Friday, May 2, 2014
Israel and the War of Ideas
In an article that was published by Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth (“A Light Intifada” by Alex Fishman) on the 1st of May it was written that the Palestinian Authority government is following a new aggressive strategy of a “light Intifada”: a series of graduated steps the intent of which is to keep the pressure on Israel while for now it refrains from hard violence. To paraphrase Fishman, the PA strategy is to hold talks as if there is no “Light Intifada” and to conduct a “Light Intifada” as if there are no talks. Everything happens according to Palestinians’ terms. The reconciliation with Hamas, the delegitimization campaign against Israel, participation in various international organizations, popular resistance against Israel; these are all tactics in the new Intifada. And carrots? Abu Mazen’s statement about the Holocaust and the declaration that the unity government will act in the spirit of the PA (a two faced ‘concession’ if there ever was one) are all part of the new/old war being waged against us.
Alex Fishman concludes that Israel faces this onslaught in a confused and passive state.
Herein is Israel’s greatest challenge. When Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005 it was in pursuance of a proactive strategy. Israel disengaged from a hostile neighbor, building a security fence decreased the security threat that Gaza posed to its soldiers and in an increasingly antagonistic diplomatic environment Israel demonstrated a second time that strategic depth (the first was when Israel returned Sinai to Egypt) was less important than normalizing its relationship with its Arab neighbors.
How successful this strategy was may be open to debate but in the aftermath of its perceived failure Israel’s actions have been primarily reactive. And that is diplomatically damaging to Israel. If the purpose of Jewish self-determination (or independence) is to reassert a positive Jewish identity then the diplomatic battle being waged across the globe against Israel impacts not just Israel but all of its supporters.
The negotiations for a two state solution to the Israel – Palestine conflict have ground to a halt. Mutual recriminations beset the principal protagonists. Each one asserts the claim that the other is one hundred percent to blame for obstructing the path to a credible solution. Courage is a pivotal requirement for both sides and peace will not be achievable without it. But what drives the breakdown in negotiating resolution is incitement – it demonstrates a lack of imagination – it shows a failure of nerve.
Israel is an island of ordered chaos in an ocean of instability. It must make allowances for its environment if it is to survive the violent storms that batter its defenses. That can only happen if it pays close attention to its neighbors.
For instance: Eighty three per cent of Egyptian women have experienced sexual harassment, 98% of foreign female visitors have suffered a worse fate if, they stupidly assume a right to appear in public. In Tahrir Square, in January 2011, after the revolution that brought Morsi to power (and before his subsequent overthrow), organized rape of women became common place and this was justified through the accusation that the ‘accused’ women were Coptic Christians, or Foreigners. Egypt is the land of the pharaohs and the pyramids. It also gave the world the Muslim Brotherhood, the institution that has spread like a contagion across the globe. It is a cross between the institution of the Inquisition and the Knights Templar.
Egypt is a deeply misogynistic and racist society. In a country without Jews to blame, Christianity is given as the reason for any failures that cannot be placed on the Zionists. Churches are burned to the ground, libraries and ancient artifacts are destroyed because they are a blemish on the perfect Islamic landscape.
It could as easily be reminiscent of Israel’s experience of the Palestinians.
The Arab Aghlabid regime was the first, in history, to force Jews to wear the Star of David as a visible means of identification, over eleven-hundred years ago (in the 9th Century AD/CE). President Mahmoud Abbas was awarded his doctorate for writing a thesis that questioned the extent of the Shoah and by associating Zionism with Nazism. Mahmoud Abbas justified his bigotry with reference to the ongoing state of war between Jews and Muslims but as recently as 2013 he reaffirmed the veracity of his thesis and he sated that there was so much more he could write on the subject of collusion.
Israel’s critics may declare that it is counterproductive to obsess over the past but only a fool fails to internalise how earlier periods are viewed, from the battlements of history.
Since the election of Mahmoud Abbas to the office of President on January 15, 2005 corruption has been the only true growth industry in the PA, restricted only by the uncritical largess of donor nations. Palestinian society has been fed an unrestricted diet of incitement against Israel’s Jewish population while the PA only ever promotes its maximalist demands. Mr. Abbas tells the world that his country will be Judenrein (Clean of Jews). At the end of July 2013 he reiterated this point (according to Reuters) in a briefing he gave to (mostly) Egyptian journalists.
Such tactics are not intended to encourage trust or good faith negotiations. Fatah honored its jailed leader, Marwan Barghouti because “he had killed 61 Zionists”. Quite simply a Zionist is any person of any faith who believes that Jews have a right to self-determination. If an emphasis is placed on the man as murderer rather than any other quality he may possess then there is a difference between the General (who may have killed many more people) and the guerrilla leader who washes his hands in the blood of his victims. Glorifying killers sends out a message. A military leader can sue for peace but a killer, recognising the value of violence only, knows only how to celebrate the murders he or she has committed for the cause. It is not a word game but a philosophical construct, a state of mind.
Sticks and stones may break your bones but with words begin the slaughter. It has always been so.
By demonising Israelis and portraying them as killers, thieves and liars, Abbas is using the language of the Koran and utilising religious dogma to entrench a mindset of war among his people. But equally he supports a creed that explains the inherent superiority of the Arab nation over “the other” which creates an expectation that the faithful will inevitably triumph over their enemy. No room exists for compromise or co-existence.
“Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice.” Baruch Spinoza, (Theological-Political treatise 1670)
In the past, wars were usually fought between States of equal strength. Most contemporary conflicts are between asymmetric forces with the weaker side using non-state players (terrorists/freedom fighters) to rebalance the diplomatic and military equation. If, to paraphrase Carl von Clausewitz, war is diplomacy by other means, then the reverse can also apply (as Alex Fishman demonstrated).
If that is the case it follows that Israel is to blame for the poor state of negotiations. And the reason is that in the war of words it has allowed itself to appear passive; it has permitted the Palestinian negotiators to define the debate. Many commentators remind us that nations make peace with their enemies. And this argument has once more been brought into focus with the reported reconciliation between HAMAS and the Palestinian Authority. But in order for warring nations to negotiate towards peace two things must happen. First, both sides must make compromises. Second, the dominant player must impose their will on the negotiations. Israel has not done this. It has failed to view a propaganda war as equal to a hot war.
Israel was not founded in sin. Its birth was a triumph of the downtrodden against an Arab enemy that was taught to honour violence, to seek out conquest and to belittle the aspirations of the minority within its borders (unless as an expedient, sharing power furthers the aims of the Arab ruler). But we never hear this in any debate with our opponents.
In contrast to Pan-Arab nationalism, Turkish neo-Ottomanism and Iranian theocratic imperialism Zionism demands equality as a birthright for all the states inhabitants.
In an article that appeared in Ynet on the 1st of May Bibi Netanyahu announced his intention to enshrine, by formal legislation, the status of the State of Israel as a nation-state of the Jewish people. As a cultural cornerstone of the state it makes it clear to Israel’s neighbours that any successful negotiation between Israel and Palestine will be dependent on maintaining the centrality of a Jewish national character within the State of Israel. “A new Basic Law declaring Israel a Jewish state would largely be symbolic, an Israeli official said. "It is a declaration to show that this is part of our national ethos."”
There should be no conflict between Jewish and democratic values. Treating the stranger amongst us as equal to us is a key plank of Jewish religious (and Jewish secular) dogma, even if, within the heat of building the nation, there are far too many people who appear to have forgotten this crucial biblical injunction.
Zionism created a Utopian vision which was later expressed in Israel’s Declaration of Independence and which in turn forms the inspiration for Israel’s Basic (constitutional) laws. It is worthwhile to repeat part of that founding Declaration:
“The State of Israel will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture…”
In Israel, equality exists in law. Like elsewhere within the non-Muslim world it remains an aspiration that must guide its legislators towards the ethical development of the state.
Margaret Nevinson, wife of the British artist Richard Nevinson, writing in 1926 about the aftershocks from World War One stated the everywhere there is “callousness produced by the long spectacle of pain and suffering.” If it exists here too, perhaps it is because we can no longer see an end to our conflict with our enemy. If only to be in a position to make concessions, Israel has to negotiate from strength, not weakness. Because the nations of the world have learned to ignore the history of the conflict, Israel, when confronted with a war of ideas appears to be weak and therefore, guilty as charged. In order to win the peace every opportunity must be made for Israel’s truths to be repeated. It must demonstrate that the Arab world and as part of the Arab World, the Palestinian Authority has no interest in real peace, no interest in conflict resolution, and no interest in religious reconciliation. Only then will we make progress towards resolution.
For those who think that the war is lost, "All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident." Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)