Is Israel Turning Inward?
By: Ron Lipsman
Two recent, significant events in Israel highlight a major change in the Israeli people’s attitude toward their nation’s role in Middle Eastern affairs. These events were the January elections for a new Knesset (Parliament) and the just-concluded state visit of President Obama. The outcome of the elections befuddled virtually all of the international political prognosticators. Moreover, the impact of Obama’s visit – with the possible exception of a tentative rapprochement with Turkey – will be essentially nil. These surprising developments reflect a sea change in the Israeli public’s perception of the major issues confronting their nation and, more importantly, how their tiny country should deal with these issues – both those that were formerly anointed as the most pressing as well as those now recognized by the people as truly the most urgent.
From the moment of its birth, Israel has been under attack. The assault has been broad (emanating from its Arab neighbors, the Muslim world, the Communist nations, the UN and even from Europe), sustained (65 years with no respite), vicious (the attackers employ terrorism, bigotry-motivated boycotts, bloodthirsty calumny and of course conventional war) and existential. Regarding the latter, while Israel’s foes have sought its destruction from the beginning, their former discretion about expressing their true intentions has given way to blatant and transparent statements of their desire to obliterate the Jewish nation and its people.
Not surprisingly, in response to the ongoing dire threat, Israel’s main objective for the last two-thirds of a century has been to confront and repel the threat; but equally importantly, to pursue policies that – they mistakenly believed – might at least ameliorate, but more hopefully terminate the constant assault. Israel’s governments have considered their primary responsibility to be: the protection of the homeland through a perpetual vigilance against and preparation for the never-ending belligerence of her enemies – which, as indicated, comprised Arabs, and more generally, Muslims, aided and abetted by hostile forces throughout the world. The primary focus, therefore of the government, and of the people in general, was on foreign affairs, military preparedness and homeland security. It is true that during her existence, Israel has also managed to create a robust democracy, a vibrant economy, a fair amount of social cohesion and arguably the most successful ethnic nation-state on Earth. But the efforts of the people to create these successful societal components always had to take second place to the more urgent need to defend the nation. The latter was on the mind of almost every Israeli almost all of the time.
Well, the threat has not vanished. One could even argue that, in light of: the “Arab spring” – in particular, its manifestations in Egypt and Syria; the ominous machinations of the Iranian regime; the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe; and the perceived diminution of American power and will, the threat is actually greater than ever. Nevertheless, signs abound that the Israeli people are turning their attention inward. Those signs include:
- The recent election in which the results made clear that the people are far more interested in: internal economic disparities; the role of the Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) community; the role of Israel’s internal Arab population; the nature of the government’s structure; and the social composition of society than they are in Arab “democrats,” Iranian fanatics, European BDSers or J-Street morons in America.
- The tepid response to Barack Obama. Many worried that Obama’s barely concealed disdain for Israel and its government would spark demonstrations or other manifestations of displeasure during his visit. Not only did that not occur, but much of the Israeli public simply ignored him. (One should not be confused by the enthusiastic response of the hand-picked leftist audience at his Jerusalem “student” speech.)
- Israel’s perfunctory intervention in Gaza last fall. Rather than a massive ground incursion, Israel satisfied itself with the minimum effort required to stop Hamas’ rockets – temporarily, of course.
- Israel’s failure to attack the Iranian nuclear facilities. Apparently Israel has calculated that either: it does not possess the requisite firepower and/or the resultant Hezbollah/Hamas retaliation would be too painful and/or maybe the Americans will take care of the problem after all and/or even with nukes the Iranians won’t be suicidal enough to attack Israel and/or Israel just doesn’t have the moxie. Whatever the reason, despite the continued tough rhetoric from Netanyahu, it is increasingly clear that no Israeli attack is forthcoming.
- The intense focus on the economy, technological development, energy exploration and trade. These pursuits absorb and energize the public and the government far more than does the “peace process.”
- Indeed, the near total lack of interest in the so-called Israel-Palestinian peace process is striking. It is a topic that garners less attention than at any time since the Six Day War.
A combination of fatigue, boredom and reality has set in. Regarding Israel’s’ relationship with the Arab/Muslim world, there is nothing new to say or do. The Palestinians in particular and the Arab/Muslim world in general are irreconcilably opposed to the existence of a sovereign Jewish nation in the heart of the Umma. It has been so for more than a hundred years and will likely remain so for at least another hundred years. No Israeli attitude, policy or action will change that. So why bother?
Israel is a formidable military power. It has defended itself successfully since the War of Independence and indications are that it will continue to be able to do so for the foreseeable future. Why obsess about it? There are no “peace plans” to be concocted that will add anything to the equation. Just keep the guns oiled, the intelligence flowing and morale high. Bullets may fly again – as they have so often in the past. When they cease to whistle, nothing will have changed.
Look around! Western Civilization is in decline. In addition, the Muslim world remains mired in bigotry, medievalism, tribalism, political barbarity and economic ignorance. China, India and other rising powers are a long way from dominance. In the short term at least, there is no conceivable correlation of forces that is going to alter Israel’s status in the Middle East.
Finally, there are pressing domestic issues that Israel has ignored for far too long because of its laser focus on external affairs. It’s time to turn attention to the home front.
Israel has had relatively brief periods in which it has been similarly inclined – in the early/mid 1960s, in the mid/late 1970s, in the mid 1980s. But events always intervened to draw the focus back to the incessant conflict. Regarding the three periods mentioned, the signal events marking their close were, respectively, the Six Day War, Sadat’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the First Intifada – followed of course by Oslo. Time will tell if this new, conceivably more intense, internal focus proves to be more enduring.
Ron Lipsman, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, Former Senior Associate Dean College of Computer, Math & Physical Sciences University of Maryland