it is we are still fighting for.


  1. Thank you for this excellent report. In there is food for thought for anyone worried about the sovereignty of their own country.

    If we in the US could uphold our own national interests better, we would naturally get in the way of those, like the Obama administration, who obstruct the national interests of other countries, like Israel. We have a similar lack of unity, but for different reasons. Too many in the US don't even belong here and need to be thrown out.

    But for Israel, why should it have to depend so heavily on unity? It is the unnatural pressures placed upon it that are the problem. Life should not be so hard for a small country like Israel that wants nothing so much as to mind its own business.

  2. mindRider8/12/10

    All you mention is the logical result of any society based upon unbridled kapitalism (the ultimate symbol for absolute egoism) and lack of any binding idiology. With religious or idiological involvement on the decline also in Israel this results in homogenity of it's society.

  3. Correction, Daniel, and this is a mistake made by many commentators.

    The "elites" are not SeLF-destructive, they are usually pretty well situated, with well-paid jobs, families, houses and lots of employment, plus government grants and speaking fees.
    Often they are paid well by the enemy they succour and support.

    Their powers of SELF-preservation are well beyond the ordinary.

    They are destructive not to themselves but to citizens in the same country they are in.

    Just wanted to clear that up.

  4. Anonymous8/12/10

    Hello Daniel

    How sad yet how true.

    You have no idea how right you are.

    The first and second temples were brought down exactly because of the same situation and self hatred.

    God protect us from our friends, we know how to deal with our enemies.

  5. Anonymous8/12/10

    Who says unity is the answer? A quest for unity at all costs is counterproductive. You can mix water with oil, but they will not stay mixed unless you constantly apply overwhelming force. You can mix a secular state with a rapidly growing religious sector, but they will not stay mixed unless one side oppresses and ultimately slaughters the other.

    The answer is not unity at all costs. The answer is partition. If Israel cannot hold on to its territory, let Israel surrender the territory to a religious zionist state. Such a state would be far more ethnically, religiously and culturally homogeneous, and thus stronger by far, than today's State of Israel. Does anyone here believe that a Jewish state whose prime minister is, say David Haivri, would give away land or crumble under pressure?

  6. You're assuming that partitioning the state into one religious and one secular unity would bring unity within both. The current state of affairs in both the religious and secular world would suggest otherwise.

    And that means the partitions would go on endlessly. There is no real unity within the religious world or the religious zionist world.

  7. mindrider,

    that's part of the problem, yes. But greed and power are the natural undercurrents that have to be dammed by principles and values.

  8. TBS,

    they're self-destructive as a collective force within a nation, because in the long run they end up destroying their own base of power

    for example does the EU elite really think they're going to be running Europe when it's Muslim

    for now they're doing well for themselves, but their course is ultimately self-destructive

  9. I've heard that partition idea before, not only from some 'bright' settlers today, but also when the Romans were besieging Jerusalem, and when the Israelites broke off from Judea and were soon swept away by the Assyrians.

    Put four Jews in a room, and you walk out with nine different factions, all thinking that with diminished numbers they could somehow do better.

    Yes, unity would give Israel a fighting chance, but I don't think the gaps can be bridged at this point anymore. Still, if anyone believes that two tiny split states would be able to stand up better than one against the massive rock that threatens to crush us all, I invite him to declare independence now, and best of luck being sect #72612 in the land.

  10. I sympathize with the partition argument but it's based on romanticizing reality because there's no such political movement that would cover more than 100,000 people at most, who would have no industrial infrastructure, money or military... and would have to rely on Israel's air force, or in case of an invasion would become an insurgency in a region where massacring tens of thousands of civilians is a conventional way of shutting down an insurgency

    Under the right man that might still be viable, but no such man exists today, nor does anything resembling majority support exist for such a solution within the Religious Zionist camp.

    Finally no Israeli government would go for it, without another civil war, that would quickly turn into another insurgency. And that would be fall of Israel all over again.

    Were an Israeli government to decide to turn over the area to local Jewish authorities and militias, we could still a Bosnian Serb situation happening again, with an international invasion.

    And I haven't even gone into the financial challenges of a basically agrarian society with no trade relations with anyone, and no ability to export anything.

  11. Sultan,

    You got it covered pretty well. For all those very realistic reasons, I do not appreciate advocates of even more division, while we, in Israel, are practically in a state of war. Specifically there's a guy by the name of Mike something who wanders online preaching about this 'solution'.

    Understandably, the settlers (I'm using that term as a matter of convenience, not because I have any doubt about Jewish rights to the land) feel a lot of animosity towards the government, but so are people like me.
    In my humble opinion, we stand a better chance not turning on each other, especially when the boat is leaking.

  12. Indeed. We're either going to stand together or fall together. Much like Yosef and his brothers. The struggle has to be to change Israel, not to create some ideal Utopian splinter state that will be 'pure and clean' of the mistakes of the old.

  13. Partition in a country as small as Israel makes no sense at all. Why should Israel be so fragmented by a lack of unity when the forces standing against are so monolithic? And the forces standing against it have no legitimate grievances with Israel. They are all united in a hysteria that serves nobody, not Israel, nor the peoples these forces represent.

    All it takes is for Israel and its friends to stand up and say, "No more." No more lies, no more hysteria, no more perversions of history. We won't stand for it any more. Confronting these forces finally and resolutely will solve many problems, not just Israel's. Israel is not the only country on the chopping block at the hands of these dangerous and inhuman powers.

    And if Israelis have any potential for unity, it is under the understanding of Israel's own history. History is a fixed thing and leaves not too much room for debate.

  14. Paul,

    History is a fixed thing, but its interpretation isn't.
    Unfortunately, there are so many groups in this country that pull in their own direction: religious or secular; European, middle eastern, or Russian; leftist-anarchist, or jingoist; rural or urban; and the list goes on and on.
    They all pretend, due to different reasoning and interests, that we are invincible, or that the threats looming over Israel are not real.

    And what honest people are left to do is gasp in despair, and accept that their life is forfeit - which is exactly what the ruling classes want.
    In such a divided environment, no single faction can claim to speak 'for the people', and stand against the petty bureaucrats that manage this 'province' for the American government (not the American people).

  15. Thanks Daniel, for perhaps the most important and relevant pieces you've written.
    If Israel were to again find Herself, it will matter not who sits on the seats of power in America or Europe.
    That is however a big if.

  16. HermitLion,

    "History is a fixed thing, but its interpretation isn't."

    History is the thing that all Israelis can agree on and so as long as everyone can be aware of the same history, there are only so many ways you can interpret it. The problem is that too many Israelis either don't know their own history or ignore the history they do know.

    The ones who ignore history, pretending it never happened, or pretending things did happen that didn't are the problems and can be isolated. And I'm not talking about the hand of G_d in history, I'm talking about stuff that people did which are beyond dispute.

    How many people knew about the roots of Palestinian Nationalism and its connections to Nazi Germany. I'll bet there are still a lot of people who aren't aware of it and also too many who choose to ignore it.

  17. Paul,

    The fact of the matter is that Israelis cannot (or will not) agree on their shared history anymore, and not talking about the hand of God is like pulling all the tomato out of a tomato soup, because that's a major factor in the debate.

    If racist middle eastern rabbis preach that European Jews deserved the holocaust, because they are 'cold people', or reincarnations of murderers, while secular brought atheists ridicule and vilify any historical belief of the religious (I'm not talking about mystical events, but traditional views about the kings and prophets of old, including the Maccabees), then history doesn't provide a common grounds. It does, however, provide a deep well from which each side can draw new bashes against the other.
    And then there's the deliberate leftist propaganda being taught at schools - leaving certain stuff out is part of reinterpretation, meant to create a false picture of the past. Moreover, it allows labeling people who would try to reintroduce unknown facts as the liars. Teaching about the very real, direct connection between 'palestinian' nationalism and nazi Germany can probably get one sued (or kicked out of the academic world) faster than you can say 'bigots!'.

    In short, no faction wants to give grounds, and allow any sort of long-lasting unity to grow.
    That's just the way things are around here, and you probably know the saying about people that forget their own history.

  18. Minorities, particularly when oppressed turn on one another, and socialist democracies can fuel that tendency by making people compete for government benefits, which fuels existing tensions and allows groups like Shas to play a major role.

    That said there is a basis for unity, but it requires more than just a crisis, but an adaptation to actually having a state. Most Jews have not really adapted to it ideologically. Even Israelis.

  19. HermitLion, one can lie, distort, ignore, forget and adorn history, but you can't change it. The past is crystalized and fixed. We can always learn more about it, but some things are always beyond debate.

    To ignore this as compelling is itself a poor relationship with history.

    Israel's history is not isolated from the rest of human history. And this is where things are going wrong. Israel is having a false history imposed upon it. The rest of the world is caught up in lies about it. Israelis should not be the only ones occupied with getting its history right and making sure that the rest of the world is held to account for understanding what that history is.

    If the rest of the world could come to terms with the history of Israel and reject the lies, then they would leave Israel alone and Israel and its neighbors could go about their business. At the very least, Israel could go about the business of protecting itself and its interests like any small country should be able to do.

  20. Paul,

    Those are a lot of IFs :)

  21. Anonymous10/12/10

    Excellent, excellent article!

    What's so sad is that Israel's survial could easily be assured through simple measures--more emuna, fighting terrorism to live, and unity.

    That has never failed the Jewish people when it comes to Israel.


  22. In order to remain stable, a nation requires ethnic, cultural and religious homogeneity. The less homogeneous a nation, the less likely it is to survive in the long term. A nation, after all, is an IDEA. If the people don't see reality in basically the same way, they can never really agree for long on what the idea is.

    Therefore, unless homogeneity is imposed by some means, Israel will not survive.

  23. moshe, I have to agree. It is important that Israel be a Jewish state and that there is no question or argument as to who exactly is Jewish and how they are qualified to be that. But even so, to my knowledge, (I am not Jewish) being Jewish has never meant imposing those beliefs on anyone else, ever. Not ever in the history of Judaism has such a thing ever occured.

    But this should not be a surrender to aggression against Jews and the Jewish state of Irael either from outside Israel or within it either. Jews in Israel have a responsibility to police the presence of anyone who is not Jewish until such a time that lies and hysteria are not instituted against Jews or Israel from abroad or within Israel.



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